Practically speaking, Morrigan's winged vampire getup would shred with the first sweep kick.
Every couple of weeks, a new email drops into my inbox from the fine folks at Capcom, advertising the latest additions to the ever-growing lineup of characters set to appear in the company's cool upcoming fighting game, Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds. If I look carefully -- and even if I don't -- I notice something. And no, I'm not talking about the fact that Taskmaster and M.O.D.O.K. are camped in the villains' bullpen.
All the female characters are impossibly top-heavy and wearing outfits that would be a hella lot more functional and effective at a fetish Halloween party at the Inferno than an actual fisticuffs throwdown. Practically speaking, most of the costumes, especially Morrigan and her winged vampire getup, would shred and/or fall off with the first punch or sweep kick.
Not exactly a news flash, I know. Comic books and video games, including all of Capcom's admittedly addictive Versus fighter games, have been ever thus. But every now and then, we're given a look at the impact that kind of hypersexualized portrayal can have.
Last week, the folks at National Public Radio, a media outlet that only rarely dips its stoic toe into the game waters, aired a segment as part of the New York affiliate's "Radio Rookies" series. It was reported by a 17-year-old who's frustrated about being a girl gamer in hobby that's generally aimed squarely at males. Jessica Cernadas' contentions -- which also aren't new -- are that girl gamers face a huge level of discrimination and harassment when they play hardcore games online, and it's off-putting the way gaming's female fighting heroes always dress, for lack of a better word, like total tramps.
The general reaction from the gaming community to Cernadas raising these issues wasn't exactly what you'd call favorable or sympathetic. Not to divert any attention away from attempts to smooth out our country's charged political discourse, but if there's an arena that's in even more need of a steroid-grade injection of civility, it's online game matches and Internet forums. Seriously.
Cernadas was treated to the same kind of vitriol gamers served up a few weeks ago when Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told USA Today about the company's plans to use Kinect to turn 15-year-old girls into gamers the same way they'd done with 15-year-old boys and the Xbox 360. A fair chunk of it sounded a lot like sixth-grade boys on a playground, aghast that a girl would want to play baseball with them. And that she wants to be pitcher. Why are you looking for special treatment in our playground? And by the way, do you have a boyfriend? You sound hot.
About a year ago, I sat down with a group of talented female employees at Middleton's Raven Software and talked about some of these same issues. While not one of them minded -- or even, in some cases noticed or mentioned -- being among the gender minority in a very male-dominated field, they did cite the same frustration Cernadas did at the lack of credible/relatable female characters in A-list games. In gaming, too often the woman's either the object to be craved (by men) or the object to be saved (again, by men). It's odd to see how deeply this paradigm persists, particularly since the Entertainment Software Association keeps telling us that 40% of all gamers are now female.
The trouble, of course, as Cernadas notes in her piece, is that while 40% of gamers may be women, the percentage of female game developers is significantly lower than that. This helps to explain the obsession with hypersexualized female video game characters.
There are exceptions out there, of course, like Faith, the parkour-pumping heroine of Mirror's Edge, and Jade from Beyond Good and Evil, but the list ought to be a lot longer and well-known than that. Here's hoping we'll see a few new additions in 2011.