Since the dawn of the video games industry, the majority of players have been male. So great was the male demographic that many developers would not even consider women while making their games. Perhaps this is how today we still see games that try to appeal to base male instincts to sell games.
My first encounter with overt sexuality in a game was Dead or Alive on the PlayStation in 1998. I was 16 and although it was not the first time I had seen women in skimpy outfits jumping around the screen, this particular game tried to (poorly) simulate the momentum of the female characters breasts as they moved. This lead to an amusing afternoon where I would practice moves only to see each breast bounce off in a different direction. Little did I know that this would become a selling point of the series in later iterations as for the second game Tecmo went so far as to create a physics engine dedicated entirely to the animation of the female characters breasts.
A later spin-off title would take this one step further. Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball caused a certain amount of controversy following the announcement and subsequent release of the game. It was criticized for laying a thin veneer of respectability and legitimate gameplay over simply watching lusty, scantily-clad women with large, bouncing breasts jog, roll around in the sand, scoot across tree trunks, and other suggestive activities, pandering to the lowest common denominator. Reviewers were split because the volleyball section was actually half decent. A later sequel dropped the volleyball from the title, suggesting the focus was aimed more at the ladies than the games that accompanied them.
Dead or Alive is not the only series guilty of exploiting its female cast in this way. The women of Soul Calibur also have breasts that defy the laws of physics, most notably the character Taki, whose body seems to have borrowed its motions from the original DoA. Then there is Ivy who, despite being an adult, seems to have grown in cup size in each iteration of the game. This also happened to Lara Croft before a Tomb Raider reboot bought her down to a more ‘manageable’ size.
Today there are even more games that try to sell sex to men, but these character designs are not all bad news though. For each revealing outfit, there is a woman who will tailor a toned-down version of the outfit for themselves to cosplay as their favourite characters. Compared to films and books, games have only recently been able to show characters in enough detail for people to make accurate costumes (excluding concept art), and while there have been female leads in the past, they have been few and far between. I am no expert on feminism, but I have to admire the number of women who attempt to pull off the more outrageous outfits, even if they do not have the body type to suit them. As the industry has grown and found more female gamers, so too has the number of strong female leads increased also. This is likely because there are more women involved in development now than ever before.
There are still far too many male gamers who are obsessed with knowing the intimate details of the anatomy of female characters they play. Perhaps this is why industry journalist Jenn Frank decided to create an event called ‘Boob Jam’, the purpose of which is to have videogame creators make a game that deals with an aspect of female breasts other than the fact that they are sexy and fun to look at. While I hope this will find its way into the mainstream and catch the attention of women who do not currently play games, I am quite doubtful that there will be anything particularly good to play at the event. I believe that either too much attention will be paid to visuals, or that the games will not live up to the task and just provide teenagers with something to stare at. Maybe it is not just the men who enjoy breasts.
How do you feel about the portrayal of women in games? Do you think that we need special physics engines to make sure boobs bounce correctly? Let me know in the comments!