I’m not a fan of empowering women. To me, the phrase is painfully condescending. The person empowering women never seems to think too highly of them. They assume women don’t know what they want and need someone ready with a squeaky toy to ’empower’ them. Usually, I tune out this nonsense, but sometimes it gets to me. Namely, when people cite video games as anti-woman. Let me make this clear: video games are not anti-woman. That’s like saying books are anti-woman.
Games are naturally empowering (except when they deliberately aren’t). They don’t specifically target one gender to empower. In fact, they’re potentially good for anyone of any race or gender. Thinking about it, there are actually ways that games are empowering women. Women that perhaps these female-centric movements often do not consider. One key difference I see is that a game does not treat you like a victim. Bad things happen and you move past them. Unlike what is taught in intersectional feminism there is no oppressive force preventing you from being the best that you can be. Games give us a sense of agency and command over our own destiny. They teach us that as long as we keep trying we will improve and eventually win.
Sure, I have my petty snipes about women in games too. I’d love to see more done with the female role. Yet, I’d never deny that games are empowering women. So let’s try and put this issue to bed, shall we?
Empowering Women We Often Forget
Sexually attractive women often aren’t seen as a vulnerable group. We equate sex with power, so obviously, a sexy person is empowered. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Girls who dress provocatively are often thought of as less competent at the workplace. A large bust or an athletic build is often an invitation for criticism for trying hard. Even plain old thinness is demonised. Apparently, only dogs go for bones, or so I’ve been told. When people talk about empowering women, these aren’t the one’s they’re talking about.
These problems are absent in video games. Being sexually attractive or dressing skimpily is never a bad thing. Having huge breasts does not make you a slut. Tifa Lockhart from Final Fantasy VII is one of my favourite women in gaming. She is also one of the bustiest characters you’ll see outside of anime. This is never portrayed in a negative light in-game. I struggle to think if her bust size is mentioned at all. Sure the fandom has fun with it. Yet, in the context of the game, she’s just another human. She’s characterised by her kindness which contrasts with the common idea that beauty equals bitchiness. Tifa is shown to be a competent and loyal mother figure while also being badass and gorgeous.
Games Show A Woman’s Agency
Often being sexually attractive or provocative comes hand in hand with the idea of being a slut. Yet, in games, women call the shots. Even in games where you can date or sleep with women you still have to earn this privilege. Often having to make her fall in love with you or accomplish mammoth tasks for her. These girls don’t settle.
There are plenty of games where you simply don’t get the girl too. In Mario, you can save Peach all day every day but you are only ever going to get a cake and never a piece of her pie. This is a message that we hear a lot, but video games have been passively saying this for years. You can bend over backwards for a girl, but she doesn’t have to pay you back with her body. You have to work hard for a girl’s affections. Both messages are present in hundreds of games and they haven’t been shoved down our throats. I find the way video games deliver this message to be vastly superior to shouting “no means no”. Another phrase that is incredibly patronising.
Empowering Women With Weaponized Sexuality
One thing I love about sexy video game characters is they aren’t afraid to use their body. It’s almost a taboo subject to talk about. The fact that the female sexuality is a potent tool for getting what you want. Manipulation probably isn’t the best trait to associate with women. Yet, it is hardly far-fetched. Throughout history, the female allure has been used for multiple purposes. Honeys have been extracting information for centuries. Using their genetic advantages to bend men to their will with a softer touch. How about the Japanese Kunoichi? The female ninjas who hid in plain sight and used their bodies to loosen the lips of their targets. When it comes to empowering women at the expense of men one can make an argument for the weaponized sexuality of women.
It’s a casual reminder that women do have power. It isn’t something most are keen to admit to because yeah it is sly and improper. It can also be intimidating. If I think of Rosso the Crimson from Dirge of Cerberus I think of her as a very sexually intimidating character. Everything about her is dripping with seduction but she is filled with animalistic hatred. Characters who own their sexual power and use it to dominate their opponents are icons of female empowerment. I can understand why from an equality standpoint this can be seen as bad. If looking at purely from the perspective of empowering women, however, it’s hard to argue against it.
Games Love Women Who Act Like Mothers
Mothers aren’t something we see a lot in games. Like in Disney movies they have this awful habit of dying before we meet them. That said, the role of mother is not forgotten. Refreshingly, motherhood, biological or not is shown very positively. It’s something I really respect when I see it in games. A lot of the time when a girl admits to wanting to settle down and start a family people call it a lack of ambition. I enjoy anything that counteracts that message. Whether people like it or not a woman is the one in control of the baby oven and there is nothing wrong with being a mother.
Not only that but games also thoroughly establish that mothering isn’t the end of a woman’s life. Even Bayonetta is thrust into a mothering role though she is unwilling, and she rocks it. In the game This War of Mine characters usually get something they’re good at. Fast runners, Good cooks, and even good with kids. It is clear that games rank mothering as a valid and important skill. It seems that when developers want you to like a female character they’ll show her as a capable mother.
Women Are Gods Among Men
When a woman isn’t a protagonist this odd thing happens, she becomes a god. Far out of the player’s reach is this divine being, this woman, who is magical and wise. She can be a literal god, like Enna Kros (World of Final Fantasy), a princess like Zelda, or some other somewhat divine entity like the sisters in The Void. If you want to get really mundane we could even attribute this to Mary from Silent Hill 2. They’re just this woman on a pedestal the hero will do anything for. This can be out of unconditional love or loyalty or both. She may act as a mentor, a mother, a love interest or even a ghost. Whoever they are they are celebrated or worshipped.
As far as empowering women goes, I don’t think you can get much higher than literal god. They’re usually benign though JENOVA is an example of an evil alternative. Usually, I find the female God is the good one whereas the male is the bad one. Like Chaos and Cosmos from Dissidia or again the Sisters and the Brothers from The Void. You’d be surprised how often winning the love or approval of a woman is the motivation of the protagonist.
Women Are Worth Protecting
Women are always worth protecting in games. Men die here there and everywhere. When a woman dies that’s different, it often has a lot more significance. This contributes to the shortage of female villains that die on screen. Try and think of the last game that let you kill a woman. The only games that spring into my head are open world games where everyone is fair game. In most games, the guy will die a hundred times to save the girl.
It really shows how highly games think of women. They put them on this tremendous pedestal and make them the meaning of these epic journeys. The heroes reason to be, their reason to quest even. Even though this is positive in regards to empowering women it’s also sad. Games are reinforcing the idea that a man should be willing to die for a woman. That has a lot of weight to it. Historically, men are the protectors, but I do not think they should be disposable.
Games present a level playing field for men and women. Does one ever consider Chun-Li less capable than Ryu? No of course not because they are coded to have an equal chance at winning. In the real world, men have a physical advantage for gaining muscle mass and such. In-game, a Japanese high schooler can slap a full grown man into submission. You are never really given reason to think of a female avatar as less powerful than a male one. If that’s what you crave then games have you covered.
In the end none of this matters. The protagonist’s gender, humanity, colour, it’s all irrelevant. Games are a blissful escape from reality and there are billions to choose from. Chances are if you look for problems in gaming you’ll find them. I’d sooner spend my energy finding a place to call my own. The next time someone tells you games are anti-woman show them this when you’re done laughing. Games empower us all, as long as we let them.