Sex & Society » Pop culture, Sexuality: "From Pixilated to X-Rated: Video Game Girlz Grow Up"

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From Pixilated to X-Rated: Video Game Girlz Grow Up

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From the time gaming graphics evolved from pong sprits that live on in 8-bit theater, video chicks have enhanced our digital merriment. For the majority of their tenure, the females who inhabited games have fallen into four basic archetypes. So grab a controller and a comfy chair as we take a nerdy stroll though life and growth of the video game vixens who’ve helped shape our gaming world.

  Fan Service

Our next stop is one that caters to the hormonally charged initial target demographic. We’ve all seen these nubile young women, gracing every form of commercialism. Let’s face it: sex sells, and video games are no exception.

The poster girl for this type of character is none other than tomb raiding Lara Croft. Since her debut in 1996 with a tool belt that hangs lower than her shorts and a gun-filled holster strapped to each shapely thigh, Lara’s physically impossible frame has been the toned butt of more jokes than Barbie. To be fair, I may have repeated most of those jokes.

Character creator Tony Gard attributes “a slip of the mouse” that increased her bust size from 150 percent of normal size to 250 percent. Before I point out, as a professional programmer, the completely reversible nature of “mouse slips” (oops!), let’s focus on the fact that she was originally intended to have a bust 150 percent of a normal-sized woman. Even without mistakes, they never meant for Lara to be remotely close to the genuine female form.

While Lara has never required rescuing by Italian plumbers, her strength of character has always been undermined by her front-mounted accessories. 2006 was a year of revolution for female pixels, and Lara herself was redesigned to slightly less ridiculous proportions.

When I first encountered Lara at age 14, I had yet to hit puberty. I saw the effect she had on my guy friends, who had recently become far more interesting, and I wanted to evoke that myself. With her guns and testosterone-attracting figure, I would have given anything to be Lara. Now that I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that it really isn’t that hard to duplicate the effect Ms. Croft inspired in my teenage friends—plus a guy is FAR less likely to get attacked by an undead creature while on a date with me.


The third female archetype is the androgynous character. Like the disembodied computer voice from Star Trek, other than the declarative “It’s a girl!” her gender really doesn’t impact her character.

As an iconic example of this genre I would like to direct your attention to the lovely Samus Aran from the Metroid series. Metroid hit the gaming scene in 1986, sending shockwaves through the gaming community with the surprise reveal of Samus’s gender at the end of the first game.

In some ways, Samus has always been a double-edged sword for pixels of the feminine persuasion. On one hand she’s a bad-ass, gun-toting, bounty hunter who served as one of the first female protagonist in a video game. On the other hand, her gender is such a small part of her character, that you remain completely unaware of it throughout an entire game. Samus remains one of the few characters that has never spoken in a video game, never giving her a voice to help add emotion or a sense of familiarity with the character.

In later games, after she’s been outed as a female, there are a few emotionally venerable moments where some of her femininity shows through, however, the same could be said for Snake of Metal Gear. (In Super Smash Bros., her character was given boob jiggle, swaying her slightly towards the fan service category.)

When I initially discovered that Samus was female, I remember feeling betrayed. Here was the first female heroine I’d been able to guide through a virtual world, and she didn’t even tell me until the end! Despite this sin of omission, I’ve come to realize that as a pioneer into the brave new world of video game heroine, Samus had to become a battle hardened Amazon in order to pave the way for heroines yet to come.


Our last archetype is the relative. RPGs (Role Playing Games) have been littered with these characters since day one, though they can be found in all video game genres. Generally these females have played minor, forgettable roles. I had to dig deep to find Naomi from Suikoden II as our iconic character for this archetype. The Suikoden series released in 1996, and spanning eleven games, has no dearth of characters. Each game includes 108 playable characters—some more memorable than others. In 1998, the plucky Naomi (or Nanami depending on the translation) featured heavily as the adopted sister of the protagonist.

Naomi embodies a fiercely protective personality that extends to several of the other characters. While she does have a schoolgirl’s crush on another strong character, she is afforded very little chance to pursue romantic interactions. While characters in the relative archetype are generally minor roles, I find that they tend to portray some of the most realistic female characters in video games.

  Final Level

Okay, Geeky you’ve introduced me to the ladies, and I’ve scoured the web for pictures of the fair Lara—what do I do now? Well now it’s time to fight the man! A growing trend in video gaming is allowing you to create your own digital representative. This places the direction of digital femininity directly in your hands. So pick up a controller, and create your own digital goddess. While you’re there, come look me up. I’ll be waiting in a castle, playing a dude in distress.


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