Strategic Butt Coverings – Feminist Frequency

Strategic Butt Coverings

#Tropes vs Women in Video Games

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Anita Sarkeesian

Executive Director and Buffy the Vampire Slayer Enthusiast

This episode examines the ways in which designers often employ camera angles and clothing choices as tools to deliberately sexualize and objectify female protagonists of third-person games. To illustrate that this is no accident, we contrast the ways in which women’s butts are frequently emphasized with the great lengths often taken to avoid calling attention to the butts of male characters. We then present some examples of female-led third-person games that humanize rather than objectify their protagonists.

This is the first episode in season two of Tropes vs. Women in Video Games. For more on the format changes accompanying season two, please see our announcement here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/566429325/tropes-vs-women-in-video-games/posts/1469466

Press Image for Media Use: https://www.flickr.com/photos/femfreq/23844341504

ABOUT THE SERIES

The Tropes vs Women in Video Games project aims to examine the plot devices and patterns most often associated with female characters in gaming from a systemic, big picture perspective. This series will include critical analysis of many beloved games and characters, but remember that it is both possible (and even necessary) to simultaneously enjoy media while also being critical of it’s more problematic or pernicious aspects. This video series is created by Anita Sarkeesian and the project was funded by 6968 awesome backers on Kickstarter.com

Links, Resources & Transcript

This episode examines the ways in which designers often employ camera angles and clothing choices as tools to deliberately sexualize and objectify female protagonists of third-person games. To illustrate that this is no accident, we contrast the ways in which women’s butts are frequently emphasized with the great lengths often taken to avoid calling attention to the butts of male characters. We then present some examples of female-led third-person games that humanize rather than objectify their protagonists.

This is the first episode in season two of Tropes vs. Women in Video Games. For more on the format changes accompanying season two, please see our announcement here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/566429325/tropes-vs-women-in-video-games/posts/1469466

Press Image for Media Use: https://www.flickr.com/photos/femfreq/23844341504

ABOUT THE SERIES

The Tropes vs Women in Video Games project aims to examine the plot devices and patterns most often associated with female characters in gaming from a systemic, big picture perspective. This series will include critical analysis of many beloved games and characters, but remember that it is both possible (and even necessary) to simultaneously enjoy media while also being critical of it’s more problematic or pernicious aspects. This video series is created by Anita Sarkeesian and the project was funded by 6968 awesome backers on Kickstarter.com

37 GAMES REFERENCED IN THIS EPISODE

Alan Wake (2010)
Alice: Madness Returns (2011)
Assassin’s Creed (2007)
Batman: Arkham City (2011)
Batman: Arkham Knight (2015)
Bayonetta (2009)
Beyond Good & Evil (2003)
Binary Domain (2012)
Blades of Time (2012)
Bully (2006)
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 (2014)
Dante’s Inferno (2010)
Devil May Cry 4 (2008)
Gears of War 3 (2011)
Golden Axe: Beast Rider (2008)
Heavenly Sword (2007)
Just Cause 2 (2010)
Kane & Lynch 2 (2010)
Life Is Strange (2015)
Lollipop Chainsaw (2012)
Max Payne 3 (2012)
Metal Gear Solid 4 (2008)
Ninja Gaiden II (2008)
Prince of Persia (2008)
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2003)
Red Dead Redemption (2010)
Remember Me (2013)
The Saboteur (2009)
Sleeping Dogs (2012)
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (2008)
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II (2010)
Tomb Raider (1996)
Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness (2003)
Tomb Raider: Underworld (2008)
Watch Dogs (2014)
Wet (2009)
X-Blades (2007)

Transcript

CLIP: Batman: Arkham Knight
“Well handsome, what are we waiting for?”

If you want to get to know a character, learn about their interests, goals, or desires, their butt is probably not going to give you that information. It won’t tell you much about who they are, or what they’re thinking or feeling at any given time. But video game designers often choose to put tremendous focus on the butts of certain characters, while going to almost absurd lengths to avoid calling attention to the butts of others. These carefully crafted choices developers make about camera angles and clothing significantly impact how players think about and relate to these characters.

Third-person games with female protagonists typically display those characters in a way that gives players a full-body view. A classic example of this is the original Tomb Raider games, which are presented from a third-person perspective wherein protagonist Lara Croft’s entire body is visible. In these early Tomb Raider games, Lara’s butt is typically right in the center of the screen, a camera orientation which, along with the sexualized clothing the designers chose to outfit her in, places a tremendous amount of emphasis on that part of her body.

In dozens of third-person games with playable female characters, the character’s butt is brought to the forefront and that’s where the player’s focus is directed. In Batman: Arkham City for instance, the player’s gaze is drawn to Catwoman’s behind, which is emphasized by her costume and exaggerated hip sway.

CLIP: Golden Axe: Beast Rider
“The ceremony! The sisterhood will never forgive me if I am late.”

Golden Axe: Beast Rider makes extremely sure that we notice the protagonist’s butt just before we take control and start playing. And here in Tomb Raider: Underworld, to say that Lara’s butt is being emphasized would be putting it mildly.

CLIP: Tomb Raider: Underworld
“Incredible. The carvings are clearly similar to early Germanic design, but this is far older than the fifth century.”

And this happens all too often.

CLIP: Remember Me
“You can’t miss it.”

Let’s contrast the way that women’s butts are emphasized with the sometimes absurd lengths taken to cover up or hide men’s butts. If some of this footage looks jerky, that’s because in some games, trying to get a glimpse of male characters’ butts can feel a bit like wrestling with the camera.

Common ways men’s butts are hidden are by preventing the player from seeing below the character’s waistline, or employing a more over-the-shoulder camera angle, which has the added benefit of keeping the character’s butt safely out of the frame. The most amusing solution is to simply include a cape, tunic, long coat or very conveniently positioned piece of tattered fabric which actively prevents the player from getting a clear or sustained look at the protagonist’s butt. For the purposes of this video I tried to get a glimpse of Batman’s rear end, but it’s as if his cape is a high-tech piece of Wayne Industries equipment designed to cover up his butt at all costs. I like to jokingly refer to this aspect of a male character’s costume as the strategic butt covering.

Of course, not all games with male protagonists keep the character’s butt obscured or out of frame like these games do. The real issue is one of emphasis and definition; a significant portion of third-person games with female protagonists call attention to those characters’ butts in a way that’s meant to be sexually appealing to the presumed straight male player. In this regard, the way that women’s bodies are depicted is significantly different from the way that men’s bodies are depicted. There are a few examples of male protagonists who are wearing clothing that calls attention to their butts but for the most part, men’s butts, even when visible in the frame, are deemphasized. Plenty of male heroes wear baggy pants or jeans, Uncharted’s Nathan Drake among them, but nothing about his visual design or the jeans he’s wearing encourages you to focus on his butt as some sort of defining aspect of his character.

By contrast, the emphasis placed on the butts of female characters communicates to players that this is what’s important, this is what you should be paying attention to. It communicates that the character is a sexual object designed for players to look at and enjoy. And by explicitly encouraging you to ogle and objectify the character, the game is implicitly discouraging you from identifying directly with her. Strategic butt coverings and camera angles that obscure or de-emphasize male characters’ rear ends are not an accident; they are a conscious decision made with great care, and the flipside of this is that designers often do the opposite when the protagonist is female.

This difference in how male and female characters are framed often extends into the advertisements and box covers. Women’s butts are front and center, and it’s even become a depressing joke that their bodies are twisted and contorted in uncomfortable or unnatural ways so that their breasts and butt can be visible in the same shot. In contrast, when men are depicted from behind, there is great effort taken to cover up their rear end, often with other images or shadows.

Of course, female characters can also be framed in ways that aren’t objectifying. A good example of this is the episodic adventure game Life Is Strange, in which the protagonist’s butt isn’t emphasized or centralized; the camera angles work in conjunction with the story to encourage us to identify with her as a human being. Sadly, the box art for the third-person action-adventure game Beyond Good & Evil emphasizes and sexualizes Jade’s butt. The game itself, however, demonstrates that the Nathan Drake approach of outfitting a character in clothing that doesn’t emphasize their butt and not having the camera center it or focus on it can work just as well to humanize female characters as it does for male characters.

So to be clear, the solution here is not to simply show more butts of male characters. Equal opportunity butt display is definitely not the answer. Rather, the solution is to deemphasize the rear ends of female characters, so that players are encouraged not to ogle and objectify these women, but to identify and empathize with them as people. This is not an impossible task given that game designers do this all the time with their male characters. It’s time they started consistently doing it with their female characters, too.

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