In this video review for nail’d, a new extreme off-road racer, I take just an instant to mention that, while male racers are sensibly outfitted in protective gear, if you choose a female racer, your only clothing options are extremely revealing ones. (This bit of the review is at 3:45.)
Obviously, the primary purpose of reviews on GameSpot is to help people make decisions about which games to spend money on and time with, not to be culture police. Sexism, and particularly the presentation of men as human beings alongside women who are presented as sex objects, is so common in games that it’s more surprising when a game bucks the trend than when it reflects it, and it’s not something I would point out in each and every case. I mentioned it here because I felt that it was blatant enough that it would have a negative impact on the experiences some potential players (most of them women) would have with this game. (It’s pretty hard to ignore the objectification going on when you’re on the rider customization screen and there’s such a stark difference in how the men and women are presented.) And while I would love it if everyone thought critically about the way women are portrayed in games, I know that’s not how it is, and I figured that those who don’t mind (or perhaps enjoy) a little objectification of women in their extreme off-road racing games could just disregard that one brief bit of criticism as irrelevant to their interests.
Instead, this seems to be by far the aspect of the review that Youtube commenters are discussing most (with the possible exceptions of those perennial favorites: my voice and my gender identity). While most come down pretty strongly on the side that says things like “the female outfits are revealing and not realistic?… MOTHERFUCKER you got boost, the game isn’t meant to be realistic” (which completely misses my point), I’m pleased to see that at least there are two sides to this discussion, with some voicing the (in my opinion much more reasonable) viewpoint seen in comments like “The developers are making a game clearly for guys and alienating girls. That’s why its a problem.”
However, the objectification of women in games matters not just (or even primarily) because of how it may turn off potential female players. It matters because all of us, and younger people in particular, absorb notions of what labels like “male” and “female” mean from anything and everything, and most of us are never properly taught to question these messages.
Below is a video by Feminist Frequency that’s only tangentially related to this topic—it’s more about how incredibly male-dominated games are than about how they often objectify women—but I think that, as indicated by the games shown at the 0:47 and 1:00 marks, the issue of objectification and hypersexualization of women in games is “easy to fix.”
In my opinion, there needs to be an ongoing conversation about the portrayal of women and men in games, and people need to be encouraged to think critically about the messages games send about what it means to be a man or a woman.