There is a lot of discussion that centers around the sexualization of female characters in video games, especially when it comes to marginalized roles as male characters’ side kicks and the absolute impracticality of bikini-mail. In watching video games such as The Witcher play out however, there is an aspect to the use — or rather lack of – male sexuality in these same games that bears discussion. The Witcher 2 provides an excellent example of this when the main character, Geralt, has sex with Triss Merigold, a companion and cohort. In all sexual instances between these two characters, Triss is fully naked and in full view, where there is perhaps one shot framed to allow us a glimpse of Geralt’s backside. The imbalance between them is made even more starkly clear when they lie down after the act is done and Triss is still entirely naked and again in full view of the player and somehow Geralt has put on his pants and buckled his belt. Besides being physically impossible in the time provided, it very clearly projects the message that Triss is to be sexually desired, while Geralt is merely a prop in the scene.

From a cinematic and technical perspective, this scene is beautifully put together, and while Triss’s sexuality is obviously a point of strength for her,  her nudity is the entire focus of the scene, even during the act, with very little inclusion given to Geralt. In the past there has been an argument that the industry is male dominated, and that women’s sexuality is used to cater to the majority demographic. Recent research from the Entertainment Systems Association shows however that in 2016 at least 41% of gamers are female, with Statista reporting the proportion growing up to 59% this year, from 2015’s 53%. With all of this evidence supporting an even split between male-identifying and female-identifying consumers, the argument of catering to a straight male demographic does not hold up.

Beyond the statistical factor to this,  the story it tells about male characters versus female characters shows gaps in potential for character development and depth, as well as the role that men play in sexual relationships. Where women’s sexuality often portrays them as elusive, seductive, and the sexuality itself as a tool that they can use, men’s lies solely in the ability to attract a woman or partner, rather than in any other aspect of that relationship — sexual or otherwise, with themselves or another person. Women such as Triss who are shown to be extremely physically capable as combatants, and intellectually a match for their male counterparts, are still shown in complete physical vulnerability. In contrast, the men with whom they share their beds hold their power in their sword and their intimidation, allowed little to no physical vulnerability or nudity.  There is little to no depth in their involvement in the relationships created between them and their sexual partners, and when there is, it is regarded purely romantically, with only nods to the fact that there is a male aspect to the sexual encounters.

We have seen wonderful treatment of female characters, from the 2013 Lara Croft Tomb Raider prequel, to the female character choices in Dragon Age,  and the romantic and sexual gap bridged in games like Mass Effect where romantic  and sexual options are relatively free-flowing, and while there is still much to be asked for in the industry’s treatment of female characters, there is also a gap in the potential and the development of our male heroes. In a society that is more and more open about questions of gender, identity and sexuality, we are for some reason afraid to show the same type of nudity and physical vulnerability to male characters as what we have forced on female characters for so many generations of video games.

In 2016, we have an undeniable female demographic who are hungry to see themselves represented in games, and an overall consumer base who deserves more than the “This is what we have always done” attitude towards the vulnerability of our male characters. Let us put as many man hours in to Geralt’s well sculpted abs as we have in to Triss’s well endowed breasts. Equality means that we represent all of us and all aspects of us. This includes our representation of physical sexuality, and how we choose to display our heroes as whole people. One day, we will have female characters whose plate armor would work just as well as the mens’, and our male heroes will have full frontal nudity, but for now, we are lacking in our portrayal of both our male and our female characters and our industry deserves better.

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