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This week’s topic might take you to a place you haven’t considered before. But gender representation, given the changing demographics of video game customers, is an increasingly important issue for the industry. And if the topic makes you a little uncomfortable, that’s good.
In Street Fighter V, the character Ryu was given a beard, and quite a beard at that. To some, this change in facial features brings up an interesting point regarding the physical attractiveness and sexualization of video game characters. Ryu’s beard opened a new arena of discussion regarding these topics and while these topics are nothing new (debates about Lara Croft’s attractiveness and costumes have gone on for years), this is one of the first times – if not the first time – that the debate is being switched, gender-wise.
If you follow cinema and television studies, you may have heard of the “male gaze.” Simply put, this is a production aspect and camera angle that automatically presumes the viewer (no matter who) is a heterosexual male. As such, when sexual scenes and encounters are on-screen, the overall view is taken from the male perspective (hence the term “male gaze”). Camera shots will focus on the female character’s body and her reactions to sexual advances and actions. Outside of scenes with explicit sexual content, the male gaze is evident when a female character is introduced or portrayed in a scene. Think about like this – there’s a reason why Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow character in The Avengers films wears a black body suit. Since her character is highly acrobatic and often works “in the shadows,” she needs to be able to move quickly and quietly. But does the suit need to be completely skin tight with a neckline open halfway down her chest? Hello, male gaze!
“Hot Ryu” might be changing this (or at least he’s the beginning of some possible changes). Keep in mind as well that the “male gaze” up until this point has been primarily heterosexual. Hot Ryu arguably has the potential for opening a dialogue for/between/among LGBTQ gamers – a very historically underserved gaming audience – as well as female players.
Read the following 2015 article from Maddy Myers about this phenomenon – it’s a bit long, so give yourself some time, and then consider the following questions when you respond:
Does Hot Ryu have the potential to open new dialogues and change perspectives regarding the sexualization of video game characters? Why or why not?
Does the “male gaze” lead to the objectification of the female form in a sexual sense? If so, is that a problem in video games?
In your personal past, have you ever been attracted to a video game character based on his/her/its physical form? (For instance, my son always thought Princess Daisy was much cuter than Princess Peach – that’s as far as it went [I hope], but he always preferred it when Mario got to work with/save Daisy.) What was it that drew you to that character? Was it physical?
Finally, in your opinion, is this even significant enough for discussion in the industry? Are we making too much out of this, or is this a relevant issue that merits further consideration? Should the producers and designers consider how female (and male) characters are depicted in their games? Why or why not?