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FEATURED VOXPOP oblivion437 Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that.  It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece.  I strongly recommend anyone...

Can Women Be Video Game Enemies En Masse?

Posted on Monday, January 13 @ 16:40:00 Eastern by

The under-representation of women as video game protagonists and video game developers has been a topic of gender-based editorials and debates for decades, but what about the under-representation of women as video game antagonists and villains? For sure, the examples of female enemies are numerous, what with succubi, vixens, witches, and female assassins. So the question becomes whether women can ever be used as the default enemy and have men be the exception to the rule? Or is this a case where there is a subtle but important difference between killing a man and killing a women in games?

The reasons for using men as the main fodder are mainly based on our notions of femininity and masculinity. In classical terms, men are supposed to be the soldiers and the defenders of the land, and fathers are meant to be the protector of the family unit. Then there's chivalry and the idea that a man should never hit a woman except for special circumstances or as a last resort, like when a woman is violently assaulting a man. As unfair as that may sound to men, it's an across-the-board, idealistic rule of thumb.

According to figures from the Pentagon, 14.5% of the active-duty force in the US military are women as opposed to the remaining 85.5% being men. It's also only been within the last two years that women in the US military have been allowed to serve in combat. So if a video game cares about accurate, realistic portrayals of modern warfare, then the rate at which the player will be killing another man, rather than a woman, is extremely high.



The physical differences between men and women create distinct circles of fairness, as most sports have separate divisions for men and women. Any sport that requires aggression and brute force tends to be the favored most by men in Western culture, whether it's football, hockey, rugby, professional wrestling (if we can call it a sport), or mixed martial arts. The thought of pitting a male UFC fighter against a female UFC fighter in the octagon wouldn't sit well with pretty much anyone. This coincides with the idea that a man gains more from defeating another man in combat, a concept that repeats itself outside of video games in action films.

Now since most video games are not meant to be absolutely realistic, it's unnecessary that they need to follow this rule. I've blasted the heads off numerous female raiders in Fallout: New Vegas. But it's a rule that carries over, if but subconsciously, from video game developers who are predominantly men. Particularly as the medium gets closer and closer to photorealism, the distance between digital fiction and reality becomes ever shorter.


Then of course, could you imagine a game where a male protagonist goes around murdering women and exclusively women and not just demons like harpies and hagravens? Even if the gameplay is groundbreaking and the story is told with an attention to context, it will become easy prey for the mainstream press. I mean, talk about making yourself a target and bad marketing. At best, the game would be considered a joke and be turned into an infamous meme. (Perhaps such a game would need a female protagonist killing a whole lot of other women to work.)

That said, a video game where women are the primary antagonists would be an interesting experiment, so long as it's handled well (say, a devilish male scientist creates a virus that targets women because he thought it was THIS BIG but she said it was only this big). If equality between the sexes is a worthy goal of the industry, then this is another double standard that needs to be broken to a degree. Do you believe that women can be the main enemies in a video game?
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