Video Game Heroines In 2013: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Seems like 2013 was a pretty good year for video game heroines. We saw Lara Croft go from being the quintessential video game pin-up character to something resembling a real human woman. Compare:

laraoldandnew

What’s better about the new Lara Croft? Where to start? She’s wearing actual clothes. She’s wearing pants, which, you know, makes sense for an adventurer. Her proportions are realistic! There’s still a sexy vibe about the new Lara, but that’s not the point of her new character. Her design speaks to the kind of athleticism you’d expect from someone who goes on adventurers and climbs and hikes and all that. In short, while she may have sex appeal, she’s definitely not a sex object anymore.

I think this is a step in the right direction for video game heroines. It’s a sign of progress! We’re moving in the right direction, at long last. We’re finally recognizing that 45% of gamers (at least) don’t have a Y-chromosome. 2013 has been a great year in this regard!

And then this happened:

Meet Quiet, the new protagonist for the upcoming Metal Gear Solid 5:

quiet

Sigh.

Underwear? Check.

Prominently displayed cleavage? Check.

Impractically sexy clothing damage? Check.

I can’t think of anything else to say about her character based on this design. She has the same distant, snarky expression of the Lara Croft from the previous decade, the one that says, don’t worry, I won’t be ruining the sex appeal by showing any actual emotion like fear, anger, or determination.

True, this is only concept art and her actual personality might be very different in the final game. On the other hand, I think you can tell a lot by looking just at the concept art. Let’s compare Quiet to 2013 Lara.

laraquiet

Aside from the fact that she’s basically in her underwear, we can see that Quiet’s leggings are torn in several places. Is this supposed to suggest that she’s been through a harrowing survival experience? Maybe, but if so, the fact that everything else about her appearance is flawless suggests that actually, she just likes to wear leggings with big holes in them. She doesn’t look like a warrior. The gun-belt doesn’t communicate anything of the sort; if anything, it just sends the entire design further in male fantasy land. Chicks with guns + underwear = hot.

With the two character designs side by side, you can really see the difference. Lara looks like she’s been through a survival experience. She’s covered in dirt and grime, with several makeshift bandages here and there. Her clothes are torn, but not in a way that’s strategically sexy. Is she still unrealistically beautiful for someone in a life-and-death situation? Yes, absolutely. In “real life,” she’d likely be a lot worse off. But we’re talking about video game protagonists here; male and female alike are allowed to have the “attractive” attribute, as long as that’s not the primary attribute for the character. As soon as you have a character parading around in their lingerie instead of actual clothing, you’ve sacrificed characterization for sex appeal.

Because, let’s be honest: you know what’s really fucking useful when you’re fighting or surviving in the jungle?

POCKETS.

Pants have pockets on them. Hell, even shorts have them. You know what doesn’t have any pockets? Bikinis with ripped lingerie leggings. Huh, imagine that.

Basically, it comes down to the fact that when I look at Quiet, my first thought is “stripper.” When I look at Lara, my first thought is “survivor.” I’m not a woman, so I can’t say which character design would give me a feeling of female empowerment, but I do know which image is more heroic to me. I know which character I’d want my daughter to look up to.

Regardless of hypothetical scenarios, I know which kind of character I enjoy and appreciate more. Evidently, that taste isn’t mainstream yet. I thought we’d come further along than this. Alas.