In Video Games: Is It a Man or Woman?

The creators of Natural Selection 2, yet another big, brown, multiplayer focused FPS, has sparked quite a bit of controversy over their new female marine armor design. Basically, the new designs are more practical and realistic, like real armor, thus making the female marines looking practically like men, similar to what real military armor and equipment does.

Unsurprisingly, there has been a good amount of positive praise for the design decision, which is fine in itself. It’s difficult to argue that video games aren’t necessarily sexist when many of them have a healthy dose of female skin being flashed on screen. What’s interesting, however, is what this new design direction and philosophy means or represents as far as just how disingenuous the whole concept is.

Natural Selection 2 Female Marine

Natural Selection 2: Female marine armor design

On the one hand, we are told that women are “equal,” that they shouldn’t have to measure up to men and have more than enough capability to surpass them. Then we receive the average attempt to prove this trope by… making the women look and act more like men. Their attempts to “empower” or “uplift” women has them mimicking men. The irony is just too much.

Some have taken note of the fact that the media plays a significant role in the influence it has on cultural views, and that it should be handled responsibly:

Divider - Design - 45%

“This is not good enough, and it’s not a trope Unknown Worlds will entertain. Games are legitimate cultural influences, and game developers are responsible for the message they choose to convey to players. The Natural Selection 2 female marine is first and foremost, like her male colleague, a soldier. Her [armor] puts function before form, while adopting the science fiction, melee combat aligned design queu[e]s that have made the male marine so uniquely recogni[z]able.”

Divider - Design - 45%

That’s all well and good, and certainly a noble intention. Yet it’s still ignoring the real issue beneath it all. It’s not just the fact that ultimately “sex sells,” and young, heterosexual men being the primary consumers of video games want sexy things and sexy women in their games. There’s also the fact that portraying “female soldiers” as being so brazenly on top of their game (or should I say on top of man’s game?) is in fact disingenuous to the reality.

You don’t have to look far into the internet to see the real reason for this frustration. Just compare the standards for both men and women for entering the military and you’ll begin to see that something is wrong:

Age Group

Gender

Push-Ups

Sit-Ups

2-Mile Run

17 – 21

Male

35

47

16:36

Female

13

47

19:42

22 – 26

Male

31

43

17:30

Female

11

43

20:36

Age Group

Gender

Push-Ups

Sit-Ups

2-Mile Run

17 – 21

Male

42

53

15:54

Female

19

53

18:54

22 – 26

Male

40

50

16:36

Female

17

50

19:36

Source: http://www.military.com/military-fitness/army-fitness-requirements/army-basic-training-pft

Only 13 push-ups? Running 2 miles in 20 minutes? These women are hardly being tested to move even their own body weight around, and yet we’re supposed to see them as serious participants in war? This is cognitive dissonance at its finest.

Of course there’s another large caveat, namely that a woman can in fact get pregnant at any time in the military and opt out while still receiving benefits. The military can’t necessarily tell them that they can’t have sex, nor is it encouraged or discouraged, but obviously it can lead to complications.

Back on point, the truth is that ideas such as this (“practical” female marine armor) only help to further homogenize video game content, and even entertainment as a whole. This notion is perhaps, ironically, epitomized by the obvious overall design philosophy of the game itself – namely that of a bloated, brown and grey FPS, one of hundreds more trying to cash in on the success of the Call of Duty franchise. It’s just more of the same, packaged in such a way as to make it seem “new” or “exceptional.”

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One thought on “In Video Games: Is It a Man or Woman?

  1. Pingback: Women and the Draft: Too Little, Too Late | Black Heron Ink

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