From Samus’ speedrun ‘reward’ in the early Metroid, to plate bikini armor in World of Warcraft, to purchasing a nude cutscene with a sultry lady in The Witcher 3, video games have a long history of objectifying women. Whether or not this is a negative, however, has been a hotly debated topic. I personally believe it’s not all bad, and I’ll give a few points as to why that is.
- Objectification in Early Video Games was necessary. The ‘Saving the Princess’ trope crosses most cultures and is quite easy to depict in light of the limitations consoles and games had at the time. In future iterations of these games, the ‘Princesses’ in question tend to be more fleshed out. Zelda in Ocarina of Time, for example, continues to fight against Ganon through her Sheik disguise; She is not the mere damsel in distress she might have been in the prior, less advanced titles she inhabited. For that reason, I consider it disingenuous to use older games as examples of problematic objectification of women.
- Men get objectified, too. Male characters in games tend to be strong, charismatic, and/or highly determined at the expense of any other more negative quirks. Geralt, of the Witcher franchise, can easily be construed as a horny lady’s wet-dream. An infertile stud guaranteed go far away after your heated love affair? That can’t be any more idyllic. It’s strange, then, to complain one sex’s objectification is problematic while the other is not.
- The research is in. Actions pursued in video games tend not to be then emulated in reality. Gamers understand that the characters in video games are actually objects and don’t project this view of people outside of their game. The people who do cross these lines between fantasy and reality are psychopaths plain and simple. They would do something insane regardless of any campaigning to stop women’s objectification in games.
- People want to play attractive characters. The release of Mass Effect Andromeda was plagued in controversy for this very reason. It was very difficult to customize the player character to be attractive, and many of the side characters looked strange or ugly. Since then, many of those issues have been fixed, but it did impact the game’s reception. Video games are in many ways a fantastic escape in which one can avoid those flaws either in physique or personality that plague reality. Is it really wrong for someone to indulge in such a fantasy?
Even though I don’t think objectification is wrong, there is one reason why I believe objectification should be avoided. It makes for a less interesting story. The unstoppable hero has been done enough times to be criminal. Deciding not to objectify separates the “Life is Strange”s of the gaming world from the “Call of Duty”s. While objectification may be the safer approach, the refusal to objectify allows for a much more varied gaming experience. And who is really going to object to more options?