Representation of Women in Media: Video Games

Video Games is an industry that has been long publicized and criticized as being a predominantly male driven industry with few representations of women in it, largely resulting in what we in class have come to know as symbolic annihilation. The question regarding the industry as a whole is what representations have their been of women in the industry and has this representation of women managed to improve over the 2+ decades since its development as a form of entertainment media.

Since it would take significant research and time to delve into completely analysis of the industry overall; I will for the sake of time and focus of argument be using two of the most well known female leads in video games. These two women, Lara Croft and Samus Aran, have been in the Video Game Industry for a very long time and have made some of the largest impact on how gamers and even people loosely associated with the game industry, like parents and other non-gamers, often see as the primary depiction of women in video games.

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Lara Croft had her video game debut in 1996 video game Tomb Raider released for Playstation, Sega Saturn, and PC platforms where Lara Croft starred as the games protagonist. Lara was a dual wielding adventurer whom traveled across the world exploring tombs, jungles, and caverns much like the silver screen character she was modeled after Indiana Jones. Lara Croft was designed by Core Designs with the intent of having a strong female lead character that young women could identify with as being strong and adventurous. However, what actually started as an accident resulted in Miss Croft’s ample bosom. The game Tomb Raider and Lara Croft’s design made her almost an instant icon to gaming resulting in the creation of 10+ games across more than three platforms and two Tomb Raider movies.

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Angelina Jolie starring as Lara Croft in the two Tomb Raider films.

The incredible popularity of the Tomb Raider series and particularly that of their star Lara Croft had added a great deal to women’s representation in the Video Game Industry and while her own representation may have started with the male controlled image of a rather busty and scantly clad woman. Lara Croft’s representation had been moving through the stages of representation where she first brought women into recognition with her creation as female lead in a video game. Then with the ridiculing imagery with her large bust. To the more regulated forms as her character has developed over the last decade or so even possibly moving to a state of respect in the way Lara Croft is being represented with in her new upcoming series reboot Tomb Raider.

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The new Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft – Survivor.

Lara Croft’s evolution as a character in the game industry makes it look quite forward in it’s development in representations of women as the years continue but alas, not all is well for women in video games as development moves forward.

Samus Aran, a name that might not immediate resound with people, even those that are incredibly familiar with video games but the iconic image of the woman in her armor and her identity as the inter-galactic bounty hunter in the Metroid video game series is surely more than familiar with a great many people.

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“Who is that awesome guy with the gun for an arm fighting aliens?” Is a question that many children in the 80’s and 90’s asked as they played the Metroid video game series until, at the end of the first Metroid game, it was revealed that the badass dude you were playing as wasn’t a man at all but a woman. People were shocked when they first discovered that Samus was a woman. To many at the time even the name Samus sounded like it might belong to man. Samus was a woman that kicked ass in video games and wasn’t apologetic about it, in fact she didn’t even really talk in the series until some narration was added to later games. Still, video game players had come to know Samus as one thing, a person with a gun on her arm who ate alien space pirates for breakfast. Samus is with little doubt one of the coolest video game characters in history. That is… until 2010’s Metroid: Other M.

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What the heck is this? Where’s Samus’s armor? Where’s her gun? Why is she wearing skin tight spandex? What happened to the tough badass space bounty hunter that we all knew and loved? It was a travesty for the gaming community. Nintendo and the development studio Team Ninja decided that they wanted to give “characterization” to Samus. Apparently what Nintendo and Team Ninja meant by “characterization” was taking one of the single greatest representations of women in gaming whom had become practically synonymous with the word “Awesome” and change her into a whiny, fussy, helpless little girl with daddy issues. Samus’s personality in Metroid: Other M is everything that people would character as wrong for the representation of women in the gaming industry and it was a complete leap backwards taking a well loved and respected character and making her into a mockery of her own image.

So, has the game industry managed to develop even and respected imagery of women as it has of men? That’s definitely a debate to made since there are steps forward like the new Tomb Raider but also atrocities still being made like Metroid: Other M only three years ago. The Video Game Industry still has an upward battle to fight for equally representing women in gaming but I like to hope that as it continues into the future there will be more changes for better than there are representations that perpetuate negative stereo types.

— Jeremy Collum

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One thought on “Representation of Women in Media: Video Games

  1. Very good analysis of the evolution of 2 female heroines from video games. The change in Samus was surprising. Do you think things will change more as more women become game makers?

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