How Video Games Reward Misogyny and Abuse

Anita Sarkeesian breaks down how programmers use sexualized female characters for male gratification.
Sep 2, 2015·
TakePart editorial fellow Nicole Mormann covers a variety of topics, including social justice, entertainment, and environment.

From popular fantasy games like World of Warcraft that allow users to play as a busty, bikini-clad lady elf to Tomb Raider and its skin-baring protagonist, Lara Croft, women are often sexually objectified in video games.

On YouTube, Anita Sarkeesian explores the concept of women as objects—specifically trophies—in Monday's episode of her show Feminist Frequency, which discusses gender representation and myths in media culture.

Starting with the 1987 Metroid game, where players can see the main female character in her underwear if the game is completed in under an hour, the episode lists video games in which gamers have to exploit and abuse women to unlock rewards.

“In a game, you’re not just watching someone else being rewarded with a woman,” Sarkeesian says in the video. “You, the player, are earning a woman as a reward to yourself for the actions you yourself have performed.”

A lot of women are playing video games these days—which can make that sort of casual misogyny awkward. As of this year, women represent 44 percent of all gamers—a 4 percent decrease since 2014, according to the Entertainment Software Association.

However, women continue to be underrepresented and over-sexualized in the video game industry, which can lead to bigger issues than games with promiscuous female characters.

“When games use a woman’s affection, her body, or her sexuality as a carrot on a stick, they’re actively encouraging men to think of women as objects, prizes, and status symbols,” Sarkeesian says.

The women's rights activist highlights dozens of games that disrespect gender, including in these three ways:

1. Having Sex With Prostitutes

In games such as God of War, Grand Theft Auto, and The Witcher, sex with prostitutes is used as a means of unlocking rewards and boosting player ability, Sarkeesian says.

In God of War, male protagonists win red orbs that upgrade their attacks and magic skills if they complete sex acts—a masterful swoop of buttons, apparently—with two bare-chested women. In the 2013 version of Grand Theft Auto, players can restore their health meters by purchasing sex from a prostitute. In the game's graphic depiction of the scenario, the male character presses the prostitute’s head down for oral sex.

"Players are given additional encouragement to solicit prostitutes in the form of an increase to their character’s stamina rating, which enables those characters to sprint, swim, or ride a bike faster for longer periods of time," Sarkeesian says of Grand Theft Auto 5.

In the third version of The Witcher, gamers win experience points when they buy sex from prostitutes, but the prostitutes must be from the wealthier district for gamers to earn better rewards.

2. Collecting Nude Images

Players are rewarded for finding and collecting snapshots of nude women in games like Splatterhouse and Mafia 2.

"When done well, collectibles inspire exploration and replayability," Sarkeesian says. "However, when they’re designed to function as an extension of the women as reward trope, players are encouraged to view women’s bodies as souvenirs of their adventures."

In Splatterhouse’s 2010 remake, gamers can level up when they discover ripped-up photos of the protagonist’s girlfriend scattered around an abandoned house. The pieces are assembled to reveal the full nude images of the woman.

2K Games partnered with Playboy in 2010 for the product placement of 50 hidden Playboy magazines in Mafia 2. When found, players can store the centerfolds from real 1950s issues in their collectibles and view the images at their own leisure.

3. Sexually Harassing Women

In the 2004 edition of Metal Gear Solid, programmers reward gamers for interrupting the main female character in the middle of changing her outfit. If the player interrupts her before she’s covered up, she can be seen wearing only her bra and panties in the next scene.

Similarly, male characters in The Saboteur can evade being captured by Nazis if they run up to a random woman on the street and make out with her.

"These achievements are directly rewarding players for in-game behavior that amounts to sexual harassment," Sarkeesian. "Players are actively being encouraged to think of women’s bodies as something they are entitled to interact with."