The Oversexualisation of Women in Video Games

Photo of a woman playing a video game on a computer
Alice Bennett

With the recent confusion, and in some cases outrage, around women openly swooning over Ghost from Call of Duty, many female players are marveling at the double standard. Video games have historically over-sexualised female characters to a ridiculous extent- so why are so many male gamers complaining? Alice explores the history of sexualised female characters.


The release of the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II this year was met with excitement- not just for the game, but for one of the characters, Simon “Ghost” Riley. Many women and queer people have been vocal on social media about their attraction to the character, with some even joking that they only bought the game for him. This was met with a disproportionate amount of outrage from some male players- for example, a comment on a TikTok pointing out that the gaming industry has often sexualised teenage girls reads: ‘sexualising him is worse than sexualising minors’.

Many fans are ‘gatekeeping’ Ghost and Call of Duty in general, exposing the often-sexist side of the community, and showing the hypocrisy and double standards in an industry that is infamous for the over- sexualization of its female characters.


Lara Croft’s “Triangles” and sexism in earlier video games

The first oversexualised character that comes to mind is, of course, Lara Croft and her… triangles in Tomb Raider. This is one of the oldest and most infamous examples. Although her character is bad-ass (a rarity for female protagonists in games, particularly older ones), her character design unfortunately overshadows her abilities.

The common oversexualisation in character designs was not helped by the portrayal of other classic female characters in iconic franchises, such as Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda, which perpetuated the stereotype of the damsel in distress- a formula that has been repeated in most instalments of the game in some form.

Although Princess Peach and Zelda have both been made powerful and protagonists in their own right in more recent iterations, their legacy still stands. This becomes problematic when seeing how the only powerful and strong female protagonists like Lara Croft or Samus in Super Metroid are sexualised.

Although this isn’t a problem for the games on their own- I personally love all of these franchises and there is a lot more to these female characters than their design- it exposes a trend that is concerning and perpetuates sexist stereotypes and treats women like sexual objects.


Recent Examples

With more modern video games, the sexualisation is arguably more overt and obvious. Examples include characters like Ivy in the SoulCalibur series with her extremely large and exposed breasts, the titular character in Bayonetta with her ‘latex bodysuit a dominatrix might wear’ and Overwatch having plenty of controversies including “ButtGate” concerning a seemingly over-sexualised pose of one of the female characters.

There is also a conversation to be had, again, about many of these characters not being an issue in isolation. For example, some argue that Bayonetta is empowering and owns her sexuality. It is also important to emphasise that there is nothing wrong with women being openly sexual. However, it is interesting to observe the representation of women as a whole to demonstrate the tendency to oversexualise characters, often in service of the male gaze to attract more buyers- despite an estimated 41% of gamers being women.



The debate about whether the sexualisation of women in video games is wrong or problematic is another issue entirely. However, looking at just a few examples of overtly sexual female characters in games shows how ludicrous and hypocritical it is to complain about a male character being sexualised. Ultimately, the outrage seems unnecessary and demonstrates the underlying sexism that is unfortunately present in the gaming community.

Alice Bennett

Featured image courtesy of RODNAE Productions via Pexels. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

In-article video 1 courtesy of MajorAlex via YouTube.com. No changes were made to this video. 

In-article video 1 courtesy of Flatlife via YouTube.com. No changes were made to this video.

In-article video 2 courtesy of Feminist Frequency via YouTube.com. No changes were made to this video.

In-article video 3 courtesy of Nintendo of America via YouTube.com. No changes were made to this video. 

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