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What Polygon’s article regarding the appearance of female game characters got wrong

In an article by Colin Campbell of Polygon (which can be found here), the appearances of various female game characters were adjusted to more closely resemble “average” women. Of course, there’s a certain irony in how the parties involved in the article are all men, but let’s put that aside and focus on the point being made.

Cortana as she appears in Halo 4, apparently doesn't have a realistic body shape, is an advanced computer
Cortana as she appears in Halo 4, apparently has an unrealistic body for a computer

It is essentially argued that the unrealistic portrayal of the female body alters, and hurts, how we as a culture view females. While that may be true in certain cases, we must keep in mind that the medium we are referring to exists as a form of escapism. Like books and movies, video games are intended to put the audience in scenarios that are meant to be unrealistic. After all, there is a reason why the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars and comic books are so popular. Simply put, to desire to be normal or average in your fantasies defeats the purpose of fantasies.

Just one look at some of the most popular games would appear confirm this. While games like Farming Simulator do exist and have a niche audience, for the most part people are flocking to games where they are supersoldiers, professional athletes, legendary warriors, and things of that nature.

Ashley Jenkins and Meg Turney of Rooster Teeth, fairly average, most likely have never plundered a cave or fought off wolves
Ashley Jenkins and Meg Turney of Rooster Teeth, fairly average, have most likely never plundered a cave or fought off wolves

Even if we disregard the medium that these characters appear in, we have to take into account the characters themselves. Lara Croft is more or less an Olympic gymnast. Cortana is an AI who can technically change her appearance to anything she wanted. Sonya Blade practically rips people in half. Suspension of disbelief is one thing, but to say that these characters should have the appearance of realistic people when they are anything but realistic is rather naive.

Marcus Fenix of Gears of War
Marcus Fenix of Gears of War, killing machine extraordinaire, has biceps the size of your head

To be fair, the appearance of men in games is mentioned as well. But in the end, is the physique of Marcus Fenix really all that different from the paintings of say, Hercules? After all, both were involved in adventures that would kill a normal man many times over. Both have little resemblance to your typical man on the street. And in the end, that is fine if we are trying to be realistic and have realistic body sizes. If we realistically can’t expect a fat man to do a large number of push-ups, then a person who can cause heads to explode with his bare hands should have the physique to match.

Burnie Burns of Rooster Teeth, decidedly average
Burnie Burns of Rooster Teeth, decidedly average, has yet to prevent the extinction of the human race

Furthermore, there is no mention of games like Saints Row IV, where you can create the fattest or skinniest character you want. Similarly, not a word was said about games like Halo 4, Gears of War 3, or Titanfall where the female characters are often wearing armor. Such omissions could point towards a different issue. “As a size 10 woman in the U.S., I am no stranger to wanting a wider range of female proportions in protagonists,” said Jacki Moller, a female who happens to play games. “But the sexualising of females in video games has more to do with ridiculous clothing than their physical form.”

The Bulimia.com post that prompted the Polygon article states that girls could develop a skewed image of how the human body should look. And yet, the only characters mentioned are either in skimpy clothing (a fact acknowledged by the post) or have backgrounds that warrant a certain body type. Cherry picking characters in such a manner just doesn’t help their cause, however noble it may be.

About Anson Chan

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