Strategic Butt Coverings – Tropes vs Women in Video Games

Strategic Butt Coverings – Tropes vs Women in Video Games


“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 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. “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. “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. (“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 character’s
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, this emphasis 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 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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