The Strange De-Feminization of Female Characters in Western Video Games


Intro: Twitter e-Drama from an Ex-Insomniac Developer

On July 21, 2021, an ex-Insomniac developer by the name of Xavier took to Twitter to vent about how the Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart's game and art director wanted Rivet, the playable female Lombax, to look more feminine. You can check out his thread on an archived version. Some of his more notable tweets included these:

The discussion — or argument, really — was basically about whether we should make Rivet look more stereotypically feminine looking. That is, should she have wider hips, visible breasts (or bumps in her suit), and other physical traits we normally associate with cartoony women.

We believed that:

1. It went against the message of the game, which is that anyone can be a hero regardless of how they look
2. You don't need to be stereotypically feminine to be a woman
3. RIVET IS A FUCKING ALIEN SPACE FOX, JUST LIKE RATCHET

So.

Fellow men in gamedev.

This is an example of one of the VERY SMALL THINGS that build up over time to make life miserable for women and marginalized people in our industry.

Something as simple as putting titties on a space rat can harm people.

Despite the immense praise from his peers, Xavier honestly comes off as some loony crazy man (actually he is if you check this tweet out, but I digress). In fact, his comments actually come off incredibly ignorant and dare I say, even misogynistic.

Here's a side-by-side comparison to the main protagonist, Ratchet, and Rivet:


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Ratchet's face is wider with a larger jawline whereas Rivet has a smaller face. In addition, Rivet's torso and legs look slimmer than Ratchet's and her hips are slightly wider. That last trait that Xavier complained about is present in the game, but is it seriously something to be all up in arms about? From the tone and drama behind his tweets, he made it sound like as if Rivet looks like a Colombian hooker, but the above picture is far from that. In addition, his crusade against "stereotypically" feminine traits is baffling as there is something called sexual dimorphism in real life and artists tend to incorporate a bit of real life into their works.

What is Sexual Dimorphism?

In biology, sexual dimorphism is a concept where two sexes of a species exhibit different traits beyond their sexual organs. Birds, for instance, are fantastic examples of this with the males often donning bright, colorful feathers whereas females do not.


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A male (left) and female (right) mandarin duck.

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A male (left) and female (right) mandrill.


In some species, the differences are very obvious. In others, the differences are more subtle and "under the hood", but the sexual dimorphism is still present. Humans have a wide variety of traits. Despite being of the same sex, men can look drastically different from one another as do women. Even so, there are specific differences that can still be detected despite the wide variance of characteristics. One example is the skull. Men tend to have more square jaws and a pronounced brow ridge. In contrast, women tend to have more V-shaped jaws and smooth brow ridges. This is how forensic scientists are able to determine the sex of an individual from remains.


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Okay... and Your Point Is?

As I mentioned earlier, artists tend to incorporate a bit of real life into their works. While fiction is fiction, there will inevitably be some semblance of "realism". Pokémon is one of the biggest examples of this such as male and female Nidoran or the V-shaped notch on a female Pikachu's tail.


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The overall point I'm making in the context of Xavier's post is that what he labels as "stereotypically" feminine traits are really traits that occur naturally. Despite the fact that sexual dimorphism occurs in both real life and fiction, he thinks that's a bad thing. Effectively, his stigmatization of traits that female people (or in the context of Ratchet & Clank, anthropomorphized animals) have comes off as sexist in the actual, non-politicized sense.


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Yeah, basically. (Source)


The stigmatization is not unique to Xavier, either. In fact, there are many people in the video game industry and outside of it that hold this attitude. Remember that certain hardcore feminist who made a series of videos accusing video games and certain female character designs for being sexist?

Or take, for instance, the "controversy" surrounding the manga and anime series, Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out. Twitter got outraged over Uzaki's design because she's a short woman that has a large rack. Users called it "unrealistic" or even went as far as to call it "pedophilic". But fact of the matter is there are such women who have that body type and some cosplayers went on to prove that on social media:



Empowering Female Characters by Making Them... Less Female?

In Japan and the east, the stigmatization of female traits is not present or if not, far less pronounced. However, the attitude is quite alive and well in western media. There has been a movement over the past years to increase female protagonist representation in video games. However, if you've been playing video games for a while, there are already numerous strong female characters over the past few decades like Samus (Metroid), Bayonetta, Jade (Beyond Good and Evil), and Tifa (Final Fantasy VII). But if there are already plenty of strong female characters, what are western developers doing differently now compared to years' past? Well...


2d88f1cf3cd6b4902b7d81261ccff960b432aaa8027a57ad88d6a68dd1bb621d.jpg

Um... something looks... off.


Two examples I can name off the bat are Aloy from Horizon: Zero Dawn and the Amazon from Diablo II. For the former, people noted how Aloy's face looks nothing like the actress used for the motion capture. To add more fuel to the fire, you can see how Aloy looked drastically different in the concept art in comparison to the final product:


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There is an allegation that Horizon's director said that the feminine look of the concept arts didn't portray the "strength" Guerrilla wanted to demonstrate and that the original model portraying Aloy looked like she would "cry if she broke a nail". I couldn't independently verify this, but if true, then that's rather demeaning to women who look like Aloy's concept art.

And apparently, it didn't stop there. When the new gameplay footage to the sequel, Horizon: Forbidden West, was released, some pointed out at how Aloy's face somehow became more chonky and birthed some funny memes:


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The facial hair was the only change made to the picture above. Not joking.


As for the Amazon from Diablo II, remember when I talked about the differences between the male and female skull? In the old, original game, the Amazon's design showed those female traits that I described earlier, particularly the V-shaped jawline. As for the new design in the Resurrected remake, the Amazon's face looks more square and as a result, more masculine.


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And it's not just me. Fans on Reddit went on to mock the new design with non-flattering comparisons to Rosie O'Donnell and Donald Trump (this one made me crack up).

Closing Thoughts

Am I being too obsessive over this? Probably, but I am honestly baffled at the fact that some developers think "Feminine = Bad". There's nothing inherently sexist to portray female characters with feminine characteristics. For instance, Rivet looks perfectly fine despite the fact that she exhibits some traits Xavier were against. People who are against the "Feminine = Bad" mentality are not asking for female characters to look like super models, but rather for them to just not look like men with wigs. I mean check out the portraits of the female characters in Neverwinter Nights' (a 2002 game, by the way) character selection screen:


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They look pretty badass and they didn't need to be "de-feminized".


Now compare that to the collage I showed earlier and perhaps you can see why I feel something is off with the modern female character designs.

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LateToTheParty
LateToTheParty

Agnostic classical liberal & fiscal conservative who likes anime, JRPGs, and Linux. You can also follow me on Read.cash/@LateToTheParty, Odysee.com/@LTTP, Steemit.com/@latetotheparty, and Twitter.com/latepartyguy.


Late to the Show and Games
Late to the Show and Games

My commentary on things like video games, anime, manga, and other media.

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