Bulging brains -- and breasts

If game makers really believe in their smart new heroines, why do they still dress them like hookers?

By Janelle Brown
July 7, 2000 11:24PM (UTC)
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"Gaming Heroines Dressed to Kill: Latest crop of video warriors hoping to unseat Lara Croft with brains over bustline." This headline, which was printed in large type on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle on Thursday, might lead you to expect a story about the new, mousy librarians appearing in video games.

And we might have believed in the story's premise -- that the "new" female gaming heroines are selling because they are smart, not because they are sexy -- if it hadn't been for the accompanying photos: The busty sexpot character Joanna Dark from the game Perfect Dark, emblazoned across the front of the newspaper in a blue catsuit so tight you'd think she was naked. The girl is curvaceous -- although whether she bulges with brains was not readily apparent.


The article, which discusses the new gaming heroines like Joanna Dark, Konoko from the game Oni, Ulala from Space Channel 5 or Claire Redfield from Resident Evil, points out the advances that have been made since the days of Lara Croft. Amid quotes from gamers weary of bombshell-babe stereotypes, the Chronicle's Neva Chonin gives game companies a chance to hype the "brains" of their female character. As Perrin Kaplan, director of corporate affairs for Nintendo, told Chonin, "[Dark] is beautiful, but her figure isn't the first thing you notice. She isn't just sex and curves."

The art directors of the Chronicle must not have read this: How else to explain the full-page photos of Dark in all her curvy, sexy glory?

Sure, responsible game developers may recognize that no female warrior would go into battle in a midriff top and short-shorts; but most also recognize that those sexy outfits are still selling games. Lara Croft, despite her ludicrous outfits, was one of the most popular games of all time. Would Joanna Dark have ended up on the cover of the Chronicle if it weren't for her sexy packaging? Even the more "responsible" characters, packaged with realistic armor or unusual wit, still boast Barbie proportions -- because marketers know that boys will buy it.


It's a great paradox of the gaming industry -- no matter how much effort game makers put into creating "multidimensional" characters, there are but a few dimensions that sell the game. The new breed of heroines may be touted for their brains and brawn, but the sex appeal still comes first.

Yeah, instead of G-strings, these women are now blessed with skin-tight bodysuits. But the difference is simply the color of the pixels.

Janelle Brown

Janelle Brown is a contributing writer for Salon.

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