Skip navigation.

Female gaming: sex symbols and action heroines

Kayla Lidstone's picture
Would you view a female gaming character like Lara Croft as a sex symbol or an action heroine?
When it comes to gaming, female protagonists are mainly characterized with larger hips and breasts wearing skimpy outfits.

Lara Croft of the popular multi-console game Tomb Raider, is probably one of the most infamous sex symbols in gaming today. Toby Gard, the creator of Tomb Raider, did not originally design her to be depicted that way though. She was intended to be sexy because of her power and skills more than her looks. However, gaming magazines interpreted her differently, focusing more on her voluptuous figure than on her skillset.

One of the earliest games which involves both sexism and racism dates back to the 80s with a game called Custer’s revenge. This is probably the worst game ever. It’s racist, it’s sexist, it’s vile. The character’s goal would be to avoid the arrows and get to the Native American woman tied against a pole and rape her. Below is a screenshot of the gameplay.


Eventually, and thankfully, it was pulled from the market. 

I'm not saying that we haven’t improved from then – anything would be an improvement from this – but my point here is that there are deep rooted ideologies in the gaming sphere regarding women and how they are depicted.



Fighting games = more boobs

In Lara Croft’s instance, the character has been reworked through every Tomb Raider game released to make her more ‘feminist friendly’. Baby steps have allowed her design to improve from an unrealistic figure to an idealistic one.

Above: Lara Croft's progressive design changes throughout the years - she finally has a semi-attainable figure.

While most RPGs (role-playing games) seem to have improved their character designs, there is one category of gaming that has not improved with regard to the way women are depicted. A lot of fighting games have actually gotten worse. This would include games like Tekken, Mortal Combat and Dead or Alive.

Let’s be serious, Playboy didn’t make millions off their articles. Dead or Alive: Extreme Beach Volleyball is a prime example of how sex sells. Dead or Alive is usually a fighting game but this version is different. The trailer below has nothing to do with what the game is about – which is basically just a bunch of girls playing volleyball on the beach. It must have been very popular because Xbox even introduced a sequel. I would say that while this intro has volleyball in it, it is probably worse than the first.



I actually cringed when I saw that these games received mainly positive feedback. The game depicted women as sex symbols and no self-respecting woman would buy it. Games like this are at the crux of the issue of online gaming sexism.

Online harassment

The internet has opened up a lot of room for sexism with online gaming being a partial contributor. Games such as World of Warcraft (WoW) and Guild Wars (GW) have online guilds which people become a part of. Being part of a guild is like being part of a team or community where users should be comfortable to interact with fellow players of the game in particular.

However, females who form part of these guilds are often victim to ridicule and thought to be under false pretence for personal gain.

These gaming communities force women at large to choose between their gender and their hobby. If you were to search Google images, you would see hundreds of images of women posing provocatively with controllers. This follows the example set for them by the female gaming characters.

A study by Emily Matthews on the Pricecharting blog showed that women were four times more likely than men to have been taunted or harassed. 35.8% of women reported having quit playing temporarily because of sexism.

Many women now pretend to be men when gaming online. These are two posts by female gamers on different gaming threads.





Many girls are put off by the lack of appropriate representation of their gender and I believe that this is why there are so few female gamers. Even by existing, female gamers are disrupting the norms put in place over years of inadequate representation. The ‘girl gamer’ can do nothing right in the eyes of the community because of this. I have seen so many stories online like the two above where men have called women names like bitch, whore, slut and other, sometimes worse things.

Game developers will not spend large amounts of money for a market that does not seem to exist. It is because of this that game developers don’t really create games targeted at a female audience and we end up playing games designed for children and men.

It has become a social norm to hide that we are female online or back out of online gaming altogether and stick to gaming at home, alone. I’m not blaming any gender or company, all I’m trying to say is, let’s try and improve our attitude towards female gamers shall we? It shouldn’t matter that we have different reproductive organs; it doesn’t affect our gaming skills either way.

screenshot1.png15.27 KB
screenshot2.png16.91 KB