The Good the Bad and the Ugly: Gender in Video Games – Women

Here’s the big one, internet. Sexism is so prevalent in video games that I could write an entire book on it. So, how can I successfully write about such a huge issue in so little space? The answer is: I can’t. No, there is no way to successfully cover the rampant sexism in the industry and do it justice. So instead of trying to cover everything really quickly, like I did with the men (Sorry guys), I’m going to highlight specific women in video games and talk about the industry around them. Most of the characters I’m going to talk about are actually strong characters, but I’m going to use them to highlight the inherent sexism in the industry (Click here for part 1 – Men).


1.) Princess Peach (Mario)

Can’t get rescued? Can’t bake cake? Well, I suppose the only thing left to do is cry!

Princess Peach is the epitome of the damsel in distress, and the perfect place to start. The plot of Super Mario Bros. 1, 2 (Lost Levels), 3, World, 64, Sunshine (Part of it), Galaxy, Galaxy 2, revolve around saving Peach from captivity. To put that into perspective, that is every game in the main Mario series, and, if I looked away from the main series, there would be many more games to add to the list. There are only two things you need to, or can, know about this character: she gets captured, and she bakes cakes. Most of the time, her only purpose is the former. There are occasions where you get to play as Peach, first among these is her appearance in Super Mario Bros. 2. This game, however, is not a Mario game, but is simply a reskined version of a game called Doki Doki Panic. The first and last staring role Peach was able to achieve was in the game Super Princess Peach. This was meant to be a big step in the right direction for such a useless female character, and was marketed heavily for female gamers. In fact, SHE would be the one saving Mario, thus reversing their gender roles and being surprisingly progressive. Unfortunately the game was so easy that it was insulting that it was marketed as a game for women. Also there was a large undercurrent of sexism throughout the game including the Vibe Sceptre, which wildly changes the emotions of characters (Really, Nintendo? Really?). While an unfortunately huge proportion of women in video games are simply empty shells that the men have to rescue, Peach takes the cake (Get it?) for practically starting the trend, and sticking with it for far too long.

2.) Samus Aran (Metroid)

To hell with you and your gender roles!

Here is the first question I’m going to ask you, internet. When you see the picture above, do you immediately think that its a woman? No, I didn’t think so. Samus Aran is one of the best female characters in video games. This isn’t because of her strong personality, like most Nintendo characters, her personality is thin. The reason that Samus is such an excellent character is that she kicks as much ass as a male character, and her gender doesn’t even factor into the equation. How many female characters kick ass in video games? The answer is: a lot actually. You see, internet, nerd culture has a strong tradition of warrior women. The problem is that nerd culture is also extremely sexist and almost every strong female character wears as much clothes as a porn actress. How many female characters are not just well armoured (No breast-shaped breast plate), but also completely covered? What Samus is, is a strong character who just happens to be a woman. Samus was originally revealed to be a woman if you managed to beat the original Metroid quickly enough. This was just a fun little addition the developers put in the game, but the character stuck, and a huge series was spawned. After many successful sequels with the powerful female lead, Nintendo gave the series to Team Ninja to make a brand new Metroid game for the Nintendo Wii, and what they made sent feminism back 100 years in an instant. Metroid: Other M is one of the biggest travesties in gaming history. The game was solid, but that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that they turned one of the strongest, most progressive female characters into a subservient, whiny, shy little princess. There hasn’t been a Metroid game since Other M, and so fans have to wait and see if these offensive changes stick. If they do, it would be, in my opinion, the most sexist act in the entire industry, and that’s saying a lot.

3.) Aya Brea (Parasite Eve)

Above: A timid, wilting flower?

Aya Brea from the Parasite Eve series gets a place because she suffered from the same problem that affected Samus Aran. In the first game, Aya was an NYPD officer, who, because of her unique genetic makeup, was the only character who could stand up against rebelling mitochondrial creatures (Don’t make me summarize games. It will always sound crazy). The opening scene of the game had her reluctantly on a date with a prissy boy at an opera. When things got out of hand, she immediately drew her gun, hip checked her date and told him to run, and proceeded to confront something that had just set fire to the whole audience. In Parasite Eve 2, Aya was a member of the FBI’s secret monster hunting division, but it is in this game that things start to turn around a bit. Parasite Eve 2 is the home of an infamous, totally unnecessary, shower scene. This random sexualization didn’t fit the rest of the game, as she frequently rebuked the man who was clearly supposed to be her love interest (Setting him on fire at one point). She acted as a mother figure to a child later in the game, but not in a stereotypical way, more of an Aliens way (I dare you to call Ellen Ripley weak. I dare you). Then the series disappeared for a decade and remerged as The 3rd Birthday. The strong confident Aya was now a weak, subservient, sulky, crying little girl, and the minor sexualization seen in the second game was now a prominent feature. When you took damage in the game, your clothes got ripped apart and left you nearly naked. Add in the fact that an optional shower scene was also unlockable, and you have a ruined character. There are plot points that excuse this characterization to an extent, but even then, there is no reason to make the character so weak.

4.) Commander Shepard (Mass Effect)

I punch men in the testicles as a pastime.

Bioware’s massive space opera, Mass Effect, allows a player to create their own Commander Shepard, and the player can choose a female or male character. The female Shepard, or Femshep, is easily one of the most progressive female characters in recent history. Femshep is voiced by the extremely talented Jennifer Hale (Also the voice actor for Samus Aran in the Metroid Prime series, go figure), and she is a character that demands respect. Whether she’s killing mercenaries en masse or badassing her way through intergalactic diplomacy, there isn’t anything that stands in the way of such a powerful character. There is a problem with the character, however. You see, the picture above is the official default appearance of Femshep. Male Shepard (Manshep for gender equality) has had a default appearance since the first game and has been featured in many advertisements for the game. Femshep didn’t get a default appearance until the third and final game coming out this year. Therefore, Femshep has never been part of advertising, or portrayed on box art or anything. I’ve brought up Alien before in this post and I’m going to do it again. Do you know why Ellen Ripley is such a strong female character? It’s because she was written as a male character, and it was a late change to turn her into a female character. The same is true with Femshep. All of the dialogue was written for Manshep, and, thus Femshep is only strong because she is speaking male dialogue. Even though this was an unintentional consequence of trying to save money on development, it doesn’t matter. In the end Femshep is a very strong and progressive character, and shouldn’t be judged on where her dialogue came from. There have been a couple of missteps, but unlike Samus, and Aya, Femshep has been getting more progressive, and that is an excellent thing.

Strong, and being unable to wear clothes because their sole purpose is as a masturbation aid, do not mix people!

I could go on for pages and pages, but I don’t have anymore time. I didn’t even get to a character in a skimpy outfit that was peppy and “strong”, but in reality is just a male nerd fantasy, or the Japanese obsession with sexualizing underage girls. You see, internet, women are not frequently portrayed in a good way. In fact, I highlighted three of the stronger women in gaming in this post. The reason I did this is because, it is far easier to find three strong portrayals of women for post then to wade through the sea of weak portrayals, and the rarity of these portrayals can be effectively used to highlight the problem. In the end, the point of these two articles was to highlight the gender stereotypes in video games. Men are the idiot, musclebound grunts, and women are the useless sex objects. Some games break through the garbage, but it is rare, and, as storytelling becomes a bigger part of gaming, it is increasingly important to show real characters and not just the overblown stereotypes. It isn’t the 80s anymore. We can do it, people.

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer

2 thoughts on “The Good the Bad and the Ugly: Gender in Video Games – Women

  1. Have you played 3rd Birthday? If you have then you would know that there is a perfectly good reason as to why "Aya Brea" acts the way she does. The fact that you leave that out makes me wonder just how credible this entire article is. The FemShep is nitpicking and the Princess Peach was completely left out of her Smash Brothers titles where she is a very decent character (if not top tier). What happened in the other Mario games is just the way the cookie crumbles. You rarely see even a movie where a female has to rescue a male (note rarely) especially in the late 80's early 90's. There are A LOT of badass video game characters that you leave out to only replace with ones you feel like prove a point of sexism. What about Jill Valentine? The real Aya Brea? Yuna? Lightning? Kitana? Rayne? Bayonetta?

  2. Thanks for the comment. I quite enjoy 3rd Birthday actually. I mentioned near the end that there are plot points that excuse the characterization to an extent, but I did't give spoilers so I left it to that. Femshep is nitpicky and I acknowledged that, but it was still something to say concerning the development of a female protagonist, and Peach was only included as the Damsel archetype and for Super Princess Peach.I would love to write about all of the characters you mentioned. In fact I had four more ready to write, but I ran out of time. So, thanks for the comment again. Very good insight. Hopefully I can get to more characters in the future.

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