Women as Reward – Special DLC Mini-Episode

#Tropes vs Women in Video GamesSeptember 14, 2015

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Anita Sarkeesian

Executive Director and Buffy the Vampire Slayer Enthusiast

This totally free supplemental add-on content pack for our Women as Reward video examines how women’s bodies are used not just as a reward for in-game actions but also, via paid downloadable content, as a reward for spending actual money. We then address the most common defense of this kind of objectification and commodification of women’s bodies: the argument that “sex sells.”

This video is intended as a supplement to our Women as Reward video, which we recommend watching first: https://youtu.be/QC6oxBLXtkU

Press Image for Media Use: https://www.flickr.com/photos/femfreq/20683012824/

LINKS & RESOURCES

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

GAMES REFERENCED IN THIS EPISODE
Dead or Alive 5 (2012)
Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate (2013)
Enslaved (2010)
Far Cry 4 (2014)
Final Fantasy XIII-2 (2012)
Mass Effect 2 (2010)
The Saboteur (2009)
Saints Row: The Third (2011)
Tekken Tag Tournament 2 (2012)

Read the full article…

This totally free supplemental add-on content pack for our Women as Reward video examines how women’s bodies are used not just as a reward for in-game actions but also, via paid downloadable content, as a reward for spending actual money. We then address the most common defense of this kind of objectification and commodification of women’s bodies: the argument that “sex sells.”

This video is intended as a supplement to our Women as Reward video, which we recommend watching first: https://youtu.be/QC6oxBLXtkU

Press Image for Media Use: https://www.flickr.com/photos/femfreq/20683012824/

LINKS & RESOURCES

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

GAMES REFERENCED IN THIS EPISODE
Dead or Alive 5 (2012)
Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate (2013)
Enslaved (2010)
Far Cry 4 (2014)
Final Fantasy XIII-2 (2012)
Mass Effect 2 (2010)
The Saboteur (2009)
Saints Row: The Third (2011)
Tekken Tag Tournament 2 (2012)

Transcript

This is a special DLC add-on for our episode examining the Women as Reward trope. If you haven’t seen that video yet, I suggest watching it first before continuing to view this one.

We’ve coined the Women as Reward trope to describe a long-running pattern found in interactive media. It occurs when women (or more often women’s bodies) are employed as rewards for player actions in video games. The trope frames female bodies as collectible, as tractable or as consumable, and positions women as status symbols designed to validate the masculinity of presumed straight male players.

As we discussed in our full episode, this trope manifests in a number of ways including earned Cinematics, Easter Eggs, Unlockable Costumes, Experience Points, Collectibles, and Achievements.

However, the Women as Reward trope can take another, slightly different form. Instead of rewarding players for actions taken within the game environments, this one offers women’s bodies to players as rewards for actions taken in the real world. Namely for forking over real money for DLC or pre-orders that then grant gamers the opportunity to play with and ogle female characters in more sexualized outfits or situations.

DLC is short for downloadable content and can refer to a wide range of additional features or extensions to a preexisting game which can be purchased and downloaded digitally. While DLC can include everything from extra maps to new levels, from more missions to better gear, for the purposes of this trope I’m focusing on costume packs that offer sexualized variants of female game characters for an extra fee.

Final Fantasy 13-2 offered a revealing “beachwear costume” for the game’s protagonist, but unlike the alternative outfits I discussed in the main video this one is not unlockable via gameplay, instead it could be unlocked for 2 dollars and 99 cents. This is only one example but sexualized DLC outfits have become standard practice in some gaming genres.

[Clip: Final Fantasy XIII-2]

In our full video on this trope we highlighted some of the ways mainstream pornography has been seeping into video games as a reward for player actions. The third installment in the Saints Row series pushed this pornification trend even further by partnering with Penthouse magazine.

[Clip: Saints Row: The Third]

When purchased, the resulting DLC offered gamers the chance to add digital versions of real-life “Penthouse Pets” to the player’s gang. Promotional materials read “For the first time in your life, when you call Penthouse Pets, they’ll actually answer.”

Pre-order bonuses are extras awarded to gamers that pay for a game before it has been released. As an incentive, publishers will offer small pieces of largely cosmetic DLC, usually in the form of alternative character skins or unique digital items.

[Clip: Far Cry 4 trailer]
Announcer: “Pre order now for a free upgrade to the limited edition. Includes three extra story missions and a bonus impaler harpoon gun.”

Sometimes different items may be offered by specific retailers. For example you got the “Double Barrel Elephant Rifle” for preorders of Far Cry 4 at Amazon but you got the “Butcher’s Machete” for pre-ordering from Best Buy.

When these same, already questionable, marketing tactics are combined with sexual objectification things start to get really insidious.

[Clip: Tekken Tag Tournament 2 promo]
Announcer: “Pre order offers include two new characters Angel and Michelle, the big bikini bundle, four exclusive Snoop Dog mash tracks, and the special Snoop Dog Stage.”

All pre-order bonus packs of Tekken Tag Tournament 2 included the heavily advertised “Big Bikini Bundle”. [Clip: Tekken Tag Tournament 2 big bikini bundle trailer]. And as an added bonus those who pre-ordered at GameStop stores even received a sultry phone call from one of the female characters in the game. Let’s take a listen.

[Audio clip]
“This is Anna Williams, calling in on behalf of GameStop with some juicy news. Turns out your copy of Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is ready for pickup. Better run along to your nearest GameStop tomorrow morning to pick it up or I might just swipe your copy for myself. And if you happen to have any old games lying around put some of that business savvy to work and trade them in for 30% extra in-store credit when you purchase Tekken Tag Tournament 2. But if you really want to impress me, let’s see how you handle a one-on-one fight. Or to make it interesting, let’s try two-on-one. You game? Either way, I’ll be waiting. Just remember: Power to the Player.”

In this case it’s not just the publisher who is responsible for that embarrassing stunt, Bandai Namco partnered with GameStop to make absolutely sure everyone knew the Tekken franchise was designed with a very specific subset of straight male gamers in mind.

[Clip: Enslaved]

An exclusive outfit called “Sexy Robot Trip” for the female sidekick in the 2010 action-adventure platformer Enslaved was given to players who purchased the game from Best Buy.

[Clip: Dead or Alive 5 Trailer]

Pre-ordering Dead or Alive 5 from GameStop granted players access to a series of white swimsuits and bunny ears with which to dress up the game’s female characters. Meanwhile pre-ordering from Amazon unlocked black versions of these same getups.

Occasionally bonuses are included to encourage gamers to buy a full-priced retail version of a game instead of a less expensive used copy. Gamers who bought a new copy of EA’s The Saboteur were given a ticket with a code for the “midnight show”. This special code did two things, first it allowed access to a burlesque show in a cordoned-off area of the game space. Second, it removed clothing from all the female dancers in the game, making all of them topless.

[Clip: The Saboteur]

Doriss Girl: “Ah, there you are Sean. I have been waiting for you. Come, take a seat. I can’t wait to get started.”

Now, of course, it’s entirely possible for DLC costumes to avoid the Women as Reward trope. For example Mass Effect 2 offered two “Alternative Appearance Packs” that added new clothing and armor for your squadmates which ended up actually providing less sexualized outfits for both Jack and Miranda that are more appropriate for the mission at hand.

Sex sells argument:
When discussing representations of sexualized women the argument I hear most often is the old, adage, “sex sells.” This boring excuse isn’t even accurate.

First, just because people will buy something doesn’t automatically mean that thing has value or isn’t harmful. It’s also not a guaranteed avenue to success.

Second, and more importantly, when it comes to the Women as Reward trope in gaming we are not talking about actual “sex”; the ways women and women’s bodies are turned into trophies for gamers to win or unlock has nothing whatsoever to do with acts of consensual human intimacy. So when people say “sex sells” what they really mean is “sexualization” and “objectification” of women’s bodies sells” or more succinctly and more accurately “sexism sells.” And why does sexism sell? Well because it’s not challenging dominant paradigms, it’s simply reinforcing ideas about male privilege and entitlement to women’s sexuality that are already entrenched in the cultural zeitgeist.

When games offer hyper-sexualized DLC outfits for players to buy, publishers and developers are telling presumed straight male players, in not so subtle terms, “YES, these women do indeed exist primarily as toys to fulfill your personal sexual fantasy”.

This is just one of the ways the Women as Reward trope works to perpetuate regressive ideas about gender. See our full episode for a detailed analysis on this topic.