So I've been doing a lot of writing here recently about female characters in games, particularly in the Beyond the Girl Gamer series.
It's been a frustrating and challenging process -- but the games themselves are not to blame. I've been trying to find photos to illustrate my posts with, and I don't usually get to take my own screenshots (because I realize what image I need when I'm far away from the PC with the game installed on it). So I go to Google Image Search to find screenshots, from the games I am playing, of the characters I am talking about.
This is a mistake.
Although Ashley, Miranda, Liara, Jack, and Tali are all clothed (with certain definitions of "clothed" for Jack) while you're playing Mass Effect (2), you sure as hell wouldn't know it from the photos that make it even to the first page of the image search. And do yourself a favor and don't look for GLaDOS images unless you're keen on some evil robot hentai bondage. Seriously.
This is where I develop immense frustration with the misogyny inherent in so much of gamer culture. The designers of the games and franchises I've been writing about -- Uncharted, Mass Effect, Portal, Assassin's Creed, Fallout, and more -- have been working hard to give us strong and non-sexualized female characters. I'm spending 3000 words a week in this joint giving credit where credit is due. But no credit whatsoever is due to the fan base who, on first getting their hands on mod tools, immediately mod their female characters into nudity.
I mean, what the hell? Why is this always what comes first? Why is the pain of this image search for female characters just as inevitable among gamers as the construction of phalluses is? (My first venture into Mario Kart DS multiplayer, almost every single racer on my course had drawn a penis as his avatar. Clever, guys. *rolls eyes*)
I get that there is actually a sizeable contingent of 13-year-old boys in the gamer world. We all know it. It is the nature of such children to be jackasses for a while, until they grow out of it. And I can accept that.
But we collectively, as a subculture and as a consumer group, keep insisting that we are more than that. And I want to believe it. Until I look and see what the fans have done with any of these characters. (Hint: even the drawings, screenshots, and mods that are fully clothed are generally in pin-up style or otherwise provocative poses.)
I can't pretend that this is a gamer-only problem, but it is front-and center in gamer culture in a way I don't find it to be in other fandoms. There's a whole metric ton of non-worksafe fanart out there of Frodo Baggins, Harry Potter, and a host of others. (Not to mention the stories.) But at least it's not so frequently sought-after and so frequently designed that it goes straight to the top of the charts, as it were. You can actually find illustrations (from books) and screen shots (from movies and games) in spades before you get to the kinky stuff.
I hang out mainly in a pretty safe corner of the internet, and my part of the gamer world is filled with people like me. Like seeks out like, sometimes. I've mentioned before how for me, PAX East 2011 was almost entirely a girls' weekend. The regulars who come here to comment (hi, regulars) are smart folks who generally think like I do about this stuff. The designers of the games I play are getting ever better about it all, so even while there's a ton of work to be done, I can see the progress.
But sometimes I have those days where I can tell this club doesn't want me for a member, and that's great because I don't want to be part of it anyway. This is the same system that forces booth babes at PAX, that still doesn't give my RPG character any pants when she equips greaves, and that ensures it will be years before I run out of things to write about.