Be honest—when you think "gamer," you probably imagine a nerdy white guy playing Halo while downing Doritos and Mountain Dew in his parents' basement. Right?
Like many stereotypes, this doesn't quite paint the whole picture. Roughly half of gamers are female, though you wouldn't necessarily know that from taking a quick tour of the gaming world, which has historically been less-than-inclusive of women (ahem, "Gamergate").
Nowhere is this male-dominated mindset more apparent than in the games themselves, which are largely marketed toward guys—with female characters designed to fulfill male sexual fantasies, even when representing warriors or assassins. It's perhaps no surprise that 70 percent of female gamers opt to play male characters instead of female characters to avoid sexual harassment, according to Hate Crimes In Cyberspace author Danielle Keats Citron.
In light of stats like these, the educational resource Bulimia.com decided to redesign female video game heroines with more realistic bodies. They explained in their post:
"Some gaming studios boast their hyper-realistic lighting techniques, touting natural cloud movements as the latest features of their games. And with that kind of attention to detail, it makes us wonder, why can’t they accurately portray the female body? … If video game creators are going to pride themselves on accurate digital representations, then it’s time for them to get real about women."
For example, here's their redesign of Christie Monteiro, a capoeira fighter in Tekken 5 (who, for some reason, has chosen the worst possible sports bra ever for a fight).
And here's a more realistic-looking version of Helena Douglas, a French Opera singer hell-bent on revenge in Dead or Alive 5.
As you can see, the redesigns made the characters' breasts a little smaller and added more girth to the waist and hips. In the image of Christie Monteiro, her ribs are no longer visible.
Of course, Bulimia.com's post didn't go without its critics.
The Know, a popular video game news site, didn't think the redesigns were necessary, pointing out that women in games often have athletic careers (military, fighters, assassins) and therefore, would be fit in real life—and sport slender physiques.
Users on Reddit agreed. As one pointed out, "It makes sense for female characters to be fit and athletic. Lara croft in the tomb raider series possesses gymnast and acrobat like skills to hang, flip, climb, and do a whole assortment of acrobatic maneuvers. Show me one top level Olympic female gymnast who looks out of shape. They don't exist."
All good points—but in fairness, female gymnasts and professional acrobats don't also usually boast teeny tiny waists and larger-than-life breasts. It's one thing to portray an athletic, fit body type—like professional soccer players, UFC champ Ronda Rousey, or CrossFit competitors—but it's another to pick and choose parts. As most women know, it's pretty tricky to maintain a low body-fat percentage and giant boobs.
For example, the character Helena Douglas from Dead or Alive is said to be 5 feet 7 inches tall, have a 22-inch waist, and weigh 108 pounds. If you calculate her BMI, it comes out to 16.9 (anything below 18.5 qualifies as underweight). Meanwhile, real-life badass Ronda Rousey weighs between 135 and 152 pounds, depending on whether she's making weight for a fight—and she's also 5 feet 7 inches.
And so, it makes sense that Bulimia.com, which is trying to help people with eating disorders, might not want video games to glamorize underweight, unrealistic body types to the millions of women gamers.
Studies have shown that one's self-esteem and self worth is negatively affected when constantly confronted with images that feel unattainable. And these body types are indeed unattainable. Even in a game like League of Legends, which boasts more than 100 "champions" (i.e., characters), all the female champions all have one thing in common: big breasts and small waists. For instance, here's the champion Nidalee in one of her many "battle ready" outfits.
Don't get me wrong—I think Nidalee is hot, and I'm not advocating for all video games to change all their female characters to accurately represent the female body. There is something to be said for fantasy and entertainment.
However, a little diversity couldn't hurt, either. The gaming world, and by proxy the internet, is already a dangerous place for women—there are few corners in which women are not sexualized. So when girl gamers come home at the end of the day to relax and play video games, maybe they don't want to be subjected to even more discrimination by being forced into a character that looks more like a stripper than an assassin. (Yes, research has shown that female avatars are subjected to more discrimination than male ones, especially when played by a woman in real life).
So perhaps, maybe, it's time women are given gaming heroes whose breasts don't sit directly beneath their face, whose waists are too small to hold their organs, and whose clothing makes a little more sense for battle. And on days women want to be Nidalee? Well, they can still be Nidalee. At least, then, they have a choice.
For more photos and redesigns, head over to Bulimia.com.
Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.