It’s no secret that Polygon has a feminist agenda. It’s not a bad thing; it’s actually a great thing. Women need a voice in gaming journalism that will champion them. One that is loud enough to be heard and tactful enough to be taken seriously. Polygon could be that voice… I’m just not sure they are with their review of The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt.
While there are problematic gender tropes in gaming and female characters that are portrayed offensively, it doesn’t mean every opinion piece and every review of a game featuring women represents an opportunity to march farther down the feministic warpath. It degrades and dilutes what could otherwise be a strong and incredibly valuable voice for women in gaming.
In Polygon’s otherwise stunning review of one of the most anticipated games of 2015, the reviewer complains about violence towards women and over-sexualization of its female characters. My curiosity swelled and I looked up the character model of Ciri, whose “shirt is unbuttoned in the middle showing part of her bra.” When I saw the images, I was taken aback. Not by CD Projekt Red but by Polygon.
Source: The Witcher official wikia
This is one of the most conservative female character models I’ve seen in a long time. I see real-life young women every day in more revealing attire and can’t imagine anyone, female or male, being offended by this. Ciri is covered in fabric from head to toe with just a tiny amount of skin peeking through just below her chest. It’s disconcerting to think about how afraid of the female form one must be to take arms against this character’s design when you have questionably young female characters actually being over-sexualized and Dead or Alive characters jiggling about in “volleyball” simulators. If CD Projekt Red was so worried about Ciri’s sex appeal and Barbie good looks, why does she have a deep scar maiming her perfect cheek?
Another female character, Zero Suit Samus, was recently introduced to the Super Smash Brothers series as a sexier, spandex-wearing version of a very popular female role model for girls who play video games. She’s strong, prevailing, dangerous and sexy.
A commenter on an IGN message board with a female avatar puts it like this:
“Why can’t someone be sexy and badass? Does sexuality intimidate you? Are you only allowed to respect women if they are stripped from their sexuality? If so, you’re a pig, plain and simple, and your opinions are trash.”
While I don’t agree that anyone’s opinion is trash, I think this commenter hits on an indelible truth and I find it strange that it is Ciri, a mild character in a mature-rated game, who is pulled aside and ridiculed for being overly sexual. Ciri is not represented as being forced to open her shirt for the pleasure of other male characters. She seems to do it of her own volition. And if so, who are we to tell her she can’t? Should she be forced to cover up and be stripped of her choice to control her own sexuality? Should she have to give it up to men who know better what is good for everyone? It just feels like a lazy add-on to Polygon’s one-sided campaign against the Witcher III for over-sexualizing its women.
To be perfectly fair, Ciri was not Polygon’s only example of over-sexualization of women in its review of the Witcher III. I admit there are other females in the game with sexually attractive bodies and revealing attire. But even if there are far more women wearing far less clothing, I don’t find nudity or sexualization of characters to be a bad thing as long as it is done tastefully, and I say characters because I’m talking about both males and females.
Geralt himself is complete with rippling muscles and a mature, manly face. CD Projekt Red may not be issuing out calendars of his butt, but he certainly isn’t a fat slob with pimples and glasses slaying monsters while echoing the image of the stereotypical gamer.
I didn’t read one complaint in Polygon’s review about the scene where almost ALL of Geralt’s chiseled body is visible and wet as he stands with naught but a towel clinging to his toned waist. Yet the review still frames the issue of sexuality as unfair treatment only towards women.
Maybe I’ll be enlightened when I play the game for myself, but it’s more likely I’ll remain of the opinion that the unrealistic portrayal of male body-types is just as common as that of sleek, skinny females. Take Misturugi and Ivy from Soul Calibur as an example.
Both have outrageous, anatomically-unattainable bodies. Ivy is a scantily-clad woman with large, perfect breasts and thong to augment her derriere. Misturugi is a shirtless samurai with biceps that make basketballs feel like shriveled turnips. However Ivy is considered a sex object to be ogled by men while Misturugi is not perceived sexually – at least not problematically sexual.
And that’s just it. The problem is not with these characters designs, but in the eye of the beholder and how they wish to perceive the human form. I argue that you won’t find many digital heroes, male or female, without equally idealized and impossibly perfect figures. Just take a look at the Justice League or Marcus Fenix.
And let’s not forget. This is a Mature-rated title. It’s supposed to delve into adult themes. It features a dark and gritty fantasy world stripped of pleasure and luxury and filled with hardened characters who deal with very real issues of the medieval era. Artists have a free license to create whatever mature content they want and no one is forcing anyone to play or buy their work.
If we want people to take this art form seriously, we have to let it lead us into places that make us uncomfortable. So if you can’t handle bare breasts and lady butts, washboard abs and massive biceps, violence, torture, gore and drug use, stay away from mature games like the Witcher III.
I have to point out that I have never played the Witcher III and the reviewer has. So I can’t say for sure that it’s not misogynistic as Polygon says or whether sexualization is fairly attributed to both genders. What I can say, and am saying, is that I want Polygon to focus on the problem at hand.
I want them to focus more on the image of female helplessness Princess Peach offers to women in games despite being fully clothed rather than slut-shaming Bayonetta based on her appearance when her character amounts to much more than that. I want them to applaud series’ like Mass Effect, Tomb Raider and Metroid for bringing strong female leads to the forefront. I want them to focus this fight and not dilute it with petty complaints about clothing choices and violence in a game that is targeted towards a mature audience who is supposed to be able to handle mature themes with, well… maturity.