Anita Sarkeesian’s latest FemFreq video is, amazingly, called “Strategic Butt Coverings.”
Sarkeesian does a great job outlining the various ways that female assets (heh) are emphasized in games, from camera angles to character models and clothing to walking and running animations, all designed to draw the eye to dat ass. She makes a compelling case that each of these design decisions must be purposefully conceived of and painstakingly carried out. Nothing “just happens to turn out” a certain way in a video game. Everything that is presented must be accounted for in the coding, and so when things are consistently presented in a particular way, we cannot contribute it to mere coincidence. These game designers want us to be into their (characters’) butts.
The portion of the video that I found most fascinating was the bit describing the opposite end of the spectrum, the anxiety that some game designers have about players catching a glimpse of a male protagonist’s butt. Hence, the need to invent “strategic butt coverings.” This suggests to me a kind of queer panic around the relationships that can form between players and avatars. If the (presumed male, because video games) player identifies too closely with a female protagonist, then they might feel less manly for a moment, and so the game has to constantly reassure the player that their interest in the female avatar is purely one of objectifying that female body, not of inhabiting it. And if the player is fantasizes about inhabiting the body of a male avatar, some designers apparently believe they must go out of their way to de-emphasize the erotics inherent in that relationship.
I am reminded of The Hawkeye Initiative, the always amazing project which
uses Hawkeye and other male comic characters to illustrate how deformed, hyper-sexualized, and impossibly contorted women are commonly illustrated in comics, books, and video games.
If your female character can be replaced by Hawkeye in the same pose without looking silly or stupid, then it’s acceptable and probably non sexist. If you can’t, then just forget about it.
Sarkeesian’s video demonstrates that we need a version of The Hawkeye Test for video games. I propose:
The Marcus Fenix Test
If your female character model can be replaced by Marcus Fenix in the same costume using the same character animations and with the same camera positioning without looking silly or stupid, then it is probably not a sexist design. If you can’t, then leave it like that anyway because that would be rad.
Somehow these World of Warcraft characters are wearing the “same” equipment.
Female Trolls vs Male Trolls dancing animations in World of Warcraft
How would you word such a test? What male video game character would you choose to test the female character designs upon? What are your favorite examples of disparities between female and male character designs? What are your favorite strategic butt coverings? Tell me in the comments!