The issue of sexism in video games is extremely volatile and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon. I am not talking about the arguments that seem to stem around what constitutes a “real” gamer when it comes to women (though that is also just as volatile), but rather the way women are portrayed in video games.
This is not a new issue and it’s one that many people (myself included) take very seriously. However, one has to ask if the intentions of the designers actually change the circumstances surrounding calling a game sexist or not. A perfect example of this is the very controversial Lollipop Chainsaw. Many people have declared that the portrayal of Juliet is the perfect example of sexism in video games. That creating a character like her proves that when a game is designed with a female lead that no one really intends to do so in a serious fashion.
However, others argue that people are taking the issue of Juliet to heart when it is clearly a joke. Nothing about Lollipop Chainsaw is serious so why should people be so bothered by a such a sexual character.
If one compares Juliet to a character like the older Lara Croft and other old school female leads the intentions behind creating the character are very different, even though the end result is pretty much the same. In the case of most older female characters they were created as a lead character when it was highly believed that females did not play video games, basically ever. Nothing about these characters was made to appeal to women. There was no need to put a strong female in the lead role of a game to appeal to other women. The end result was Lara Croft, Street Fighter ladies, etc that were clearly designed to give male gamers something “fun” to look at while playing. They were made to be attractive and incredibly disproportional, and because of that they were sexy characters, meaning that men didn’t mind controlling a female avatar. Male gamers could enjoy the view so they could still enjoy it. While the designers may have accidentally created a strong female role that would later be redesigned to be a slightly less sexist character for people to play that was not entirely the original intention.
So that brings us back to the issue of Juliet. Again, a character clearly designed to appeal to people in a sexual way. She turns 18 at the start of the game (taking away guilt from lusting for her). She is constantly sucking on Lollipop’s in a very provocative way. She is in a cheerleader costume and players can unlock even more sexual outfits for her, and one of her attacks involves a stripper pole. On the surface Juliet is one of the most offensive characters ever created.
However, when you look at the world in which Juliet is designed for she is hardly the most ridiculous. Other than Lara Croft’s insane breast size and short shorts everything in her world is fairly serious and comparable to other games, nothing in Juliet’s is. She lives in a make believe world and carries her boyfriend’s head around on her waist. She uses a chainsaw that vomits out rainbows, butterflies, and hearts. Juliet is not only outrageous, but she is in an outrageous world.
Over and over the designers talk about how nothing in Lollipop Chainsaw is meant to be taken serious. The entire game is one huge joke allowing the gamer to play in a world of gore, sex appeal, and cute simultaneously. The story is ridiculous, the bosses are groan worthy, and everything about it makes the player both laugh and sigh.
But does that matter? Does the fact that Juliet was designed as a joke character in a joke environment mean she is any less sexist? Juliet can not be reformatted for future games to be put in less offensive role while retaining anything that makes her her, so in the end is that the bottomline? Lara Croft has developed and continue to do so, and while many argue she is hardly the best of female characters she has gotten closer. Does that undo the original over the top character she once was that just offered a lot of sex appeal?
It’s a question that can’t really be answered by one person or by using just a few examples, but it is something to think about.