Last November during BlizzCon, I wrote a post critiquing the design of some of the female playable characters as compared to the male characters in the newly revealed but not yet released FPS game Overwatch. In it, I addressed the following comment made by Blizzard senior vice president Chris Metzen:
Specifically for Overwatch over the past year we’ve been really cognizant of that, trying not to oversexualize the female characters. I don’t know if we oversexualize the male characters. But it’s something we’re very sensitive to.
I boggled at the idea of not knowing whether you oversexualize the male characters in your games, and concluded: No, you definitely are not.
Yesterday on that post, a commenter named “blank” asked:
My question to you is, how would YOU oversexualize a male character?
Here’s my answer to that question: I can’t. It is impossible for me to oversexualize a male character in a video game.
Obviously I am not any sort of game designer, specifically not a character concept artist for any video game, but let’s pretend that I am.
Let’s pretend that I have both unlimited funding with which to produce a video game, and unlimited creative control over its content. Let’s imagine that having all of these resources and control, I decided to make the most sexual game possible involving male characters.
In order to maximize the sexualization of the male characters in this game, I would leave out female characters altogether. I would, effectively, make a gay porn movie in video game form.
In this gay porn game, because we’re talking about the design of fictional characters here, I would exaggerate all of the sexual characteristics of these male characters far beyond what is possible in real life. I would exaggerate their secondary sexual characteristics as well, so that not only would these be the most well-endowed male characters ever, but they would also be the most unquestionably male. And they would be doing…well, what you’d expect to find in a gay porn movie turned video game. That is the greatest extent to which it’s possible for me, personally, to sexualize male characters.
(Would I then want to play this video game? Eh….no thanks.)
But that doesn’t answer the question. The question was regarding what I would do to oversexualize male characters, and, as already stated, I can’t do that.
That’s because in this case, the “over” in “oversexualized” refers to frequency.
A trope is a device in story-telling which appears frequently. In today’s usage in pop culture, it typically refers to such a device being used so frequently that it becomes hackneyed, cliché. That’s the sense in which Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes v. Women in Video Games series is named, something which I’ve noticed seems to be all too often lost on its detractors. “She totally misrepresented the game mechanics in Hitman!” they will complain, as if such a gripe is devastating to the point of a video series dedicated to pointing out repeated use of depictions of female characters over time and throughout the industry, and discussing how the near-ubiquity of such depictions is bothersome and even harmful.
When Tropes v. Women says that women in video games are oversexualized, that’s the kind of “over” it’s talking about. Compared to that, my exaggerated gay porn video game would be a drop in the proverbial bucket. Maybe the non-proverbial pond, lake, or sea.
To ask how I would oversexualize male characters in video games is akin to asking how I would make America heterophobic. How I would make the country overly concerned about ending poverty. How I’d render the world’s hungry overly fed.
It’s funny to imagine, isn’t it? But yeah, that kind of “over” is not gonna happen.