Girls in games & cosplay: real men respond to the male gaze

In the past 24 hours I’ve read a number of articles on the web written by intelligent, thoughtful men about gaming culture and the objectification of women that supports the present culture, including discussion of cosplay.  First cab off the rank was Birmo.

John Birmingham explained that he doesn’t usually play multiplayer  games except with mates because he doesn’t like the ‘the crude ugliness of thought and rhetoric that characterises a lot of players, particularly younger, male players.’  Birmo goes on to say that it’s time for the real men to weigh in and show the ‘tiny penis’ brigade how it’s done.  I get the impression that he thinks he could pwn ’em and school ’em in more ways than one!  I’d love a ringside seat for that performance.

the equivalent armour for men

the equivalent cosplay armour for men

Brandon Sheffield talks about video games and the male gaze, not only dissecting the trailer for Hitman: Absolution but going on to discuss cleavage, butt and booth babes.  Brandon’s concluding discussion about defeating the male gaze covers some of the issues.  Kudos to another intelligent guy expressing his opinion in favour of equality and intelligence.

I’d like to add a few thoughts to Brandon’s article.  The following paragraph has triggers: it discusses rape.  As part of my studies, my class went to a rape crisis centre for training.  We were asked questions about our perceptions of fault in rape.  If a woman goes to a bar, meets a guy or two, goes back to their place to shoot some pool and gets raped, is it her fault?  If a straight man goes to a bar, meets a guy or two, goes back to their place to shoot some pool and gets raped, is it his fault?  If a woman walks alone down a dark alley and is raped is it her fault?  If a man walks down a dark alley and is raped is it his fault?  Many people would blame the woman but not the man because it’s socially accepted that women need to learn protective behaviours; for a woman to behave in a certain manner makes her a ‘slut’ but for a guy to behave in the same manner is normal.  Computer games take this paradigm and stretch it further in objectifying women for the heterosexual male gaze.  Let’s flip the genders though: let’s have some role reversal.  A few games that objectify and sexualise the male character.  No?  Not nice?  Not healthy?  Well how about we treat all genders and sexual preferences equally and put more thought into characters and plot then?  After all, hetersexual men are actually a minority, even if they are a very powerful minority.  (Women are 51% of community, factor in GBT males and hetero men are a minority, folks!)

Anita Sarkeesian’s project comes up yet again: Anita put up a Kickstarter project to raise money to create a video series called Tropes vs Women in Video Games.  She’s previously done good work in this field.  Supporters want to see her succeed, they feel a need for Anita’s planned contribution in this field, so she was backed approximately 25 X her minimum funding request.  I look forward to following this series.

good female armour

good female armour

And finally I cannot leave this topic without pointing to this article by Ryan Jabberwock, which discusses exposure of skin, vulnerability, hypocrisy and how anticipation can be sexier than exposure.  Boob plates directing swords towards the heart, creating a weakness in the armour, is also discussed.  Ryan doesn’t actually mention Japanese Geishas in his discussion of concealment being more attractive than exposure, but geishas covered up in the knowledge that the glimpse of a neck or wrist could be titillating.  It’s the art of concealment not exposure that is truly sexy.

pretty armour for women

pretty armour for women

UPDATE: one more image, which also leads into this awesome blog by Jim C. Hines about women posed on Fantasy covers.

men posing like women 


  1. Hi Nalini,

    Apologies if I go off topic here. There’s no need to publish this on your blog if it’s not relevant.

    This is an interesting post and part of the topic is close to my heart, although I’m not much of a gamer these days so my experiences of how women are represented in games is based on what I gleam from the periphery, I guess. I certainly admire the costumed characters at Supanova and Worldcon.

    I am passionate about the psychology of dress and how that relates to perceptions of character and sexuality. I want everyone to wear whatever they want and be treated with respect, not harassed for showing too much or too little. There is no ‘but’ coming after that. I won’t forgive people for treating people differently because they have tattoos or piercings or wear short skirts or colour their hair or wear a hijab or a bikini when they’re seventy.

    I want that to apply to women in video games, too. It’s okay to admire physical attributes, but it should be done with respect and without objectification. As you said, character development. I don’t mind if she’s hot, so long as she is also brave/strong/skilful/compassionate, etc. Traditionally ‘female’ characteristics might deserve stronger weighting.

    The shift needs to occur at a deeper level to nurture a culture of respect regardless of appearance or attire. This is also complicated by the over-valuation of beauty and youth in marketing, and porn proliferation probably interacts here, too.

    The best men I have known treat women with respect and don’t say awful things to or about women, or whistle at them, or grope them because they are scantily clad. I’d like to see ogling shift toward admiration with respect. All my male friends seem to view women respectfully. How could we be friends otherwise?


Comments are closed.