I wrote about female character designs I like a while ago, so I decided to follow up with a few that I don’t like.
These all follow the same sort of trend, unfortunately: unnecessary sexualization. I’ll reiterate the point that I always have to make, which is that there’s nothing wrong with being sexy. I love sexy character designs. But there’s a time and a place for it-and unfortunately for female characters the time and place tends to be ‘always’ and ‘no matter what.’
These are all examples of characters whose designers a) forced sexualization onto characters it didn’t make sense for, whether personality-wise or narratively; b) have a misconstrued sense of what ‘owning your sexuality’ actually looks like; or c) missed an opportunity to show a different kind of character design in favor of the same brand of Attractive Female Character™.
Elizabeth from BioShock Infinite
Elizabeth is frustrating to me. I love the character, and the outfit she wears during the majority of the game is great.
I’m the last person to say that historical accuracy is The Most Important Thing in any story, let alone BioShock, which plays with time itself. But Elizabeth’s outfit is pretty atrocious. It resembles nothing that a woman might have worn in the year 1912. Seriously, look up “1912 fashion” and you’ll see what I mean. It’s particularly egregious because virtually everyone else is in period-appropriate wear.
Given that Elizabeth’s costume change is meant to indicate her growth from a teenage girl into a powerful young woman, it’s frustrating that she does this by cramming into a bustier (one that Booker actively has to lace her into, gasping) that belonged to her mother. It’s also sort of weird because you’re playing her dad. Her coming-of-age and into power is tied to her being awkwardly sexualized, and not in a particularly freeing kind of way. It all just feels like somebody wanted to animate some heaving bosoms and a narrow waist and tried to find a narrative excuse for it.
To be clear, I actually like the outfit! I love the hair, and the silhouette of it, and it’s all fairly dashing. It’s certainly memorable. I’ve even thought about cosplaying Elizabeth. But seeing the costume in the context of the game completely broke the fourth wall.
Taki from Soul Calibur
Taki has boob socks, and they’re kind of a problem. Boobs…really don’t work this way. I can’t watch Taki move around without wincing in empathy at the amount of pain she must be in with her breasts flying every which way. There’s clearly no reason for her to have unarmored, floppy boobs-as a ninja-except to tantalize. I guess. If you’re into that?
I have nothing against sexy, but Taki is clearly not designed with a boob-possessing audience in mind. Why not just add a red leather chest piece to the front?
I mean, at least Ivy is supposed to look like she’s in pain.
(The armor parts are cool, though.)
Ashley Williams from ME3
I don’t hate Ashley’s look in ME3, necessarily-swoopy hair, smokey eyes? It’s kind of my jam. (She could stand to go a little lighter on the contouring and blush.) My own Shepard wears a lot of makeup, after all.
But Ash’s makeover from the first two games felt off to me. This is a woman who is a driven career soldier, who went up till now with minimal makeup-for a video game character, at any rate-and her hair in a tiny military bun, and suddenly she’s looking…well, a little glamorous.
It makes you wonder what happened to change her morning routine. But since the game never touched on that little piece of character development, it sticks out as a decision made by devs, and not one Ashley would have made herself. Even just putting her hair in a ponytail would have made more sense for the character and the job she’s doing.
Ashley is a subtle example, and it doesn’t take long to get used to the change. I just have to question why the change was made in the first place.
Infested Kerrigan from StarCraft 2
Infested Kerrigan was a personal hero for me when I was a kid, which, admittedly, was maybe not well-advised. But she was cool-she was one of the most powerful units in the game, and she had melty eyes and neat tentacle hair. 9-year-old me was very impressed.
The thing about the original StarCraft is that it was made in 1998, so the graphics were pretty muddy. It worked well for the game-instead of detailed underboob, you got a menacing spider-like sillhouette for Kerrigan. You mainly saw her from either very far away or just her face in the monitor. The rest…well, you could sort of use your imagination.
Now, obviously, there was concept art for Kerrigan that revealed a lot more of the creators’ intentions, and StarCraft 2 just continued in that same direction, as far as I can tell. Unfortunately for Infested Kerrigan, that means high-heeled feet, a smooth and slender, decidedly less-monstrous body, and a more feminine face.
She’s something out of the Victoria’s Secret fashion show, complete with the lingerie wings that seem to come from nowhere on the back.
I’d been looking forward to excellent new graphics when the second game came out, and suffice it to say, I was crushed. Women so rarely get to be monsters, and Kerrigan went from a kind of monster hero to something much more mundane.
(It’s worth noting that there’s also an ongoing argument about whether or not Kerrigan was white-washed in the second games-I read her as biracial in all the games, and to my knowledge the devs have never confirmed one way or another, so I’m not going to touch on it here! I welcome more conversation on that front, though.)
Quiet from Metal Gear Solid
Quiet from Metal Gear is by far my least favorite example on this list. She’s obviously a contentious one, in that she raised eyebrows before the game even came out, leading Hideo Kojima to tweet that we would all “be ashamed of our words and deeds” once we found out the reason for her skimpy bikini and tights getup.
The reason Quiet dresses the way she does-at least according to the in-game rhetoric-is that she was exposed to a parasite that allows her to breathe through her skin and perform photosynthesis. She has to wear a bikini, or else…she’ll die, or something. (Do you feel ashamed yet?)
So obviously Metal Gear is kind of campy in the first place, which is fine. A there’s a certain amount and kind of fanservice in every game, and in every character design-otherwise everybody would walk around in jeans and t-shirts, like most humans do. And maybe if the game’s creators and players just acknowledged that Quiet is dressed to be sexy, I’d have an easier time stomaching it.
She could’ve worn a nice-looking sports bra and shorts and a) it would’ve made sense for her character and her occupation, b) would have made more sense for her backstory given that someone who photosynthesized wouldn’t want tights, and c) wouldn’t have been as distractedly out-of-character. And hey-Quiet in a sports bra and shorts is still going to be pretty fanservice-y, if you’re unwilling to sacrifice that aspect of it.
Of course, none of this is touching on the fact that she’s an inexplicably sexy character who can’t speak. Yes, she’s a woman whose voice is silenced and is forced to wear skimpy lingerie onto the battlefield-but don’t worry, it’s for a “reason“!