The long and the short of this piece is really pretty brief, because it's something we all know, and have known for years. This post in the series exists because it has to, because I can't overlook something so egregious that we all know it internally:
Our female characters are nearly all overly sexualized. And even when they might not be so bad in the context of a game itself, they're beyond awful in the marketing materials.
Rather than re-hashing several years' and decades' worth of discussion and argument here myself, I'm going to spare myself the pain of wheel-reinvention and link you all to someone who does have the data: Go Make Me a Sandwich.
The post that first brought me to that blog was an excellent breakdown of sexualized depicion in WoW galleries, by gender. Hint: it's all T&A for the laydeez. She also addresses the kinds of poses that seem to be de rigeur for the men in the room.
So really we know this happens. This leaves us with two real questions:
1.) Why? Why why why?
2.) Aren't there other good ways to sell and market a game?
Over and over, we hear "sex sells." We hear that a bronze chestplate -- plate armor -- that covers the whole torso on a male avatar but only the breasts on a female avatar (or plate greaves, that cover the entirety of the legs on a male avatar but wears like a thong on a female avatar) does so because the men and boys who play the game just want to look at the bare girl skin.
Really? I mean, really? Do we think so little of gamers that not only do we assume that they're all straight men, but also that they all have the proclivities of an uncontrollable 13-year-old?
Everyone -- I mean, everyone -- in gaming has been discussing this for years. We're smarter than this. Valve has just recently knocked it out of the park on marketing a game with a female protagonist and a female antagonist.
So I'll leave you with just a sample of what some others have written on the topic:
- TVTropes entry on the Chainmail Bikini (examples galore)
- The Border House on the Platemail Bikini, especially in WoW
- Wikipedia's "Portrayals of Women in Video Games" entry
- A UVA Undergrad on feminist media theory & video game characters
- Aleah Tierny's "What Women Want," via PBS
- University of Arizona: "The Effects of the Sexualization of Female Video Game Characters..."
And ten minutes or less on Google will bring you to at least a hundred articles, rants, and blog posts on the theme. Some are better than others. (I skipped the ones that referred to our protaginists as "sluts," for example.)
So in short: this happens. It shouldn't. And I don't even have the energy to do the comparisons between, say, Lara Croft and Nathan Drake. To developers' credit, 2011-era Lara Croft is meant to be different from 1999-era Lara Croft. But when heroes in similar games are Boobarella and Charming Schlub, I think the point is made.
Next segment: first-person vs. third-person and voiced vs. unvoiced characterizations, and the difference these make to the player in terms of gender and identification.