Sexism: Beyond the Surface
External imbalance is only the beginning.
It's been and will be a hot topic for the foreseeable future. From Lara Croft to the unveiling of Samus and now Bayonetta, females in digital games have portrayed certain elements—much to the credit of the males who design them. However, the aesthetics of female characters is only one aspect of the problem. Over a series, attempts will be made to explain a wide range of the underlying problems with sexism in the industry—from graphics and visual themes, to design and mechanics.
A trip down memory lane
Ok. I want you to think of the last game you played that has female characters. Seriously, think. In that game, are those characters accessible? Of those, how often did you use them? Lastly, what are each of the characters' vitality or hit points?
For instance, remember Yuffie or Aerith from Final Fantasy VII? Think about how much more work it takes to raise those character's HP. Compare that to Cloud or Barrett; the growth rate of any of the males is almost twice as greater if not more.
I noticed, most recently, how much lower the HP of females is in Tales of Graces f. The HP not only increases at a slower rate and in smaller portions, its just vastly disproportionate altogether. A level 65 Malik has 4164 HP, whereas a level 66 Cheria has 2570 HP. If characters are on the same playing field, why does a lower level male character have more HP. Cheria isn’t the only victim. All of the female characters are grossly weaker than their male counterparts. I used as many females as possible throughout the game and the “benched” males still outpaced the females.
Fast-forward to the fighting genre with such games as Â Street Fighter X Tekken and players get much of the same. In general, female fighters have average to low vitality. That low vitality is "compensated for" with such characters yielding higher movement speeds. It just seems like an excuse to further misrepresent females in video games. The problem: females don't have less vitality than men.
Not all men are brawny; not all females frail.
The underlying theme is that females have less vitality or cannot handle as much pain as males. That can be laughably scientifically disproved. Various studies credit that females handle greater levels of emotional and physical stresses moreso than males. Females tend to live longer, endure physical pain males have been tested against (and fail to endure) and Â mature (in this instance, physically) faster than males (illustrating the broken dynamic between male vs. female increases in HP).
Now, if we want to talk how much damage a female character inflicts on an enemy, that's highly debatable as on average, males seem to be physically stronger in a given setting. That can, and usually is, represented in video games as males tend to dish out more damage. However, it is a grave error to illustrate females as having less ability to realistically reach a high HP marker and/or be physically superior to male counterparts.
So, what's the big deal?
Why is this a concern? It isn't happening just with Tales of Graces f, but in other titles that have similar leveling systems like Borderlands. We, as an industry, have been so concerned with how females are physically portrayed that we have failed to highlight the glaring issues with their mechanical designs. Certainly, not all females in all games should have a glaringly larger amount of HP than males, but it does point to the problem of variety for female characters: there hardly is any.
So what can we do as an industry and as consumers? Well, we can communicate with developers. I won't go so far as to say don't play games with such bad portrayals, but if no one brings up the errors in developers' mechanics and designs, females will always be unfavorable to use and left to a narrow perspective. I don't necessarily need Wonder Woman in the games I play, just a realistic one.
That said, I long for the day when I meet a female boss character with insane amounts of HP and multiple lives to illustrate the philosophical intricacies of females! Females are varied peoples with unique qualities. It's time developers stop generalizing. Not all men are strong; neither are all females frail.