There was a bit of an outcry in the Guild Wars 2 community the other day when it was announced what a certain armor set (see below) for female characters would look like.  Some said that the armor was to revealing and continued the objectification of women in video games.  Others cried out: “what’s the big deal?”  What makes me so interested in this whole debate is that I know several female gamers and I was interested in their reactions.  My question is, when a large percent of the video game player base is becoming female, is this objectification of women, or is this not?

 (Guild Wars 2 Scholar armor)

A lot of younger men, especially those in their younger teens, love scantily clad women.  Heck, men of all ages love scantily clad women.  Watch any add designed for men and there will be one thing selling it, sex appeal.  Anyone who has taken an advertising class knows this.  My first day of class, our professor warned that the class would be confronted with the matter of sexual exploitation a lot, and boy was I in that class.

But I’m getting off track.

This whole issue honestly doesn’t surprise me.  Most games produced by NCsoft feature at least some outfits that would make a stripper blush.

 (Aion Armor)

And therein lies the rub.  The video game industry is so saturated with sexy women that it can’t dry itself off.  If a game features a women dressed in a way that isn’t flattering, you immediately notice.  In Warhammer: Space Marine, there is a female lieutenant you encounter who is dressed in military attire that covers her entire body.  Her face is dirty and her hair is in a bun.  She is not sexy, but she looks like what a human female would look like in those conditions.  And I remember that moment made a bigger impact on me than the countless, nearly naked women I’ve seen in games over the past few years.

I feel as though the game industry makes these outfits because it’s not only what their players want, but what has become expected.  Players are just so socialized for women being tall, blonde, and sexy in video games that it’s honestly rather surprising when they are not.  Even in the early days of video games, with Blood Ryane and Laura Croft, sexy female characters was a big deal.  Now an entire generation has grown up with images of nearly nude women running around in games.  They not only want it, they expect it.  And Arena net is simply giving their player base what they want because it’ll help sell their game.

(Laura Croft)

But is that a bad thing?

Depends on whether you consider it objectification.

Some women do not like it at all.  They find it offensive, crass, and vulgar.  They say it is an excuse made by boys to stare at a women’s ass all day because we know a decent number of male gamers play female characters because they would rather look at a girl on screen than a guy.

Their statements are fair.  When was the last time you saw a male character running around in a thong shooting guns that wasn’t done to be comical, but to be done cause it was sexually appealing?  Go ahead think.  Conan doesn’t count because that was a loin cloth.  I’m saying thong, like Victoria Secret thong.  Yeah, you can’t come up with one that wasn’t done to be funny.  It’s a double standard, no doubt about it.

But some women love the sexy outfits.  I know my girlfriend actually likes it when games do this because she, and other females like her, love the attire  and think it’s fun to play a sort of “Barbie for grown-ups.”  In the words of my gamer girlfriend, “it can be empowering to look sexy while kicking ass.   These outfits support the beauty that is the female figure. “

They also have a good point and I feel that the video game industry will never be able to make both camps truly happy.  Certainly there will be compromises, but compromises normally leave both parties rather sour about the issue.  Some women like the outfits and many men do, and that will always be a large selling point for not just games, but many, many products.  Sexy sells and sells well, and until the gaming culture, and really society as a whole, stops buying products with sexy ads, things aren’t likely to change.

Certainly there have been efforts to change this.  While Gears of Wars three and Warhammer: Space Marine feature female characters that were far from people would call “sexy”, they are still the minority of female protagonists.  But who knows, maybe in a few years the tides will have turned and sexy will be the minority.

It’ll be interesting to see where this goes.

What about you?  What do you think about this issue?

(Sexy ads, they’re everywhere)