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Fair game for girls

Feature: PC games are top heavy with male characters, so is the fairer sex getting a bum deal?

The female of the species is reportedly deadlier than the male. But judging by the appearance of the US Frag Dolls (the Ubisoft-sponsored female pro gamers) in a recent US PC games magazine, 'deadly' means 'clothing optional'.

In the mag's photo spread, the Dolls wear tiny hot pants, work out on exercise bikes, and say things like, "Breasts and butt only come into play as an advantageous distraction". Is it sexist? Regardless, it's a clichéd, age-old, representation of women in gaming.

"Historically, women in games were the prize or the victim," says Phaedra Boinodiris, from Whether it's Elexis Sinclaire from SiN: Episodes, looking like she crawled out of an S&M club, or the chicks with Space Hopper breasts in RPGs, women in games are often sexualised to deformity.

"This is laziness," says Ragnar Tørnquist, creator of The Longest Journey and its sequel Dreamfall. "It is a lot easier to create an easily digestible and titillating stereotype than a real character. Beauty is fine - I've no problem with characters being pretty - but if there's nothing inside, it feels shallow and we stop caring about them."

Some years back, US charity Children Now published a report saying that
38 per cent of the female characters in videogames are scantily clad. How they reached this conclusion is questionable, but it sounds about right. In the big shooters - Far Cry, Doom 3, F.E.A.R., Unreal Tournament, etc - women are absent or reduced to support roles, appearing every so often to show off their lady lumps. The industry doesn't help matters much.

At game conventions, developers dress models like hookers in order to lure men toward their stands. Sex sells, it always will, but in an industry that keeps blabbing on about attracting girl gamers, isn't it time there were more realistic female characters in our PC games?

Jane Jensen, creator of the Gabriel Knight series and upcoming PC adventure Gray Matter, reckons so. "In general, people don't want characters that insult their intelligence. As women become a bigger force in the consumer market their choices will influence the kinds of games that are made - including gameplay interaction and puzzle types, the types and amount of story and also the characters - male and female alike.

"If you think about it, female gamers probably have different tastes in their male characters than male gamers do. An ideal model would be like mainstream TV or film where you have characters that can appeal to both genders - sexy and smart and also be real people."

Females in games tend to be divided between ditsy bimbos and violent sluts, or scary deformed nurses that make boys say "ooh", then "ew", and then feel all confused. Lara Croft cannot go unmentioned since she's more contentious than Marmite.

"In the earlier Tomb Raider games, she started off as a representation of female empowerment," says Phaedra Boinodiris. "As the series grew more popular and more prolific, her image changed to become a male adolescent sexual fantasy." In Tomb Raider III, for example, Croft is about to take her clothes off and enter the shower when she says, coyly, "Haven't you seen enough?" OK, but what if Indiana Jones waved his knob around on every subterranean corner?

Lara has clawed back some dignity, having received a boob reduction for Tomb Raider: Legend - going from a Jordan to a Jolie. "In Anniversary they tried to make concessions to her original fan base," adds Phaedra. Croft is tough, resourceful and bows to no man, so she should be cut some slack. There are other PC games that feature believable, often sexy, female characters that contrast to those mindless bimbos wobbling their beach balls. Most appear in adventure games.

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