Bop It, Pull It, Rep It: The Struggle In Finding Representation

Yuna from Final Fantasy X was hands down one of my favorite characters when I was younger. There was something magical to see a girl with so much responsibility on her shoulders while still maintaining a great deal of femininity and grace. I love complex and multi-faceted characters and, being eight years old, I thought Yuna was the epitome of a wonderfully written character in general. I resonated with her, how her idealism clashed with her purpose as a Summoner, how her struggle to understand the cruelty of the world she lived in clashed with how she wanted the world to be. She was, I thought, one of the most moving narratives in FFX, even more so than the main character Tidus.

Also, in Final Fantasy X-2, I thought she was a straight-up badass.

New Halloween costume. Gimme.

As I got older, though, I realized how difficult it was to find female characters in games that weren’t just one particular trope. Yeah, Yuna was awesome and can summon super powerful Aeons to wreck you just by the flick of her staff, but she wasn’t as sexualized as she was in FFX-2. It was either play her as an innocent seventeen year old or scantily clad, pistol-toting power fantasy.

Where did you get those shorts, Yuna? Do they come in a size 8 because I need to look cute while I smash the patriarchy.

But then I settled with her. I told myself she was something, and I just had to take what they give me.

There is something telling when women in the gaming culture have to settle for things. There’s something telling about the developers of games and the people who consume games where women are expected to just deal with it when we are confronted with problematic characters. As women, we are expected to be given something by the developer and expect to like it by the general consumer. And, more often than not, we are expected to vehemently react to a given view of representation when it does not meet the standards male gamers give to representation.

Take, for example, Lara Croft of the Tomb Raider series.

Let me be you.

Tomb Raider has gone through a lot of scrutiny, both by male and female gamers, on the characterization of Lara Croft. Why would anyone where booty shorts into a deadly forest? Maybe they were in season? I don’t know, but I do know that many male gamers found Lara Croft annoying, distracting, and overwhelming as a character. Why is she always moaning like that? What is that accent? Why is trying to be sexy?

After the reboot of the classic game, many gamers took to forums to praise Crystal Dynamics on toning down the sexual nature of Lara Croft. Lara was more focused, more complex, less explicit, and less desirable. Lara was even dressed more appropriately for raiding even more tombs.

But, let me tell you something about women.

We can be sexy if we want to. We can also be awesome at the same time. Those two aren’t exclusive.

Lara Croft is meant to be a sensual, sexy character. That’s, like, her thing. Sometimes there is unnecessary sexualization of female characters, but that’s caused by the strong relationship between the supplier and demander of games and how consumers see female characters. However, sometimes there are wonderfully written, intelligent, and super sexy characters like Lara Croft that are stripped of their sexuality because it is deemed unethical. Women are as much sexual beings as they are intelligent ones and we should be seen as being both.

Forget Yuna. New Halloween costume right here.

The struggle in finding representation, then, is when men say we’re looking for it in the wrong places. The struggle comes from when we are told not to see something as empowering because “it just isn’t.” Women are complex. Women are problematic. Women are powerful. Women are damsels in distress. Women are heroes. Women are so many things. Why do we need to make these things exclusive? Why do men have this image of the ideal female game character as someone who lacks sensuality, emotion, and care? Why does the ideal female character have to be the “Ms. Male Character” someone mentioned in an earlier post? Why does the ideal female character lack everything that concerns being a woman?

Women in the real world are so multi-faceted, why can’t we have women like that in the games we play? And why can’t we allow that to happen?

0 thoughts on “Bop It, Pull It, Rep It: The Struggle In Finding Representation

  1. I wrote about my own thoughts on the latest Tomb Raider game if you wanted to read it.

    While I agree with you on several ideas, I just wanted to add that I don’t believe we can generalize and say that these are all (or even most) men’s idea of ideal female characters. I’m not sure that’s what you meant, but I wanted to clarify. These are assumptions made by game developers about their male audience, which are honestly offensive. This is problematic as it’s difficult to see an end to these trends in character design if the concept isn’t reliant on consumers’ wishes. Even when we, as gamers, picture better and more realistic representations of women that would still be totally kick-ass to play as, we have no means of personally implementing them.

    1. Hello! I guess I didn’t mean to generalize men, it wasn’t my intention. I wanted to write about the experience of women when confronted with multiple views female characters in the gaming community, and who we’re told to idolize or not. I would say it’s not all the game developers’ fault, and the way charactersare developed have a lot to do with what consumers want. It’s a cyclic process, I would say. I think they are reliant on the consumers’ wishes, and usually those wishes are not in favor of certain demographics. Sorry about the confusion.

  2. Thank you for the follow up! I agree the process is a cycle. What’s interesting is the wants of consumers are interpreted by game developers in almost sole terms of sales (people still buy these games, after all — but it could be for a myriad of reasons!). Meanwhile, there are studies that show male gamers often connect more with female avatars with realistic figures and enjoying playing as such compared to those that are oversexualized (I could find sources if needed). But other than that, how do we go about showing video game companies that alternative representations will not only sell, but will also be more enjoyable?

    1. That’s a big question! It’s like, we want developers to listen to us, but we also want developers to listen to the right stuff. We’re asking a lot, but we’re also not asking a lot either. If developers can flesh out amazing, multi-faceted male characters, then why not do it for women?

      I’m looking at you, Ubisoft.

      It’s a tough question to answer that I honestly don’t know the answer to, but I hope my experience can help guide us to where we want to be with this issue.

  3. ireesdeelia i love your writing and thoughts so much it was obvious to me I had to pick one of your posts to be one of my favorites!

    I chose this one because I remember when I first read it I cracked up reading the captions to the images. Also, you raise amazing points that I couldn’t put into words like you did, such as “Women are as much sexual beings as they are intelligent ones and we should be seen as being both” and “Women are complex. Women are problematic. Women are powerful. Women are damsels in distress. Women are heroes. Women are so many things. Why do we need to make these things exclusive?”

    Thank you for writing it!

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