Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Britney Spears: Galactic Commando?

NOTE: This review was written in February 2006 for the now-defunct pro videogaming website GGL.com (Global Gaming League). It's one of the pieces that continues remain relevant as portrayals of women in the media keep cropping up - most recently, feminists whining about the Amazons in Justice League - and rather have it lost in the digital ether, it is preserved here.
“Realism” is a buzzword in gaming. We want more realistic graphics, physics, AI and gameplay to create a more immersive experience and we’ll spend untold sums to upgrade our computers to allow for maximum eye candy and performance and criticize games that have rudimentary enemy AI and an overreliance on scripted behavior.

But one thing that remains unrealistic in games and particularly in their marketing is the portrayal of women. Everywhere you look, you see scantily-clad Barbie dolls wearing outfits that don’t seem very practical for hostile environments – whether it’s sub-zero temperatures or flying shrapnel. While male characters are typically wrapped in so much armor that they look like they had a Hummer crushed around them, the lovely ladies of gaming look as if they’re backup dancers for the “Britney Spears in the 25th Century” tour. If it weren’t for the weapons they toted, they’d just be packing a pair of 38s, if you know what I mean.

While this has been going on forever and a day, it didn’t really start to bug me until I was flipping through PC Gamer recently and came across an ad for X3: Reunion. If you go to the game’s site, you can see the nameless babe with her skimpy tank top, tight leather pants and bare midriff. I’m not familiar with the series, but it appears to be all spaceship battles without any individual characters, so what’s with the chick?

Another game that’s been nagging at me with its pre-release imagery is the upcoming Steam-distributed Sin: Episodes. This shooter has been featuring a babe named Jessica Cannon as a main attraction. In the concept art, her jacket has changed a little – they’ve eliminated the cutouts that bared her shoulders – but one thing has remained consistent throughout…

Her thong.
That caption was added by whomever posted this, so it's not just me.
Forget about the cropped jacket. Ignore the low-rise pants. For some reason, the artists have decided that this armed-and-empowered woman needs to have a string thong that defies physics to hang on her sides up around her navel, many inches above her waistline. It’s kind of hard to take someone seriously when she looks like she’s heading to her job at the Booby Trap after she gets done defusing a nuclear bomb.

When the initial concept sketches of Aida from Unreal 2 appeared, she looked more like Brooke Burke hosting “Wild On: Na Pali” than a serious briefing officer with her requisite pneumatic bosom and exposed midriff with bonus cobra tattoo on her stomach. While that made for a nice wallpaper – I know, I made one – during the game, it was hard to accept mission intel from a girl who was only missing some dollar bills sticking out of her britches for effect.
The miniskirts and go-go boots of Star Trek: TOS are Amish wear compared to this.

Of course, this isn’t even touching on the clothing-optional look of just about every fantasy role-playing game out there. Whenever I see these elf princesses standing in knee-deep snow with magical racks exposed, I wonder if they have to make a saving throw against pneumonia. (Maybe they have an enchanted Thong of Warming which grants a plus-five on rolls against frostbite and common sense.)

Lara Croft was the first breakout female character in gaming, benefiting from the then-novel polygonal difference that 3D games brought her ample endowments. Her phenomenon probably reached its peak (or nadir if you will) when Douglas Coupland, author of “Microserfs”, wrote "Lara's Book--Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider Phenomenon" about her. That’s right, a semi-serious analytical/mash book about a fictional character. Sonic, Mario and Link didn’t get books, Lara did.

Whenever a new Tomb Raider title is announced, the first thing that’s revealed is how Lara will look this time around – bigger or smaller boobs?; how about that waistline? - with gameplay frequently being an afterthought and the series’ brink-of-death status shows the results of these priorities. It’s somewhat ironic that Angelina Jolie, hardly Amish in her prior onscreen attire choices, wouldn’t wear Lara’s trademark hot pants beyond the opening of the first film, yet managed to come off as kickass in the otherwise lameass movies.

The exceptions to the cheesecake heroine are few and far between. Samus of Metroid was so covered-up that her gender was a game-ending twist and Joanna Dark of Perfect Dark manages to keep her form-fitting leather over her naughty bits, but that’s almost it. The best current example of a realistic heroine is Alyx, your plucky sidekick in Half-Life 2. She’s fit and pretty – I’m not calling for a switch to tubby, unattractive characters, mind you – but the faded Black Mesa sweatshirt and duct-taped jacket make her a plausible scientist’s daughter.

Maybe it’s me, but a girl – neigh, a woman – who can handle herself in a firefight and has a giant robot Dog is hotter than some chippie who looks like she should be writhing on a stripper pole and giving lap dances. Is it too much to ask for compelling female characters that look more suited for Max Payne than Maxim? Or at least let Jessica Cannon “go commando” rather than be forced to flaunt that thong? 


ADDENDUM: Of course, the primary feature after the overall graphics overhaul of the Half-Life 2 Cinematic Mod was the option to substitute a suitably bodacious model based on Adriana Lima because bewbz or something.
Won't lie, I switched to this version when playing the mod. Oink.

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