I’ve been thinking more lately about the narrow standards of
attractiveness that video game characters of all genders are forced to fit
anon is correct when they say that “every main male character in every game
is mid 30s white guy with brown hair.”
I suppose they
are also correct that “the typical male characters are also all incredibly
fit and attractive looking as well.” (I think Nathan Drake is reasonably
attractive and since they all look the same I guess that means I think they’re
all reasonably attractive…whelp.) But in all seriousness, they almost all fit a
generic idea of conventional attractiveness, as do most female characters.
That doesn’t mean that it’s the same.
The kind of attractive that these male characters are
expected to be is not the same kind that female characters are expected to be.
This is common across many mediums, not just games, and it’s why things like The Hawkeye Initiative exist, and @bikiniarmorbattledamage has a “sexy
male armor” tag that looks ridiculous. We expect to see women contorting
themselves and wearing few clothes, and we simply don’t expect the same for
men. It looks strange. But it should look strange on anyone – these women do look ridiculous, you’re just used to
Both male and female characters have a spectrum of possible
representations. In the centre, with overlap, is the generic face, with the
male version presented above. Nathan Drake has his equivalent in Elena Fisher,
who is the same kind of generic attractive. Joel has Tess. Male Shep has Fem
But Shep also has Samara (source):
And throughout games there are oversexualised female
characters like this. I don’t think that anyone would argue with that, even if
they don’t see it as a problem. There is no equivalent for male characters on
this end of the spectrum. Oversexualised male characters simply don’t occur,
primarily because we have no model for creating them. Decades of media have
honed contorted spines and barely there clothes for women, but the tropes
simply aren’t there for men. Much virtual ink has been spilled about the
sexualisation implied by Overwatch’s Hanzo’s exposed pec, but it neither
invites objectification nor has the same media history behind it as
Widowmaker’s open catsuit.
With mention of Overwatch, we can return to the
aforementioned spectrum. In the generically attractive middle, you have
characters like Hanzo and Symmetra. We see gendered differences here too,
though – both show skin but Symmetra’s is designed to draw the eye to legs and
hips and serves no purpose beyond this, whereas Hanzo’s brings the attention to
the power of his bow arm and significant tattoo.
A quick aside: this power demonstrated by Hanzo and other
generically attractive male characters like the white dudes shown at the top
isn’t “sexualisation for women’s benefit,” it’s supposed to be aspirational for
men, as best demonstrated by this
juxtaposition of Hugh Jackman marketed to men vs. women.
To return to Overwatch, we can move down the spectrum to
more sexualised characters like Widowmaker, and there is no equivalent
sexualised male characters (mostly since this is impossible, as they would look
ridiculous due to our expectations, like I said). Then we can move towards less
conventionally attractive characters.
Probably the least conventionally attractive female hero is
Zarya, who was created specifically to counter concerns about all the earlier
female heroes looking the same. But she serves to show how limited the options
are for female characters, with people citing to me her “strong jaw” and
“facial scar” as making her completely unattractive. Yet she doesn’t vary that
strongly from the norm, with a standard, youthful face, and even manages to have tropes like the boobplate incorporated into her armour.
Then you have the conventionally unattractive male heroes. Roadhog
is a great character and representation for fat men, but we so rarely see
any female characters who look like that. Because they can only fall
closer to the centre on the spectrum. This is easily demonstrable by comparing
Roadhog to the chubby Mei, who adheres more closely to “acceptable” standards,
being completely covered in thick fabric that obscures her actual size, and
being shown as flat stomached and large breasted in her concept art. Roadhog,
on the other hand, is unapologetically and obviously large and round.
To put it shortly, in Overwatch, the men get to be anything and everything, whereas the women fit into a series of similar archetypes (source).
And this isn’t just about Overwatch, it applies across
games. Male characters get vastly wider options, whereas female characters are
stuck in the same rut of conventional attractiveness. And even when male
characters fall into these same standards, which they often do, they are still
more likely to look realistic and not to be outright sexualised. Those are the
Despite what some assume, we don’t deny that male characters have their own share of common design tropes (which, paired with characterization cliches, make up their own bingo game), we just ask not to claim they’re equivalent to the issues female characters have.
It is really important to not conflate problems of generic male hero design with problems of sexualized heroine design. They come from completely different places and it’s dishonest to treat them as interchangeable.
As @feministgamingmatters says, not only Overwatch (or Blizzard) is at fault, but I’d note it makes a great case study material. As a vastly popular mainstream game with a very big cast, it allows us to make comparisons across the characters and to point out reoccurring patterns.
And yes, even with the existence of generically attractive male character, both in this game and media as a whole, male heroes still have more moulds to fill than their female counterparts.