Gaze goes beyond. How the male gaze took over modern video games.
Darvin Baez Hernandez
The way media forces baffling body standards to the female figure has swarmed the film and gaming world. The cultural and creative views on female characters in male dominated environments bring out a weird and almost disturbing mix of emotions from men and women alike. This negative representation conjured by the male gaze is present in media that is both old and new alike. From horror to games to basic drawings, the view of the female figure has been exploited exponentially in the history of character design.
For a second, imagine you time traveled and lived through 1989. Media consumption is at an all time high and the technological innovations allow consumption to grow. During the same year, a fresh new game comes out like a blazing cannon ball... Nintendo's Metroid. The game is a hit. The single character video game which follows Samus Aran brought a very fresh take to the side scroller shooting genre. Boys and men loved the idea of a space adventurer who could single handedly fight waves and waves of alien enemies storming with no remorse. Every fan wanted to be “him”. Now, imagine the shock and reactions of people when they beat the game and got to the real ending. The famed Samus takes off their helmet with her long hair flowing down in contrast to her orange and red suit, revealing Samus is female. In a primarily male dominated fanbase, this took over by storm having fans and outsiders alike outraged at the idea of Samus being a strong female lead character. However, consumers and fans quickly changed mentalities towards the depiction of women in games. The change grew from hating the idea of a female lead to loving the idea of women in games, but this time, in a very off putting and sexualized way. What we now come to realise is the heavy implication of the male gaze in modern gaming and media.
Comparing modern female character designs to some of the most iconic ones is drastically different in certain cases. Take a moment to make a list and start writing names of female characters from before 2010 that are now considered classics. You will most likely get three separate character cliches. The oversexualized badass, the weak but favored love interest or the better, more modernly preferred great warrior character. A strong example of how mixed this environment is can be present in the well loved Street Fighter series. Almost every female character hits one of these personification tropes that I previously mentioned. While all the women in these games can beat someone to a pulp, the constant sexualisation towards their wardrobe and body image makes it seem like their bodies are the “priorities” of these women. Chun-Li, Cammy, Mika and Elena, just to name a few, have been ridiculously designed to be oversexualized.
So, where does this lead us today? Modern media is now slowly grasping the true nature of women by not having boring, dumb and oversexualized characters only there to fulfill the male gaze. The flowing arc of strong, independant, and most importantly, relatable characters are much more visible amongst the characterization of women in stories. One of the most popular and positive examples is Ellie in ‘The Last of Us’. Her and many other female leads prove that having a woman who is not pushed for male gaze makes them so much more enjoyable and likeable. It seems that we are coming to an era where the “loosely clothed” female badass is coming to an end, and honestly, good riddance. It’s one step closer to more accurate and greater female representation in video games. So, keep supporting these exceptional characters, keep cosplaying, keep painting and keep being you because these characters are all of us.