One of many hypersexualized female video game characters.

Why Are Female Video Game Characters Still Being Hypersexualized?

As these women continue to be clad in revealing outfits that add nothing to their personas, fans are demanding better representation for them.
November 30, 2021
9 mins read

In the year 2020, it was reported by the Entertainment Software Association that 64% of all American adults play video games, and that 41% of gamers are women.

So then why are women so inaccurately portrayed in video games?

While the role of female video game characters has shifted from the ditzy damsel in distress to the strong and independent main character, there’s more to these characters than just how they play into the story. And even though we have seen more well-rounded and realistic female video game characters recently, the problem of oversexualization still persists. This problem needs to be addressed, as female players are constantly fed unrealistic body proportions, outfits and armor. It can be difficult to become truly immersed in a video game world where you don’t feel respected or welcome.

Along with other forms of media where female characters are highly sexualized and stereotyped, young girls today are becoming more damaged by how they see themselves. Video games negatively affect girls’ perceptions of themselves, especially when playing a sexualized female character.

The Global Critical Media Literacy Project published an article discussing the effects of female video game characters’ hypersexualization on female gamers, saying “The results of the current study suggest that women participants, after playing a video game that emphasized the female body, felt significantly worse about their bodies.” The article goes on to say that as children gain access to more video games that showcase harmful stereotypes of women — whether they are about what women are supposed to look like or how they are supposed to act —they begin to internalize these perceptions. This leads to many damaging issues of self-image in girls and can even lead to boys pinning unattainable ideals on the girls around them.

A big complaint among women players is that female video game characters have extremely unrealistic body proportions. Being constantly bombarded with completely unattainable figures can make video games look unattractive to women. Female characters in video games will often have extremely thin waists or overly large breasts and display them in ways that often don’t make much sense in the context of their games. For example, Quiet from Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is dressed in one of the most laughable and unbelievable costumes in a video game, with an outfit that could be described as little other than a bikini top with a thong visible through her thin, ripped leggings. The reasoning from creator Hideo Kojima is that she has a parasite that prevents her from breathing through her normal airways, so she has to breathe through her skin.

In addition to the issue of oversexualization of female video game characters, there is also a blatant disrespect of female players as well. Female players already face a lot of disrespect in the community, whether from male players or even whole companies. In 2010, a female World of Warcraft player was chosen to ask a question to the panel at BlizzCon, a convention held each year by video game company Blizzard Entertainment. The fan criticized the sexualization of some of the female characters in the company’s games and asked if the company would include characters that “don’t look like they just stepped out of a Victoria’s Secret’s catalogue” in the future.

After the comment, a small minority of mostly female fans began to clap and praise the brave woman, but the sound was quickly drowned out by a gallery of male gamers booing. The panel even laughed at her comment, with one panelist asking “What catalog would you like them to step out of,” which incited more laughter from the (predominately male) crowd. The behavior of these Blizzard employees is unfortunately not shocking, especially with the sexual harassment and discrimination against Blizzard’s female employees recently culminating in a lawsuit from the California Department of Employment and Housing.

Recently, some companies have attempted to reel in their past mistakes of making female video game characters wear revealing clothes. For example, in the “Mortal Kombat” movie, fans were surprised to see Mileena wearing a much more appropriate outfit to be fighting in. Old renditions of Mileena showed her fighting in little to nothing, with the last game in the series even showing her in a small top with her stomach exposed. Mortal Kombat has been criticized in general for many of its female characters wearing revealing outfits that make no sense in the context of the fighting game. Meanwhile, seeing a timeline of the transitions of fellow Mortal Kombat character Sub-Zero shows that he has never been uncovered, wearing clothes or armor that would indicate to players that he’s a fighter.

Strong female video game characters have been emerging, and the games that focus on these characters have been praised online for their realistic portrayals. For instance, The Last of Us Part II features Ellie — a strong gay female character — and the game has done amazingly, racking up 4 million copies sold in its first three days of being released. There are many other recent realistic female video game characters, such as the strong and capable machine hunter Aloy from Horizon Zero Dawn and the intelligent Warlock Vanguard leader Ikora Rey from Destiny 1 and 2. Characters like these push the boundaries of what women can be in games and the roles that they can fulfill. They give younger female players new strong role models to look up to, ones that are judged on their strength, skill and intelligence rather than their external appearance.

Video games have never known how to accurately portray women. There could be a joke here that says that men don’t understand women enough to create realistic characters, but there’s a point in saying that. Women understand women enough to create realistic female video game characters, but with the way that video games have become so unattractive to women because of these hypersexualized characters, many women are deterred from the idea of video games. Women are wildly underrepresented in the industry because of the stories about companies like Blizzard that heavily discriminate against their female employees.

Just because video games started with a “by men for men” model doesn’t mean that it has to stay that way. In fact, there are currently around 213 gaming companies that have been founded by women. Women are trying to break the mold in gaming in their own ways, and the best thing we can do as video game fans is support them. With this comes the need to hold sexist and misogynistic video game companies accountable for their actions. Women deserve to feel respected and represented in the video gaming world, and we should make sure we’re all helping that happen.

Peyton Conner, Indiana University

Writer Profile

Peyton Conner

Indiana University
Interactive and Digital Media with a Specialization in Game Production

Peyton Conner is a student studying game production and graphic design at Indiana University. She hopes to take her passion for games worldwide and create positive change in the video game industry.

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