But when it comes to the designs of female characters, that kind of imagination and creativity often doesn’t seem to exist. Rather than seeing such an exciting range of female characters, we mostly get the same body type, over and over again: one designed to be sexually appealing to the presumed straight male player. This reliance on the same same body type for so many female characters isn’t just boring; it’s harmful. It links our value as human beings within the culture to our desirability to men, and it reinforces our culturally-influenced ideas about who gets to be considered desirable and who doesn’t. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that when we do see representations of women with different body types, they’re often presented as a joke, as in Fat Princess, (fart noises) or they’re pathologized and presented as a twisted transgression of the established feminine ideal as in the case of the evil, lesbian, psychopath, Jo Slade in Dead Rising. “Let’s see just how shameless you are, you dirty little skank! Say hello to my little friend!” “Oh, no.. not again!” When the majority of the women who populate these game worlds are designed from the same narrow template, the problem isn’t just what we’re seeing in games: it’s what we’re not seeing.
The fact that fat women, and women with different body shapes aren’t featured in these worlds, reinforces the false notion that these women are less valuable, and less worthy of recognition, than those women whose bodies come closer to matching the cultural beauty standard. These limitations on creativity when it comes to female characters don’t stop with body type. We also don’t see the same range of ages commonly represented as we do with male characters. It’s not unheard of to see male soldiers, fighters, and heroes who appear to be in their 40s, 50s, and even older. “You’re right.” Playable female characters, on the other hand, are almost always young; and it’s for the same reason that so many of them have the same body type. They’re intended to be sexually appealing to straight male players. The result is that we have plenty of representations of male characters who communicate that men can continue to be active, vital, and powerful over the course of their lives. Meanwhile, the absence of older, playable female characters wrongly suggests that women’s value is tied directly to their beauty and youth, and that when they are older, that value is all used up. There aren’t many good examples of prominent, positive representations of women with different body types in major contemporary games. In Life is Strange, there’s the minor character Alyssa, a classmate of Max, the protagonist. “I didn’t know you were a sci-fi geek like us. What’s your favorite?”
In Assasin’s Creed Syndicate, there’s Agnes MacBean, owner of the train which becomes the heroes’ base of operations. “And may I present to you, Agnes and Bertha: lady and locomotive.” And in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, Kreia is a great example of a capable, powerful, older, female character. “I am Kreia, and I am your rescuer. As you are mine.” Let’s go back to Overwatch for a moment. Since that initial reveal, a few female heroes have been added to the roster. There’s Mei and Zarya, both of whom have body types that are notably different from those of the originally announced female characters. “Ana, reporting for duty.” And more recently, Blizzard announced the game’s next hero, Ana, who is both an older woman and a woman of color. These characters are welcome and encouraging additions, but really they’re just a start. Game developers need to continue to actively working towards creating the same range and diversity of female body representations that we see among male characters. When female characters’ bodies are liberated from the need to uphold narrow, limiting cultural beauty standards, the resulting range of representations can not only make games themselves more interesting, it can encourage us to see all women as the desirable, valuable, autonomous, fully human individuals that we are.