Press X to make sandwich – A complete guide to gender design in games


Announcement: Due to the huge positive responses and the considerable length of this growing article, I decided to turn this into a printer-friendly downloadable PDF and try to turn this into an ebook format – all available for free – so more people can have access to the material in a format that suits it better and hopefully makes it more convenient to read.

I aim to release the document versions of this post around september of this year.

Please add your thoughts and ideas – anything you find relevant – in the comment section below. I especially am looking for critical commentary, corrections and suggestions from women, trans women, asexual people, bisexuals, gay, queer and lesbian folks and intersex people as well. …since these are vital perspective I cannot offer.

Thank you.

Table of Contents

This article is huge and actually not intended to be read in one sitting, so I made a table of contents thing.

The article is separated into chapters and paragraphs, which are all directly linked through the table of contents below. This allows you to read the through the article at your own pace, link to certain points, quickly jump around, treat this like a master posts and share the bits you find interesting.


Chapter 1 – Working With Gender
1.1 Player Identity – Creating empathy and kinship
1.2 Advocacy – Challenging current gender norms
1.3 Gender As Shorthand – Establishing complex contexts instantly
1.4 Tease – Catching the player’s eye and providing titillation

Chapter 2 – Gender Signifiers
2.0 Gender Coding – Meaning and signs
2.1 Gender Indexes – biological gender-coded signifiers
2.2 Gender Symbols – cultural gender-coded signifiers
2.3 Symbolic Creativity – characters presenting their gender
2.4 Character Canvas – the available space for gender signifiers

Chapter 3 – Gender Avatars
3.1. Context – When the story or scenario deals with questions of gender.
3.2. Scarcity – very few or just one character from a specific gender present.
3.3. Theme – When everything about a character is about their gender.
3.4. Regendering – When a concept gets presented with a new gender.
3.5. Fragmentation – When gender signifiers are presented standing alone.
3.6. Dissonance – When gender signifiers feel out of place.

Chapter 4 – Inequality By Design
4.1. Cisgenderism And Heterosexism – The expectation to be cisgender and straight.
4.2. Androcentrism – The expectation to be a man.
4.3. Infantilization – Taking agency away.
4.4. Gender Allocation – Who gets which gender and how much of it.
4.5. Stylization – Gender segregated art styles.
4.6. Sexualization – Making someone sexual in nature.
4.7. Sexual Objectification – Sexual exploitation and assault.
4.8. Misogynistic Cisgenderism and Heterosexism
4.9. Gender Violence – Gender-based violence and rape culture.

Chapter 5 – Gender Conscious Design
5.0. Apologism – Diffusing common evasive arguments
5.1. Owning Up – If you want to do androcentric games, own it
5.2. Inclusive Design – Making games for every gender

Change Log


Hey, everybody.

This rather huge article is intended to collect and structure a complete overview of how gender design works and how gender design is currently done in games.

We will explore gendering language, connotations and subtext, problematic industry habits and I will also provide a quick guide for instant improvement, all from the perspective of a professional game designer and artist and also design teacher.

I hope the article equips you with powerful tools to discuss matters of gender in games and helps you in your own creative efforts.

The content will be updated from time to time with new concepts and resources, so that tis article serves as a central place for me to collect and organize my knowledge about gender design. Please feel free to add useful ideas in the comment section. Good suggestion will be featured in the main article.

Please note, that this article deals with issues of discrimination and features descriptions/images of sexual assault and gender violence, so consider this a trigger warning.

Also note, that this article is written from the perspective of a cisgender straight man, so I’m in no way suggesting to be able to speak for women or members of the LGBATIQ community. My article is also no substitute for engaging women and LGBATIQ people directly to learn more.

Chapter 1 – Working With Gender


Why gender?Before we dig into how gender design works, let’s discuss first why. What are the narrative goals and possible effects of bringing gender into your game or any other fictional scenario?

Gender is a key factor in human-to-human interaction and also a strong – though arbitrary – factor in the way societies and communities are structured. Simply put, we care about gender and we connect a lot of relevant feelings and ideas with it. So how can we work that into the games we make and the stories we tell?

This chapter discusses gender in media in a fairly uncritical way. There is a whole chapter dedicated to deconstructing the current use of gender in media later. Let’s just for a second be a little naïve and talk about what gender can be good for in storytelling.

1.1 Player Identity – Creating empathy and kinship

Our gender (and sexual orientation) is a huge part of who we are. It comes will all sorts of desires and struggles. The search for companionship and sexual fulfilment, coming of age, wanting to become a parent or simply being recognized and accepted for who you are.

If the gender of a fictional character matches your own, it can be quite easy to identify with their desires and struggles and it can be quite easy to build an emotional connection.

Gender and class selection in Dragon Age 2

Gender and class selection in Dragon Age 2

This emotional connection allows us to tell inspiring stories to people of all genders and the interactive nature of games allows us to address as many genders as we like in one single game release. Character customization allows every player to present as male or female or inbetween as they like. Branching stories, interactive dialogue sequences and options allow player to play with whatever sexual orientation they want.

Like in a movie, a young girl could see herself becoming the hero of the day with a female protagonist on screen. But uniquely to games as an interactive medium, the options presented allow one game release to make everybody see themselves become the hero.

However, some experiences and stories are intimately tied to gender identity, so that genders cannot just be switched. But if we give people of all genders and orientations access to the tools, knowledge and platforms to make and share games, we can have access to many stories and experiences and can learn to understand each other better.

Playing through the stories of people who are not you, experiencing what it means to have a different identity can be an eye-opening experience. …if you are willing to invest a little empathy.

Aveline – Assassin's Creed Liberation

Aveline – Assassin’s Creed Liberation

Please note: Kinship does not necessarily require a specific character of the same gender in the game. Many people attach gender identity to the choices they make as a consumer. A game as a whole – IP, logos, fonts, GUI, color scheme, themes – can be gender coded, even if there is not much of a protagonist to talk about. Kinship can come as “This is like me.” or as “This is for me.”.


1.2 Advocacy – Challenging current gender norms

Unfortunately, gender is still used in our patriarchal society to put people into categories and then treat them in a generalizing fashion. Equal opportunity to prosper, to pursuit happiness and to express oneself are still not a reality.

Current systems heavily privilege cisgender heterosexual men and any deviation from that comes with a cost. Cis women are already at a disadvantage here, but the problem is exacerbated drastically once you find yourself even further removed from the privileged group by being transgender and/or homosexual. Oh and yeah, don’t forget that race, disabilities, class and other issues give people excuses to put you at a categorical disadvantage in addition to whatever gender you identify with.

These harmful paradigms can be challenged through the use of gender in media, if creators don’t sleepwalk through their gender design. Games can provide counterexamples to common ideas, opening them up for discussion or inspire people by giving the fictional role models.

Lara Croft's first appearance in 1996.

Lara Croft’s first appearance in 1996.

Gender conscious designers can use games to deconstruct the current systems. The interactive nature of games allows us to use mechanics to make societal dangers, limitations and opportunities tangible. And designers can create autobiographical games to gain more visibility for the struggles and challenges of their gender.

Dysphoria by Anna Anthropy

Dys4ia by Anna Anthropy

1.3 Gender As Shorthand – Establishing
complex contexts instantly

With all the personal meaning attached to gender and all the cultural expectations piled onto it, gender is a very effective shorthand to establish complex ideas really really quickly. You can condense a lifetime of companionship into a single frame and have everything threatened within the next one.

Hey, I have a wife/girlfriend. Happy! Damn, she is kidnapped! Sad!

Hey, I have a wife/girlfriend. Happy! Damn, she got kidnapped! Sad!

If storytelling is just a formality in your game, you can just piggyback on already familiar setups, like the damsel in distress, or the girlfriend in the fridge. These setups have been around for centuries, treating the bond between a man and a woman as a given and skipping directly to the call to adventure.

Seriously, nowhere in Super Mario Bros it is ever mentioned, that the princess actually needs or wants to be saved.

Seriously, nowhere in Super Mario Bros is it ever mentioned, that the princess actually needs or wants to be saved or that she is in trouble at all.

1.4 Tease – Catching the player’s eye
and providing titillation

People love to look at people they find hot. People love to interact with people they find hot – at least when it is safe. Safe means, there is no painful rejection involved, no judgmental views from peers, no potential for negative consequences.

Games allow for safe interaction with virtual
hot people.

You get to ogle a sexy person without having to fight for that intimacy first and without fear of getting caught. You get to make people get naked for you, you get to conquer a virtual persons heart and subsequently their pants. You can have as much sex with as much partners you want. You can explore sexual desires, which you would never try to explore with real life people.

Titillating images and scenes can be used as rewards or unlockables for player actions and that additional factor of “I scored!” and player’s choice add a whole new layer to it. In those cases, it’s not even necessary to show something visually appealing, just making something naughty happen is enough.

The "best" ending for Metroid on NES, for finishing the game within an hour. via

The “best” ending for Metroid on NES, for finishing the game within an hour. via

It’s important to remember that titillation completely depends on what the player in question finds attractive. A player can not bridge that gap with their empathy, if they happen to be interested in another gender than the one presented or if they are asexual. Using titillation in your game or in its advertising therefore makes a really clear statement about who you want as your target audience.

The girl is not a playable character in GTA5.

The girl is not a playable character in GTA5.

Chapter 2 – Gender Signifiers


How to gender?In order to gender something you need to attach elements to your design, that allow the viewer to determine the gender of whatever you have designed or at least associate a certain gender with it. We will further refer to these elements as gender signifiers.

Signifiers are a concept found in semiotics and describe the form of a sign (image, word, sound etc.) that we can read and then connect to the sign’s meaning (the signified). It’s important to keep in mind, that a signifier can be interpreted in many different ways, and not necessarily communicates gender to everybody equally well. This makes not only the design elements themselves interesting to discuss but also who uses/reads them as signs for gender and why.

To do just that, I separated all possible gender signfiers into two types: Indexes and symbols. But first let’s talk about gender coding.

2.0 Gender Coding – Meaning and signs

Every person’s gender is a matter of their own identity, and no person’s identity is for somebody else to define. No matter how you look, what kind of body or voice you have, how you dress,… nobody can look at that and define your gender for you. You do that for yourself.

There are men with vaginas and women with penises, men shaving their legs and women with beards. So, if no signifier let’s us determine a person’s gender conclusively, what does that mean for using signifiers to articulate gender in our character designs?

It means that there are actually no true male or female signifiers. There are only male coded and female coded ones.

Coded means, that the designers and their audiences have learned to define certain traits as male or female. Gender coded signs only work because we basically collectively agreed to jump to the same conclusions whenever we seen them.

Most people think they are able to discern a person’s gender just by looking at them. In design this idea is exploited to articulate gender in characters and objects to audiences. A creator can expect their audience to read a beard for example as a male signifier – we have learned to do this our whole life. …even though women can have beards as well. It works but it’s not without problems.

We have learned that certain traits are intrinsically male or female. The existence of transgender people, intersex people and gender fluid people however exposes that idea as wrong. This conflict between the culturally enforced perception of what gender should look like and reality comes with a range of harmful consequences. Mostly for the gender-nonconforming people out there, whose existence is constantly diminished, erased, tabooed and hidden in media.

Some of these consequences are discussed in further sections.

The same applies to sexual orientation, which is a huge part of this article as well. Fortunately, we have a bit more practice with the concept of coded signifiers when it comes to sexual orientation.

2.1 Gender Indexes – biological gender-coded signifiers

Indexes are the respective physical features we expect someone born with one or the other gender to have. We expect someone who is born as male to naturally have a penis and someone who is born female to have a vagina. We expect different amount of facial and body hair, different bone structures, breasts, voices and different chromosomes. Therefore we expect someone with facial hair to be male and someone with breasts to be female. Showing those signifiers on characters and objects is a pretty reliable way to conclusively articulate gender to most audiences.



The effectiveness of gender indexes is strictly based on cis normativity or outright transphobia.

The aforementioned expectations are of course very cis normative and in fact not representative for everyone out there. People with penises can be as female as people with vaginas are and vise versa.

However, audiences read physical gender coded signifiers (indexes) as signs for the gender identity of a character almost all the time. They do this because they do not expect a character to be transgender or intersex, they expect characters to be cisgender. And because most audiences do not distinguish between gender and sex in that moment. More on why that is problematic later.

Original concept art for the Halo series.

Original concept art for the Halo series.

2.2 Gender Symbols – cultural gender-coded signifiers

Now this type of signifier is were it gets really interesting. Symbols are signifiers, which are invented by humans. They are based on languages, laws, memes and other conventions, not on sex. For example, there is nothing inherently male or female about names like Eric and Erica, not even male and female in regards to sex. It’s just that we imbue those names with a gendered meaning.


Everything around styling, clothing, accessories, colors, hair cuts, cosmetics are symbols. Also certain colors, names, labels and other elements which one would consider male or female but aren’t body parts. We also need to put certain hobbies, activities, behaviors, professions and manners on the gender coded symbol list as well, based on the preconception, that people from one or the other gender are more likely to be doing certain things or are socially expected to be doing them.

Is racing a gender neutral profession? Is interest in cars generally perceived as a hobby for all genders?

Is racing a gender neutral profession? Is interest in cars generally perceived as a hobby for all genders?

Most people expect women to wear nail polish and men not to. But no physical condition brings men or women to relate to nail polish in that way, …culture does. Also there is nothing distinctively pink about women or blue about men, these colors are read as gender signifiers because people tell other people to do so.

Gender coded symbols are never just a signifier for what gender a character has. They always (!) carry ideas about gender roles, gender expectations and personal relations to gender with them.

Symbols – in contrast to indexes – always make a statement about gender as it relates to culture. They are used by people to articulate gender expectations and how they relate to those expectations.

Symbols carry subtext and connotations, and make a statement about what one thinks a man or a woman has to do or be and how they have to be treated.

Halo concept art, edited by me.

Halo concept art, edited by me.

2.3 Symbolic Creativity – characters
presenting their gender

Symbolic creativity is another concept of semiotics. It deals with how people shape their appearance and their environment. Much of the way people dress and style is designed to accentuate gender indexes or to hide them. This brings us to an interesting subgroup of symbols: Indexes, that have to be read as symbols.

Varric, Dragon Age series.

Varric, Dragon Age series.

Men can decide to let their facial hair grow, to get a more masculine appearance. Women can decide to pick clothing, that accentuates their physique. Leg shaving, breast implants, revealing clothing, muscle gain, mutton chops. Even if a person decides not to be concerned with where and how much hair covers his or her body, this still communicates a certain relation to their own gender and to societal gender expectations.

Samus Aran, Metroid series

Samus Aran, Metroid series

Nilin, Remember Me

Nilin, Remember Me

Sonya, Mortal Kombat series

Sonya, Mortal Kombat series

The way people are dealing with the indexes nature gave them to associate with one or the other gender (or not associate at all) is a symbolic act – referred to as symbolic creativity. This is why even though stronger growth of facial hair is an index for male, a fully grown beard or mustache is a symbol, carrying all the respective cultural connotations and expectations.

2.4 Character Canvas – the available
space for gender signifiers

Treating a character design as a canvas – a space filled with design decisions – is a concept I developed for my game art classes. It allows us to view a design as a limited space for ideas and messages and we can then check how well we use that space. Understanding what all the spaces are that are part of the canvas is necessary to allow us to get a compete understanding of where gender signifiers can be placed/found.

Usually, when people talk and think in terms of character design they mean what’s on the model sheet. The character’s face, body, costume and hair cut.


But the character’s canvas is much bigger than that. Everything that represents or references the character or puts the character into a gender specific context can be used and read as a gender signifier.

Such as:

  • Expressions, gestures and mannerism. Also the voice.
  • Any object they own or thing they prefer, and any places they call home.
  • Their names, titles, role in society, professions.
  • Backgrounds, GUI, soundtrack, logo design and other non-diegetic elements.

… and finally – exclusive to games – the mechanics around the character.

Mechanics are insanely relevant to gender design in games. It’s not just a writer’s or game artist’s job to decide how to use gender in the game. Culturally we associate a lot of actions, professions, roles, tools and behaviors with certain genders and this colors gameplay as well.

One of many gendered special moves of Princess Peach in the Smash Bros series.

One of many gender coded special moves of Princess Peach in the Smash Bros series.

The options and actions a designer chooses to make available with a playable character, the kind of collectibles and power-ups they have to get, the interactions you allow with NPCs or gender coded enemies, certain win states, achievements and bonuses… …all this can be symbols for gender, including all the related cultural expectations.

Strategic mood swings as one of the core mechanics in Super Princess Peach

Strategic mood swings as one of the core mechanics in Super Princess Peach

She can float, thanks to her princess gown in Super Mario Bros 2, NES.

She can float, thanks to her princess gown in Super Mario Bros 2, NES.

Chapter 3 – Gender Avatars


This is where much of the criticism for gendered characters comes from: The idea that the character in question is not just an individual design, but a representative of its gender.
A gender avatar.

Using a gender coded signifier successfully genders a character or any other design element. So far so good.

You can however use them to make a design not only gendered but about gender. A design then would not only include a gender as one of many aspects, but would make a statement about that gender as a whole.

If characters end up in this position, anything that is said about them or with them is by proxy a statement about the respective gender. It can be a very powerful tool for empowerment as much as a tool for perpetuating sexist paradigms.

Here are some ways in which characters become avatars of their gender:

3.1. Context – When the story or scenario deals with questions of gender.

Family, relationships, sexuality, romance, equal rights, sexism… If these subjects are core to a story or scenario, the characters involved are already written as avatars. This is then not necessarily dependent on how the characters are designed. Romeo and Juliet could be two talking potatoes and the story would still turn them into stand-ins for young boys and girls in love.


Something similar happens in other stories and scenarios as well, when a character is relegated to play a role that only exists in context of one the listed subjects. If a character is just the boyfriend or just the wife and never does anything outside of this context, it becomes a gender avatar with a specific role.

Abigail Marston only exists in the context of being John marston's wife. For large parts of the game, she is only referenced, not shown. And once we see her she does stereotypical wife stuff (chores, keeping company, sex, parenting).

Abigail Marston only exists in the context of being John Marston’s wife. For large parts of the game, she is only referenced, not shown. And once we see her she does stereotypical wife stuff (chores, keeping company, sex, parenting).

3.2. Scarcity – When there are very few
or just one character from a specific gender present.

Okay, this one is easy. If amongst the relevant characters only one character is from gender A and the rest of the cast is from gender B, then this character is the odd one because of its gender. Same goes for being the only character on a roster, that is not cisgender.

In order to reference a specific male character in this picture, we have to think beyond gender. Simply because there is more than one man in this picture. We don't have to do this for the woman however.

In order to reference a specific male character in this picture, we have to think beyond gender. Simply because there is more than one man in this picture. We don’t have to do this for the woman however.

Being the odd one draws extra attention to the gender and it makes gender a defining trait of the character, because it is an exclusive feature. It generates questions concerning why the character is there in the first place or why there aren’t much more of them.

Having only a few or even just one character to work with severely limits the ability of creators to present more than one idea of what a person from gender A could be. Diversity is hard and sometimes impossible to pull off under these circumstances and characters in that position often are idealized to make the best out of the limited space available.

Women are limited to one idealized body type in Enslaved. Men are presented with an idealized body type and one not so idealized, giving us a range.

Women are limited to one idealized body type in Enslaved. Men are presented with vastly different body types, giving us a range.

3.3. Theme – When everything about a character
is about their gender.

Imagine throwing a Halloween party. You get scary decoration, put pumpkins in your yard, play creepy music, show horror movies, prepare gross-looking food and everybody is in costume. To make the party perfect you try to make as much elements as possible as halloween-themed as possible.

This happens with gender as well. The canvas of a character gets almost completely saturated with gender signifiers. Everything from the model to mechanics says “gender”.


This of course heavily depends on how much of the signifiers on a character your read as gender related – so there is some subjectivity to it. But there are many very clear cases of a gender themed character out there.

Official baby version of Saxton hale, Team Fortress 2. Comes with already developed mustache and chest hair, plus Coober Pedy hat.

Official baby version of Saxton hale, Team Fortress 2. Comes with already developed mustache and chest hair, plus Coober Pedy hat.

3.4. Regendering – When a concept
gets presented with a new gender.

This is when we start with a character having one perceived gender and then transitioning to another. It can happen with characters actually changing their gender or just going out in drag. This can be done with a character having an unreadable gender until it is revealed.

However, it is most commonly done via copy, meaning we start with a character from one gender and then create another version of that character with a different gender.

Ryu from the Street Fighter series and variants. Including one regendered version.

Ryu from the Street Fighter series and variants. Including one regendered version.

The gender becomes the relevant new development and everything is now viewed in a new context. The before gender gets compared to the after gender, again making gender a defining factor.

Sheik, Ocarina of Time

Sheik, Ocarina of Time

3.5. Fragmentation – When gender signifiers are presented standing alone.

Fragmentation references a cinematography technique. It’s when a shot only shows parts of a character – only fragments – instead of giving us a whole understanding of the character. This can be done via cropping, close-up, by having parts of a character obscured in frame or by showing unattached parts.

Even if characters have very few gender coded signifiers, you can make those signifiers central to a character by showing them as fragments. The thing with fragments is, that they cause audiences to fill the rest of the character up themselves. We understand that the fragment is part of a bigger whole and we use the fragment as a blueprint to imagine the rest.

Shadows Of The Damned

Unedited Shadows Of The Damned screenshot.


Unedited Bayonetta promo art.

3.6. Dissonance – When gender signifiers
feel out of place.

This happens in two ways…

Firstly, a scenario is established in which excessive presentation of gender sticks out like a sore thumb, because it absolutely makes no sense for a character to dress or behave in that kind of extremly gender coded fashion.

In these kind of situations the character in question is either made that way for comedic effect or the creators value titillation over believability. This gets especially obvious if the phenomenon only applies to one gender and not the other.

Edited promo art for Blood Knights. The magenta areas are where each outfit shows skin.

Edited promo art for Blood Knights. The magenta marks areas where skin is not covered by thick leather or metal.

The second way in which this happens is completely predicated on hetero normativity and cis normativity. I have trouble listing this practice here, since I really don’t want to endorse it, but it is done a lot and I think it’s important to deconstruct how it works.

Culturally, most people want to be able to discern somebody’s gender quickly and conclusively. That’s why they expect everybody to be and look unequivocally male or female. So, if a person or character has mixed gender signifiers
– is gender nonconforming – it appears off or dissonant to most audiences and creates confusion and a feeling of otherness. In games, this is usually done in a way that severely discriminates against LGBATIQ people as we will further discuss in the next chapter.

Chapter 4 – Inequality By Design


Bigotry happens when privileged people uncritically accept comfortable stories.

This is now seriously the point to remind you of the trigger warning I issued earlier, as we explore common design practices around gender and sexual orientation, and their often harmful subtext and connotations.

4.1. Cisgenderism And Heterosexism – The expectation to be cisgender and straight.

Gender design in games (and pop culture media in general) is per default based on the idea that it is normal to be cisgender. Being LGBATIQ is viewed a special trait, which leads creators to use it strategically, like they do with, race, age, body type ect.

Facial shape, hairline, hair cut, make up, jewelry, lashes. Designers unequivocally chose to give this character a female appearance.

Facial shape, hairline, hair cut, make up, jewelry, lashes. Designers unequivocally chose to give this character a female appearance. Yuga from The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.

If a character is created with either just male-coded signifiers or just female-coded signifiers, it will be read as cisgender and straight. If a character has mixed coded signifiers, it will be read as either a straight cisgender character who does not conform to gender roles or it will be read as a cisgender gay or bisexual person. However, transgender characters are basically invisible to the cis-normative lens of the observer.

A character with male coded indexes and female coded symbols will most likely be read as a cisgender man in drag and almost never as a transgender woman. But the character will almost all the time be read as someone who is not like men or women normally are. This way of reading a characters gender – defaulting to cis and straight – poses already a huge representation problem, which basically can only be offset through smart and empathetic writing.

Mainichi by Mattie Brice

Mainichi by Mattie Brice

Unfortunately, smart and empathetic writing for LGBATIQ characters is not something many game creators are good at or even care about at all. On the contrary, the prevalent use of insulting and demonizing stereotypes exacerbates the representation problem massively.

The implication of presenting a male character in a feminine way or vice versa will be discussed in the next block on androcentrism. Let’s for now look at the implications of LGBATIQ characters used as abnormal characters in fiction. Heterosexist cisgenderist bias not only considers being cis and hetero an expected state but also a superior one.

A character that is designed in a way that is read as gay or gender-ambiguous regularly is framed as a morally depraved and/or mentally ill person, usually resulting in that character being violent.

Disney commonly uses mixed gender symbols to remove villainous or shady characters from the expected gender binary.

Disney commonly uses mixed gender symbols to remove villainous or shady characters from the expected gender binary.

Being gay or bisexual regularly is used as a shorthand for a person who does not care about moral boundaries. As if homosexuality is an unscrupulous exercise of hedonistic pleasure, it gets thrown in together with pedophilia, pleasure in violence, cannibalism and bestiality. Also even if you are transgender or intersex, you get lumped into that stereotype as well, since most audiences do not distinguish between the LGB and TIQ.

In video games, these stereotypes often are mapped on characters, which then have to be killed by the heroes to progress in game.

This trope ends up confirming a lot of negative real life ideas about Homosexuality and being transgender or intersex. These ideas inform legislation and serve as a justification for violence. Adoption battles and the fight for marriage equality in the States, as well as persecution in Russia provide plenty of examples how these connotations result in tangible harm.

GTA5 as some of the most vile and gut-wrenching transphobic "humor" out there.

GTA5 as some of the most vile and gut-wrenching transphobic “humor” out there.

Another discriminatory way of using a character read as LGBATIQ is for some sort of hybrid sexist-ableist humor, in which the character in question is ridiculed for being unable to decide or recognize if they are male or female. In those case the contrast between male coded and female coded signifiers is cranked up to eleven, to “expose” them as some sort of gender-confused clowns and make the visually jarring in their appearance.

Does the player need to choose to engage Cortez for maleShep to be thinking about doing it with male crew member or is he contemplating that no matter what the player confirms?

Depending on how you interpret the dialog system in Mass Effect, you could argue that the option of romancing Cortez means maleShep is contemplating hitting on a male crew member even if the player is not eventually choosing to confirm it.

There is a severe lack of LGBATIQ characters who are not ridiculed, demonized or otherwise exploited as a them or an other. I have so far played two games with a transgender protagonist, BOTH are autobiographical and produced by transgender people themselves. Many on the surface positive representations of homosexual characters can be quite token-ish, but at least there is some movement away from cisgenderist and heterosexist defaults.

4.2. Androcentrism – The expectation to be a man.

Okay, this is the big one – a culture designed in service of the perspective of men.

I tackled cis normativity and hetero normativity first because they build the foundation for the male-centric design that is dominating popculture and especially games culture. You do not only have to be a man to be in the privileged group, you have to be straight and cis as well. Any deviation from that set of prerequisites and you are target for discrimination.

The cisgenderism and heterosexism issues also had to be discussed outside of androcentrism because discrimination against LGBATIQ folks is not exclusive to men. Women can be as oppressive here as men are, and cisgender gay people can be as oppressive as any cis straight person is, with transgender people as a target.

Like a food pyramid of cultural gender expectations.

I will further refer to cisgender hetero sexual males as just males or men where the two other properties are implicit values, only occasionally bringing them up explicitly if necessary.

Why is games such a male centric form of media – from AAA to indie? Because mainly men are in charge and mainly men get to work in games, most games are made from a mainly male perspective. Common marketing practices target male gamers, since female gamers or *gasp* gays and transgender people are an unexplored customer group and marketing mostly bets on already gathered sales results. Finally, many people who want to make games – this goes mostly for indies now – are channeling games that influenced and inspired them. So they repeat androcentric design tropes as hommage, throwback or just because that is what they have in their mental libraries.

Is it even possible to pay tribute to a trope that is alive and well, and not endorse that trope at the same time?

Is it even possible to pay tribute to a trope that is alive and well, and not endorse that trope at the same time?

Androcentric premises:
A. Men care about getting stuff done.
B. Women care about men.

The basic idea of men having to be strong and capable, and women having to be there for men is core to androcentrism. The idea is furthermore simply referred to as the premises or premise A and B.

This approach to gender roles manifest diegetically with stories that feature male problem solvers as protagonists and more passive but attractive or otherwise emotionally rewarding females as peripheral characters. It also manifests non-diegetically with men being the expected gamer – the one who plays, and an industry/culture creating content including advertising to titillate that expected male gamer with depictions of attractive women.

He brings a gun, she brings flimsies

He brings a gun, she brings flimsies

When examining widely spread gender design habits a couple of stark disparities between designing male characters and designing female character become apparent. These disparities are all filed under androcentrism here, but are big or relevant enough to give each their own block in this chapter. We will also further dive into cisgenderism and heterosexism issues in regards to the established premises.

It’s important to note, that androcentric design is not limited to games aimed at men.

Games aimed a women or girls come with the same gender roles and are build under the same premisses as the games I discuss below. It’s the exact same idea of women having to serve and to take care of men, to be pretty for men and to do not much beyond that. It’s just that this narrative is presented from the female perspective with playable characters serving as role models and win states serving as confirmation for expected behavior.

What especially questionable about this perspective shift is that they create a competitive angle for the expected behavior. In those games, you need to be the best at looking good, the best at preparing food, the best at dancing sexy, the best at taking care of babies (sometimes animals as a variation), the best at cleaning up…

There is nothing wrong about these activities. Men and women and anybody from the rest of gender spectrum who decides to take care of the family or who feels that being beautiful is part of their self-expression is totally in their right to pursue these activities and try to excel at them. Having these ideals limited to women or having women limited to these ideals however is an infringement on individual personal expression and self-determination.

Men decide this most of the time. Go figure.

Men decide this most of the time. Go figure.

4.3. Infantilization – Taking agency away.
To make the androcentric premise work, women need to be incapable of taking care of stuff themselves.

If women could save themselves or even go out and save a bunch of other people, men would not be the ones who would do the saving all the time… …and women would not be in the position of being all thankful towards men all the time.

This need for women to be useless in order for men to feel needed takes on ridiculous dimensions in games. Infantilzation of women – the act of turning women into children – is a common phenomenon in games, usually referred to as the damsel-in-distress trope. It’s either done by incapacitating women, having her overwhelmed by a strong male abductor or by making her simply inept in nature.

Sometimes it goes so far as to turn a woman into a metaphorical baby, incapable of walking around on her own, needing a man to carry her around. If agency is taken away so much that a female character is no longer able to act in a self-determined way, so that other characters act upon her, then the character is objectified.

Fat Princess – another attempt at paying hommage to trope that never got out of style in the first place.

Fat Princess – another attempt at being nostalgic for trope that never got out of style in the first place.

A clear indicator for this male focussed trope to be in full effect is the fact that only a small fraction of video game protagonists are female. Even in games with multiple playable characters, men outnumber women significantly. In addition to writing, the playability of a characters is a unique determining factor of character agency, exclusive to games. In games the most agency usually lies with the player and playable characters serve as agents to bring player agency into the game world.

A variant is the girlfriend-in-the-fridge trope, which means a women has to die to drive the male protagonist’s story arc. In these cases we have the same infantilizing setup, but the man failed to fulfil his responsibilities as a member of the adult gender and then exacts brutal revenge to compensate. Another variant – a more nuanced approach to infiantilization of women, but infantilization no less – is the use of female sidekicks and assistants or giving a female damsel a moment of inconsequential power. In these cases the man still remains the one taking care of things but the female characters do not appear to be totally useless, which is done to make them less annoying and more worthy of being cared for.

In the final scenes of The Walking Dead, one could argue Clementine turned into the actual playable character.

In the final scenes of The Walking Dead, one could argue Clementine turned into the actual playable character.

The choice of signifiers matters here as well. Many female gender symbols are commonly found in kids clothing or dolls clothing, most notably cute dresses, schoolgirl uniforms and the bow in the hair. The color pink is in real life mostly found in articles and toys for girls from toddler’s age up. This visually marks characters as infantile, as well as female. In Japanese culture, being kawaii – cute and childlike – is considered a way of being sexy, so that plays into infantilizing sign language as well.

Pink, ribbon, lace are commonly used as female coded symbols as well.

Pink, ribbon, lace are commonly used as female coded symbols as well.

4.4. Gender Allocation – Who gets which gender
and how much of it.
How many women does it take to satisfy androcentric needs?

Men severely outnumber women throughout all branches of mainstream popular culture. You probably have heard of the smurfette principle, a trope referring to the phenomenon that many popculture IPs are perfectly content with having one female in a roster of relevant characters. Studies suggest, the ratio of male to female characters is a staggering 3 to 1.

Why does this happen?

The list of functions a female character needs to fulfil in androcentric design is very short: sexual interest, love interest, helpless damsel to reenforce male superiority. So you need good looks, attractive habits, and a general lack of abilities and agency. Sometimes female characters get plugged into a scenario as a token, to throw a bone to potential female fans. Anyways, all this can easily be covered with one female character, no problem.

As Spelunky or games like Super Meat boy show, even indie darlings are not beyond exploiting women for male-centric scenarios.

As Spelunky or games like Super Meat boy show, even indie darlings are not beyond exploiting women for male-centric scenarios.

Male characters on the other hand need more effort. Male characters aren’t sexual or love interests for cis straight men. They also aren’t very interesting to men as damsels. Male characters needing to get saved is just a random occurrence, since it does not play into a desired narrative. So, you need to go beyond gender when designing male characters for male audiences to find anything interesting about them. Being a man is not remarkable in male centred design, it’s the starting point.

This idea of characters being male per default often goes so far in games, that a male character arguably has no gender coded signifiers at all, while the female version of the same kind of character gets noticeably more gender coded, because it’s her raison d’être.

Little Big Planet

Little Big Planet

Little Big Planet

Little Big Planet

The male default is why in a smurfette scenario, the male characters differ from each other through personality traits and abilities, which needs a whole lot of special signifiers. But the female odd one is already special enough thanks to her gender, so she gets stuck with mainly gender signifiers. Whatever makes a character special gets used as a theme to provide material to fill the character canvas with. …women are women-themed.

High heels, bows, hearts, pink, sexy clothing, female figure, long hair, cleavage, makeup... ... yup, it's a chick alright.

High heels, bows, hearts, pink, sexy clothing, female figure, long hair, cleavage, makeup… … yup, it’s a chick alright.

Androcentric character design says that women willingly accept their dependency on male approval.

Considering the symbolic creativity aspect of character design adds a whole new layer of creepiness to this.

It’s always important to remember, that a female character is women-themed and acts in service of men because a most likely male designer decided to make it so. Okay. But within the fictional universe – diegetically – we assume these female characters decided how to dress and behave for themselves. This means the character is designed in a way that says that the girl or woman in question wants to be seen as a sometimes inept but always sexy and loveable female and nothing more.

Within the story universe, she makes a point out of making her car look girlish. Why would she?

Within the story universe, she makes a point out of making her car look girlish. Why would she?

In accordance to premise B, there is however a reason to add more than one female character to any given roster. Men may want to have the attention of many women at once or may want to pick and choose what kind of women cares for them. A selection of female characters to romance, to save or play provides options and variation, reducing individual women to not much more than different flavors of the same thing.

Depending on what moral gameplay path you choose in Darkwatch, you get "rewarded" with one or the other character.

Depending on what moral gameplay path you choose in Darkwatch, you get “rewarded” with one or the other character.

4.5. Stylization – Gender segregated art styles.

Okay, this one is rather quick. It is easy to observe, that in many games with a stylized presentation, female characters end up being portrayed in a more naturalistic fashion. This is usually done to make them more conventionally attractive for the perceive male viewer/player.

This is especially pronounced with antropomorphized characters, like humanoid robots or talking animals. Female characters have much more human proportions or when having fur also feature a wig-like hairdo as well.

Army Men

Army Men

Joe And Mac

Joe And Mac

Candy Kong from Donkey Kong Country

Candy Kong from Donkey Kong Country

Another issue related to stylization and idealiszation of female characters is the range of available body types for each gender. Female characters are usually limited to being conventionally sexy for the eyes of a male player, while male characters can be all sorts of things depending on the special trait or theme.

In any case, attractiveness is prioritized over style or personality to put the female character in service of the male characters and perceived male player audience. Since this type of limiting body standards are only applied to female characters most of the time, it carries very harmful body issue connotations.

Bioshock series.

Bioshock series.

Maybe with more than just one female character, we'd have variety in enslaved as well.

Maybe with more than just one female character, we’d have variety in enslaved as well.

4.6. Sexualization – Making someone
sexual in nature.
Being sexualized is not the same as being sexy or sexual.

We have to make a clear distinction between being sexualized by somebody else and being sexual as a matter of personal expression. Criticism of sexualization often gets confused with being prude or somehow anti-sex. That is not accurate. Sexualization reduces a person to their sexual aspect or at least prioritizes their sexual appeal above anything else. It reduces a person to what somebody else wants.

Sexualization happens when somebody treats somebody else as a sexual entity – no matter if the sexualized person is comfortable with that treatment or not. Being the focus of sexual attention makes you the target of somebody else’s wants and desires and is – contrary to popular misogynistic myths – not empowering but severely disempowering, if you don’t want the situation to be about sex.

"Subtle" fragmentation in Mass Effect 2, Arkham City and Borderlands.

“Subtle” fragmentation in Mass Effect 2, Arkham City and Borderlands.

Being sexual is presented as a quality exclusive to and essential for women.

If we have a gender avatar presented in a sexual context, then the whole respective gender gets framed as sexual. This happens most of the time because of premise B and gender allocation issues, with all female characters serving as a love interest or being presented to the male player as sexy. In those cases the non-sexualized female characters are missing to bring us meaningful interaction with women not predicated on sexual interest.

Another way is applying segregated dress codes or body standards for male and female characters or other disparate stylization practices, which frame male characters in a less sexual context than female characters. This disparity is often especially obvious in class based games, where players can pick a class and choose gender as well.

Androcentric design frames women as sexual in non-sexual scenarios – like when armor should be about protection in combat but for women it’s about presenting your body – and it only frames women as sexual, since male characters are not sexually interesting for the expected cis straight male gamer.

Well, the male soldier has pants. – Resident Evil series.

Well, the male soldier has pants. – Resident Evil series.

Considering symbolic creativity again, they way sexualization is frequently realized through the use of female coded symbols presents female characters – and by extension women in general – not only as viewed by men as sexual in nature but also by themselves. Gender coded clothing and habits signify a fundamental and universal desire for sexual attention and male approval.

Just a typical female gesture or a symbol for sexual interaction?

Just a typical female gesture or a symbol for sexual interaction?

Once a character is sexualized, basically every encounter with that character has a sexual layer to it. This can become quite irritating once an encounter with a sexualized character happens in a violent context – such as combat scenarios, stealth games, damsels in distress and others. A potential problematic mix of sexual and violent imagery emerges.

4.7. Sexual Objectification – Sexual exploitation
and assault.
In androcentrism, a woman’s consent is either treated as a given or treated as irrelevant.

Objectification is for many hard to grasp, since it describes human-to-human interaction. How can human-to-human interaction be like human-to-object interaction and why would that be problematic?

Let’s talk about a coffee shop for a second. Baristas make and sell coffee there and patrons buy coffee there. If both parties only interact to make that transaction – coffee for money – work, they are somewhat objectifying each other. One is just a source of coffee and the other is just a source of income. The barista could just as well be a vending machine and the patron is just the sum of his orders. In the context of the transaction, both are just devices that need to be operated to spit out money and coffee.

Typical smooch of victory from a damsel in distress, here in the game Castle Crashers.

Typical smooch of victory from a damsel in distress, here in the game Castle Crashers.

The coffee shop in the example establishes a context in which each party is expected to act in a specific way to make the transaction work. And if one party decides not to do as expected, it’s considered a transgression with whatever negative repercussions that entails.

Androcentric games establish a context in which women are expected to reward men with sexual favors or intimacy for their heroics, wealth and/or status.

In that context, women are devices which if obtained and operated properly give sex to the man using them. Sexual objects. If a game does that with female gender avatars, then the game objectifies women.

The context is established through narrative means, such as establishing that the kidnapped damsel and the male hero have a relationship already or through gender roles, such as princesses, which are often promised to the brave knight rescuing her. Visually it is supported by the traditional attractiveness of the female character, the idealized looks and often aggressive sexual images, like wardrobe malfunctions, cleavage and other titillation shots.

It also happens mechanically. Any sort of romance or flirting gameplay is played with the natural expectation of an achievable win state. This means the male player will eventually get into the female character’s pants, he just has to jump through hoops first.

Other forms of objectification through mechanics include collecting, buying, carrying, throwing, grabbing, using to heal or any other action you would normally do with an item. Also any mechanic that would allow you to ogle a female character model, such as camera modes, zooms, xrays, stealth sections in private spaces or interactive sequences in strip clubs and bordellos.

Generally objectifying mechanics are inevitable when it comes to video game characters, since they all are in fact objects – game objects. The question is who are the characters representing and what kind of actions can you perform with them or on them? Is the character representing women as a sexual or romantic interest? Are we performing actions related to sexual or romantic activities? This is where we can dive into sexual objectification.

In child-friendly games like Donkey Kong, the implication of sex as reward is usually coded much stronger, but it's still there.

In child-friendly games like Donkey Kong, the implication of sex as reward is usually coded much stronger, but it’s still there.

4.8. Misogynistic Cisgenderism and Heterosexism
Just for the record: The Pink Knight kicks as much ass as any other knight, chucking plushies and casting rainbows and all.

Just for the record: The Pink Knight kicks as much ass as any other knight, chucking plushies and casting rainbows.

I’d like to expand on cis normativity and hetero normativity in the context of androcentrism. It is easy to observe, that when it comes to being gay or bisexual, it is totally okay in androcentric media for women to express that. Lesbians – or even more effectively bisexual women – are titillating for men, so a twisted sexualized version of this finds its way into much more media than gay male characters do.

And if gay men are present, they are usually shown in a negative light. We already discussed the moral corruption angle, but androcentrism gives us another one: Effeminate gay men as a shorthand for weak men. Effeminate men are removed from a male ideal towards something more female, which is associated with a lack of strength.

I really struggle to come up with characters in games who are transgender men. Why is that? Because straight cis men commonly don’t care about trans men. Androcentrism says, they only care about women and if they are sexually interesting. And this is where transgender women get demonized in a really nasty way.

Oh, come on, Rockstar games? Really now?

In popular culture, transgender women are usually presented as sexual predators hunting for men. They are basically used like vampires or succubi would be in fantasy tales. They present themselves as attractive females only then to reveal themselves as having a penis (which for most men means being actually a man, since the whole gender identity thing is normally not very well understood).

Why is that so scary for men to find themselves falling for a woman, which to their understanding actually is a man? Answer:Homophobia. For them it means they now fell for a guy – a guy in women’s clothing, but a guy non the less. And since being gay means being weak and a coward, even having just an episode of being attracted to a man for second counts as a threat to their manliness.

Ironically, the actual threat to their manliness comes from their male peers who will use an incident like this to humiliate and exclude them, as if the man in question is now infected with gayness.

A similar sexual predator threat to men is the idea of getting raped by a gay cis man. This usually is used in the context of prisons. Interestingly the threat of getting coerced into a gay sex act – either through trickery or force – is used as a scary prospect as well as a way of humiliating other men, commonly used in rape jokes or exclusive to games in online multiplayer as a taunt (tea-bagging for example). …which brings us to the final block in this chapter.

4.9. Gender Violence – Gender-based violence
and rape culture.
Violent acts by a man against a woman or vice versa are not automatically gender violence.

In a combat scenario, the gender of the combatants can be completely incidental. Having women fight against men can even be a crucial element of a pro-equality story. Also if NPC civillians are targets of violence, their individual genders do not have to be an issue.

But if the violence is a display of power of one gender over another – through the use of gender avatars or a gendered context – then we have something potentially problematic.

A huge percentage of games use violence to contextualize gameplay. It establishes stakes and goals quickly, and the distinctively spacial and physical nature of violence makes it a pretty easy motive to translate into mechanics. In androcentric design, violence unfortunately gets mixed with themes of cisgenderism, heterosexism, sexualization and sexual objectification, which is a recipe for disaster.

Double Dragon – another video game classic with questionable mixed images.

Double Dragon – another video game classic with questionable mixed images.

The industry’s inhibitions about dealing with sexuality in a mature or explicit way makes many game creators resort to sexualizing established and more comfortable gameplay scenarios with nudity and innuendo. …such as violent conflict.

It begins with images. To make the promise of sexual rewards for achieving game goals work, creators need to make a damsel sexually interesting to the expected male player. This can be done through subtle wardrobe malfunctions or sexually coded clothing and makeup for example. Sometimes the image of a damsel being in distress and hot at the same time ends up being a rather ugly mix of messages as women being victims of violence get displayed to titillate the male player.

Images of women being beaten, assaulted, unconscious, bleeding, getting raped, getting tortured, in pain, in fear, dying, being a corpse… are combined with nudity, wardrobe malfunctions, sexual acts, suggestive poses, sexual clothing and other sexual signals. Androcentric games frequently sexually fetishize helpless and powerless women for entertainment purposes and for marketing, creating and popularizing a rather disturbing conflation of sexuality and power over others, which is a pillar of rape culture.

Final Fight intro – Capcom

Final Fight intro – Capcom

Chiki Chiki Boys arcade – Capcom

Chiki Chiki Boys arcade – Capcom

From Duke Nukem Forever and Duke Nukem 3D.

From Duke Nukem Forever and Duke Nukem 3D.

Images of female on male assault are also used frequently, but with a significant difference. Male on female assault is a form of power fantasy for the male player – accentuated by helplessness, discomfort and horror in the faces of the female NPC victims. On the other hand, with male victims the female offender is designed to be really attractive, so that the incident is framed as something the male victims should appreciate.

Catwoman's combat moves and other interactions with enemies are sexualized, ranging from sexual harassment to outright assault. All this is done to titillate.

Catwoman’s combat moves and other interactions with enemies are sexualized, ranging from sexual harassment to outright assault. All this is done to titillate.

Of course games can also allow the player to participate in the violence on screen or even initiate it. Designers have multiple ways to create scenarios in which the player can act violently based on gender and even force the player to do so.

Games that have systems which enable the player to be violent against civilians – such as most open world games – can have gender violence as an optional play activity. Of course the gender of a NPC can be completely incidental. Game designers of androcentric games however often deliberately create situations in which seemingly random violence is sexually charged.

Prostitutes are a distinctively gendered in contrast to male pedestrians or other female pedestrians. They have more female coded signifiers and are sexualized.

Prostitutes are a distinctively gendered in contrast to male pedestrians or other female pedestrians. They have more female coded signifiers and are sexualized.

Most games in question do this through the use of female sex worker characters or obligatory sequences in bordellos and strip clubs. Female sex workers are presented sexually through their attire and suggestive behavior, and simply by virtue of their role. Attacking a female sex worker in a game has vastly more gender connotations and sub text, than attacking any random female pedestrian has. Similarly female NPCs who express sexual interest in the male player character are then also removed from the incidentally gendered NPC pool. Same goes for characters who stand out by being stereotypically female and considered annoying for that, such as by talking too much, by being needy or vain.

If the opportunity of violence against female NPCs is framed in a sexual manner or if it is framed in a stereotypical male-female-relationship manner, the opportunity is no longer gender neutral. …it becomes an opportunity for sexual assault or domestic violence roleplay.

You have no idea how out of character that is for Batman to leave a woman tied to a pole in a prison full of violent men who he already has overheard saying that they will rape her.

You have no idea how out of character that is for Batman to leave a woman tied to a pole in a prison full of violent men who he already has overheard saying that they will rape her.

Many game devs go even a step further and incentivize gendered violence through gameplay mechanics or even make it mandatory to progress.

As established in the block about cisgenderism and heterosexism, gender non-conforming characters are often used as enemies or villains, this then often gets combined with unsolicited sexual advances by those characters. This forces the player to act violently towards LGBATIQ gender avatars for game progression and at the time it is designed to make that violence a bit more satisfying for the perceived male player by making the LGBATIQ enemy sexually creepy first.

This of course is a bit ironic since sexual objectification of the male player by an NPC is put there to make the player feel uncomfortable or justify violence, while sexual objectification of female NPCs by the player is put there to titillate. Funny how that goes, huh?

Heike Kagero taunting the male player before the player can beat him up in the upcoming fight.

Heike Kagero taunting the male player before the player can beat him up in the upcoming fight.

Violence to deflect unwanted sexual attention from LGTBTIQ characters or conventionally unattractive women is one thing, another thing is violence to get sexual gratification. Sexual objectification implicit in the sexualization of damsels is already really problematic, such as opportunities for optional gender violence are.

However, game creators sometimes go one step beyond and frame sexual assault on women as a win state. You successfully attack/beat a woman and get rewarded game progression and titillation.

You get the achievement for beating characters up so they loose their clothes.

You get the achievement for beating characters up so they loose their clothes.

Every character in Street Fighter 3 has a unique piece of character art shown when they lose a fight. This is the losing state of Elena.

Every character in Street Fighter 3 has a unique piece of character art shown when they lose a fight. This is the losing state of Elena.

Chapter 5 – Gender Conscious Design


Okay, chapter 4 was a rather depressing overview of very much prevalent industry habits – mainstream and indie. This chapter addresses how we as culture creators can deal with that.

This chapter mostly addresses the privileged group – straight cisgender men – since straight women and LGBATIQ people in games already bring their perspective to the table, which shakes things up and the big shifts need to happen with how men behave as part of games culture.

Here are a few thoughts…

5.0. Apologism – Diffusing common evasive arguments

WIP section

5.1. Owning Up – If you want to do
androcentric games, own it.
Enjoying sexist stories and games is not a bad thing to do. But reenforcing sexism in games culture and subsequently society very much is.

There are a lot of great stories to tell with male protagonists and a lot of great cheesy exploitative stories as well. I have my guilty pleasures and I enjoy a sexy female NPC as much as the next straight guy.


We have something worth calling a game culture and every game that comes out, every piece of marketing, every piece of journalism or fan work and every related tweet, status update or forum post contributes to that culture. When it comes to gender our culture is pretty broken.

Education opportunities and hiring patterns are privileging straight cis men. The creative preferences of the resulting male-dominated game companies are privileging straight cis men. Market practices – including what kind of games get funded, what kinds of games get covered in journalism, what kind of games get visibility through advertising – are privileging straight cis men.

And worst of all: the privileged straight cis men feel like they own the place. In the best case they treat women and LGBATIQ people as guests – which is still marginalizing them and forcing respectability policies onto those groups. In the worst case – they harass women and LGBATIQ folks and push them out.

Nope, not really.

Nope, not really.

As long as male privilege is a thing, you either support it, ignore it or challenge it.

You as a game creator can prefer to make another game about male protagonists with women as peripheral characters. You can prefer to use female NPCs in your game to add some sex appeal. You can prefer to channel the male-centric games that influenced you to become game creators without changing a thing.

But you have to own up to the fact that you prioritize your preferences over making games culture a more welcoming place for every gender. If you want to make games for men, you have to be ready to be called out for it. Not because people object to you exercising your creative freedom, but because you chose to leave the current harmful sexist status quo unchallenged or even chose to endorse it.

Male privilege exists. Deal with it.

5.2. Inclusive Design – Making games for every gender.

I really appreciate you reading my article here and all, but I’m not really the person to talk to when it comes to actually improving representation of women and LGBATIQ people in games… … you have to talk to women and LGBATIQ folks for that. Or better: Hire them! Diversify your teams and if you can’t do that get people involved on a freelance basis as consultants.

Still, here are a few rules of thumb and tips on how to make your game more gender inclusive:

Balance gender allocation.

In the real world the ratio between men and women is roughly fifty-fifty, so start with that as a base and think hard about why and how you would divert from that ratio in your game. Don’t sleepwalk through that process. What kind of roles typically occupied by male characters can you fill with female ones? Find a way to mix things up and make sure that women never have to be alone in their group.

Do your research. There have been female knights, pirates, ninjas, samurai, female soldiers, scientists and rulers… … there is no reason why the role of the hero in your game should default to a man.

Having many women in your game severely improves your chances of getting it right, since you now have many canvases to paint on, many opportunities to show how diverse and interesting women can be.

Include likeable LGBATIQ characters.

Just do it. I mean it, just put LGBATIQ characters there. You know why? Because LGBATIQ people exist.

Don’t make it a theme or an othering feature. You don’t need to bring much sexuality into it as well, try making it about love or better relegate the character’s sexual orientation to a background detail of the character. Don’t make it instantly readable, it’s totally okay if the player has to get to know the character first before learning that the character is gay or transgender.

Watch out that you don’t build correlations between being LGBATIQ and being a deviant or depraved individual.

And there are no excuses why you would not consult a LGBATIQ person about your character design and writing, you can only learn.

Don’t sexualize.

Don’t sexualize does not necessarily mean “make asexual”. A female character can have a vibrant sexuality and still not be sexualized. Make sure to limit expression of sexuality to believable situations, such as dates, sexual relationships and don’t have a woman be sexual in combat for example. Be an adult about it.

Really think hard about why a female character should be conventionally hot or not. Is it really necessary that the president’s daughter wears a miniskirt and has jiggly breast physics? Is it really necessary that your female lead gets hit on by NPCs?

Make sure you have plenty of female characters in your game without any overt sexual signals or actions, so that the player has non-sexual moments with women. Also think hard about framing. What does the upskirt shot and cropped ass shot or that shower sequence add to our understanding of the character?

Be aware that once you sexualized a female character any scene with that character has sexual implications. Do you want the player to ogle the female character in serious dramatic or tragic scenes? Do you want violent situations to have undertones of sexual assault?

Be careful with gender signifiers.

Sure, many women strongly identify with their gender and express that loud and clearly. However, being female is not all there is to a person. Don’t push female coded symbols allover your character design and make sure to leave space for other aspects – like professions and character traits.

Also be aware of the connotations female coded symbols have. A bow in the hair is infatilizing, because it is frequently associated with girls and dolls. Do you want to say that that or did you just aim to clearly articulate gender? Yes, a boob window makes her gender indexes visible but it also makes her outfit noticeably sexual. Do you want that?

Again, having many female characters in your game allow you to try various approaches to the use of gender signifiers.

Allow players to self-determine gender.

Even if your vision is to tell an androcentric story, consider giving the player the option to shake things up. Add character customization with gender options – and not just two options, give us a spectrum or at least allow the player to pick “unspecified”.

Or make your game easily moddable, let people replace sprites, so that the princess can save the day. Let them edit text to tell their version of gender related stories.


Thank you very much for reading this (or at least parts of it).

If you have anything to ask or add, please shoot me a comment. I would especially like women and people from the LGBATIQ community to add some thoughts, since I totally don’t have the proper insight here.

This site is intended to be a save space for women and LGBATIQ people to discuss and speak up. I’m moderating comments, so be civil, don’t derail, try to be constructive.

Also, if you find this article useful, consider supporting my work here witha small donation or a pledge:

link to Anjin Anhut 's patreon page



Terminology (including cisgender, LGBATIQ and many more)
sexual objectification at geekfeminism.wikia
rape culture at geekfeminism.wikia
Research on gender in popculture media, Geena Davis Institute for Gender in Media

Gender signifiers
Significant Other – Gender Signifiers in video games (pdf of article I wrote in 2012)
Feminist Frequency – Ms. Male Character (video)
semiotic elements: definition of indexes and symbols
symbolic creativity (slideshare by Milad Hajiamiri)
about fragmentation and male gaze – by Rantasmo (video)

Smurfette Principle on TV Tropes
Smurfette Principle and tokenism by Nostalgia Chick (video)
Damsel in Distress on TV Tropes
Damsel in Distress by Feminist Frequency (video) (watch all parts!)
Women in Refrigerators on TV Tropes
Gorgeous George on TV Tropes
Sissy Villain on TV Tropes
Depraved Homosexual on TV Tropes
Depraved Bisexual on TV Tropes
Psycho Lesbian on TV Tropes

Transgender people in games
Anna Anthropy
Mattie Brice

Sites about gender and design

Change Log
  • Edited 2.1 Gender Indexes to more explicitly comment on the transphobic nature of how gender indexes work, in response to this comment [link]
  • added a new chapter section 1.0 on gender coding
  • Replaced most mentions of gender signifiers and gendering with gender coded signifiers and gender coding to avoid implications that certain traits inherently belong to one gender or the other.
  • expanded the LGTBIQ initials to LIBATIQ to explicitly include asexual people as well
  • softened an insult towards rockstar games for their horrendous treatment of transexuals in GTA5. Still feeling it, but the tone was clashing with the rest of the article too much.
  • expandet on the positive ways games allow for representation of genders in 1.1. by elaborating on the possibilities provided by the interactive nature of games
  • added a new section on apologism. Content will follow soon.

79 thoughts on “Press X to make sandwich – A complete guide to gender design in games

  1. (follow up to below comment)

    I would really like to think that this is just a linguistic oversight as the conflation of the two is far more common than the distinction, what I fear is that there’s a deliberate lack of consideration because these people (adults who find children attractive) are largely viewed as tainted if not outright immoral for existing alone.

    The condition (attraction to minors) isn’t separated from a terrible act that most do not commit and we suffer horribly for that

    • Hey K.

      This is a really important comment. For me personally you pointed me to a huge screw up in my choice of words, since I personally don’t conflate the condition of pedophilia with the act of child molestation, and I also kinda hate that common conflation myself.

      The condition is already horrible enough for those who suffer from it and there should be much more access to help for those people. However the public conflation of the condition with the act adds a layer of social and physical violence to it. Not cool.

      I will change the wording soon, to reflect my actual opinions, since the current wording is quite harmful. Thanks for speaking up. :)

      • Thank you *so* much, that response means the world to me. Whenever I raise thisissue, I always have to build up that layer of emotional armour in case it’s a hostile rejection (which was the norm even from people who campaigned against bigotry) but in the past two years it’s gradually turned and this is still hard to believe!

        There’s only so long that something illogical (such as maligning people for unchosen characteristics regardless of behaviour) can be perpetuated so bless you for that.

      • (ctd) On a less related note, this article was brilliant and the fact that THIS is what elicits so much fear and resentment from the rabidly “anti-feminism” people is so absurd. Even mentioning these issues provokes outrage and it beggars belief; I think/hope that it’s that panicked backlash that comes after “they laugh at you” and before “then you win”.

        I say “win” but nobody loses, except I suppose someone who doesn’t want to share their toys because any less than 100% is them being robbed.

  2. Very eye opening article, some of the photos in the violence/sex section were quite stomach turning.

    One huge thing issue is that when you listed the hedonistic pleasures engaged in by Cassus, you listed “pedophilia” as opposed to “child molestation” or “sex with children”. Within this context it was an ironic oversight as you even listed “bestiality” instead of “zoophilia”. Paedophilia used interchangeable with child sex causes immense issues for innocent non child abusing paedophiles.

  3. beautiful but not wanting to move away from natural beauty or at least from natural state towards deformation.

  4. photos that feature pubic hair and armpit hair. Currently most of such photos have removed hair. Similarly various other alternations of bodies are going in and out of fashion. The same with clothes – lots of clothes stop being fashionable or become fashionable.
    When one is unplugged from the “mind control system” all that stuff that is going on looks pretty mind-boggling.
    In this case, choosing to not do these things to ones body is motivated not by not wanting to put effort into being

  5. Regarding the part of looking good in chapter 4.2, one thing that is worth mentioning is the ongoing unfortunate implication that people who do certain things to their bodies are the ones looking good and those who don’t do these things don’t do them because they don’t care or because they are lazy or busy with something else.
    Personally, I find shaved legs on women as beautiful as a shaved dog. Things done to ones body or clothing selection are temporary. For example I have many old erotic

  6. Haha. That article is like a mass murderer’s manifesto. Hard to read it without experiencing intense misanthropy. Genderists always pissed me off with their absurd attribution of masculinity/feminity to most ridiculous of things. I remember quiting one forum after being accused of being “gay” because I find women who wear practical boots instead of “feminine” footbreaker shoes attractive.
    Couldn’t take the idiocy. It’s like some people are sex-blind and can’t function without signifiers.

  7. “There are men with vaginas and women with penises”
    Here’s something I don’t understand. Since apparently you also reject biological sex, could you define the following terms:
    Because after reading that chapter I have no idea what they are supposed to mean.

    • man = a person who identifies himself as man
      woman = a person who identifies herself as woman

      … as soon as you use any criteria to define the gender of others, you engage in bigoted behavior. A person identifies as they identify and that should be respected, no matter how they look or dress or how they are physically equipped.

      Pretty simple actually.

  8. Do “pedophilia, pleasure in violence, cannibalism and bestiality” really belong in the same category? Pedophilia is a sexual orientation, for example, while cannibalism is not.

    • Culturally they do. They all carry the same connotations and themes of immoral acts, consumption of others, all are sexually charged culturally and all are when acted upon acts of violence…

      In reality these things are often more complex. Pedophilia is not an act, cannibalism is. So yeah, as with most things, culture has a way of throwing things together, which actually are more complicated.

      • I gather from your response that you think that all sex between people of a some certain age is rape. Is it problematic to tell huge groups of people that any time they have sex they are being raped? I met some people who told me that all penetrative sex is rape, but that does not seem to be a mainstream opinion. Why do we need to decide on the behalf of other people whether or not they are being raped?

        • I struggled with myself about even publishing your response and I want you to know that this conversation will end here, since I think the direction you are arguing towards is very very dangerous.

          It’s about informed and enthusiastic consent. If people are not able to give that kind of consent then sleeping with them is rape, plain and simple. Any other definition is empowering abusers and rapists to such a degree that it is irresponsible. Especially in the case of pedophilia – which was your point of contention, you are promoting super harmful ideas, framed as liberalism. Kids are not able to give informed consent, so ANY sexual encounter they have is sexual abuse or rape.

          It’s the responsibility of grown ups to respect their age as a boundary and not burden children with the responsibility of consent or not consenting to sex. Any attempt of “empowering” children to decide for they own if the sex is/was consensual is a preparation for victim blaming and to enable abusers to be in denial about what “signals” children gave.

          This is disgusting. And dangerous. And this no more replies to this topic or in the vain of your argument will be published.

  9. Hey, Anjin here.

    I’m copy-pasting a comment from an anonymous user here, which was submitted via the ask page. It belongs here, so I post it here:

    “So I read your gender article, and I really enjoyed it, sent it to my friends who are interested in getting into game design, thinking about it in regards to character creation for my own creative works, really stellar stuff. There is just one problem. I think it should be more clear that penises aren’t “male parts” and vaginas aren’t “female parts.” You do well in pointing out that a lady can have a penis, which is super cool, but still referring to those kinds of things as having gender in and of themselves is a bit transphobic. In addition, and I know this is like super beyond where game design is now, but you didn’t address people with non-binary genders. I’m not sure if you have much knowledge on that front, but if you don’t feel free to email me about it. [email redacted] I don’t have a tumblr or anything like that so this would be the best place to reach me. Trans* issues are huge so I hope you take this seriously.

    Also, lastly, the point you made with how being sexualized by queer characters is supposed to make players angry and how that connects to sexualizing other characters was a great point and something Im going to try and bring up more in conversation. It really gave me some words to talk about stuff that I didn’t have the words for before.

  10. Reading your article was great.
    But I have to disagree with you in one specific point, when it comes to
    “gender signifiers”. You said they are either male coded or female coded. I
    disagree with you because as far as I experienced they are either “female”
    or “neutral”.
    The femlae-coded stuff says: “look, im female-exclusive!”, while the other
    is labeled “it’s okay for males and females…” Just some examples: Combat
    Boots, Sneakers, Camouflage, Trousers in general, Short Hair, not wearing
    make up, i think you get it… they all are totally okay for any kind of
    females as they are for any kind of males.
    Bikini, Pink, lacey, ribbons, high heels, lipstick, nail polish… they all
    scream “i’m female exclusive!!! not for boys!”
    There is a reason why there is “kinder überraschung” and “kinder
    überraschung – the pink edition”. There is a reason why there are outdoor
    jackets… and outdoor jackets with butterflies on it. How many girls or
    women do you see day by day wearing convenient flat sneakers, jeans or cargo
    pants, hoodies, outdoor backpacks, camouflage patterns, blue, black,
    whatever coloured stuff, that could easily be worn by a male without looking
    “female”? How many women do you see in every day life having short hair and
    no lipstick, And what does this make you think about their possible
    sexuality? Probably nothing, because you won’t even notice them? Would
    seeing a woman without make up make you think “oh… she’s got gender
    issues… or probably she’s a lesbian…”…

    And how many male persons do you see in every day life wearing make up,
    wearing skirts, wearing pretty but inconvenient high heeled shoes, or
    pantyhose… not talking about all those little details that turns stuff
    from “neutral” to “female exclusive”. Would you “not-notice” them like you
    “not-notice” the neutral dressed? Could you avoid thinking “oh… a
    trans-vestite-sexual-whatever! Or maybe gay…”.

    I hope I could somehow figure out how, from my prerscpective (somehow
    most-time male, somehow sometimes transvestite male, somehow straight,
    somehow gay, somehow lesbian sexuality), those signifiers work. Not only in
    games, but also in the world outside.

    Excuse my funny english.
    And again, your article was one of the best things I have read during the
    last weeks.


    (And I loved GTA 1 as much as I hate the latest versions. Not my game
    anymore. I bet you can figure out why…)

    • Hey M

      Sorry for the late response.

      Anyways, I think you are conflating two connected but still individual issues:

      1. male default
      2. misogynistic gender policing

      Male default is when no male coded signifiers are needed to signify male. See many toilet figure pictograms or robot designs for example. This makes female coded figures feel exclusively female or as I called it “women-themed”. This creates the impression them men are humans and women are a specific kind of human.

      What your observations are really getting at however is misogynistic gender policing.

      In a society that values male over female it is shunned for men to wear female coded signifiers. To “run like a girl” or to “be a pussy” or related homophobic insults are frequently used to shame men into acting more manly.

      This is why men are shunned for wearing make-up. In our patriarchal society it is treated at least as shameful for a man to be like a women as it is for him to be like a small boy. That’s why female coded signifiers are a taboo for men.

      on the flipside male-coded siginifers are a-ok for women, because it “upgrades” them to a man-like entity.

      This has nothing to do with male coded signifiers being neutral. They are not neutral, they are treated as superior and therefore are accepted for everybody, while female coded signifiers are treated as inferior and only women are asked to basically mark themselves as inferior with them.

      I hope that clears some things up.

  11. (sorry for the multiple posts: char limits…)
    Also, if I ever get kidnapped, I do hope the world jumps to the conclusion that I might want to get saved. And they will, even though I’m male and of low descent. Because the common response to kidnapping is gender neutral. Of course the princess trope (nobles as hostages, women as objects that get stolen) reinforces all that. But it’s important to consider the possibility it’s not always about gender.

    • Kidnapping is also never mentioned in the text of the game. So your whole diversion into what “kidnapping” as a storytelling tool does is completely pointless.

  12. Good, interesting article in general, but:
    Is it possible to make games without making a statement rabout gender, given the sexism in game culture? Yes, it absolutely is. I’m making a game about geometric shapes and patterns (with no symbolism). I’m not “ignoring” gender/sexism and thus quietly contributing to it. Sometimes not saying anything really isn’t a statement in itself, and reading something into it says more about the reader than the “author” (” “s because it’s a non-statement).

    • Hey David…

      Sexism in games is not a theoretical issue or an intellectual exercise. It’s a real ongoing situation with consequences. And making a game without any gender in it is still making a statement about gender because that piece of media decided to be a bystander in an ongoing conflict.

      So, your game about geometric shapes and patterns is a bystander in that ongoing conflict and standing at the sidelines without contributing to the argument is a political act. It is not necessarily contributing to sexism, but it is also not helping out.

      “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” – Edmund Burke

      • Hi
        Of course sexism isn’t a theoretical issue. Neither is it an all-eclipsing and -encompassing one, though. I reject these absolutist false dichotomies, all that “if you’re not with us, you’re against us”-BS, however only implied it is. I can understand the theoretical argument for it, but I consider it a somewhat fundamentalist one and don’t subscribe to it. With that definition of non-statement = statement, everything is a statement about everything, and it becomes very shallow and empty.

        • Whatever let’s you comfortably slip out of facing your responsibilities as a contributor to games culture. :/

          • Yes. I will have to live with it, along with not curing cancer every day and not ending world hunger ;) Not being sarcastic now, though: can you sleep at night when you have such a wide definition of human responsability? Surely, by those standards it could be argued that most of us are just wasting our time on this earth on absolutely trivial matters? (it’s more of a rhetorical question, don’t want to go on and on here, so feel free to just ignore it or not, as you please. I won’t keep going).

            • There is a difference between understanding your own responsibility and acting on it.

              It’s totally fine to reject acting on your responsibilities, just so you don’t go crazy.
              There is literally so much unethical shit we do everyday – from buying technology and clothing that is made on the back of slavery in 3rd world countries, to exploiting and harming people in southamerica because of how much water it costs to bring a single banana to germany, over pollution with each plastic wrapped product we buy, to the abuse of animals for our food and on and on and on…

              …including perpetuating sexism through our purchasing decisions or design decisions.

              You cant act on all these moral obligations as a 1st world nation citizen – it’s technically impossible. I’m also a proponent of artistic freedom, so I wouldn’t even demand that you make a statement about gender in your game. It’s your game, you do what you want.


              I wont stand for denial. This site is about understanding what’s going on, so I wont let arguments stand which aim to make responsibility a none issue, irrelevant or non-existent. The responsibility exists and you choose what to do with it. And so do I.

              Denying how stuff works or what stuff means to sleep better is not what this side is about.

              • U know, I can agree with so much of what you say. What irritiates is that you often comes across so accusatory, absolutist and aggressive (e.g. “whatever lets you comfortably slip out of facing your responsibilities as a contributor to games culture. :/”) You might say that is my problem but it just discourages me from engaging in discussion with you. Maybe your message might reach more people, if you modified your discussion habits somewhat. Feedback, do with it what you will…have a nice WE.

  13. Minor nitpicking:

    The game manual clearly states she has been kidnapped. The definition of the word “kidnapped” is that it’s against the kidnappees will. While we don’t know for sure if she wants or needs to be SAVED, it’s not a horrible sexist assumption for Mario to make and the gender is in fact irrelevant to his heroism.
    Bad example.

    • Hey David…

      Information in the manual is information from a second source. In media criticism, one can not use text from a one piece of media to evaluate the text from another. Text is text is text. And in the text of SMBros the game there is no mentioning of a princess wanting to be saved.

      Also the part of my text you are referring to is not in any way framed as “horribly sexist”. Please don’t correct me on straw man arguments, please correct me on what I say. The point about reading gender as a shorthand is actually in a chapter on benefits of using gender in storytelling.

      The princess as a to-be-rescued character is a common trope and it is specifically gendered, since male princes are not commonly used as to-be-saved characters. This has a background in classical storytelling as well as human history, since princesses have been treated as property of kingdoms for trade.

      So, nope, perfect example. But thanks for bringing those points on the table so that I can address them.

      • Hi Anjin
        Disagree: dismissing the manual is not correct: back in that time game manuals were an integral part of the text, among other things due to technical limitations. You claim that “because princess” is used as a call to action. There’s no denying the trope, but you attribute things to gender that can at least just as well be attributed to “kidnapping” (e.g. kids, presidents…). Disregarding the manual deliberately distorts evaluation of this text (c.f. confirmation bias).

  14. Hallo Anjin,

    ich habe mir soeben die Freiheit genommen diesen wunderbaren Beitrag unter in den Kommentaren auf Seite 3 zu verlinken, in meinem Kommentar.
    Ich habe vor einigen Tagen Deinen Blogartikel gelesen und habe einige sehr interessante Erkenntnisse daraus bezogen.
    Ich hoffe das gelingt ein paar der Gamestar-Leser.

    Beste Grüße von einem Möchte-Gern-Illustrator-sein ebenfalls aus Berlin,


  15. How very tedious. Some people just suck the life out of everything. Finding discrimination or bias or sexism in a game like Spelunky? Really? You need to get a life, and stop whining about it.

    • I really considered not publishing this comment like I do with similar comments often. It’s a very typical response by someone who has no perception of the world around him, except when it comes to people who look like him or who managed to behave in a way he finds respectable. These responses go around a lot and there is nothing special about this one above. Sometimes I still feel like presenting people like “David” here as a case study for why these articles need to be written.

      Oh, but what about my fun? I just wanna enjoy my games! …while we talk about transgender people getting assaulted no matter which public restroom they use. Sure. Get a life! Yeah, sure let’s totally do that. Let’s just care about my personal pleasure and how I feel and how the world is treating me, me, me. And let’s go online and spent our “precious life time” to whine about people who whine about my video games. Because that’s what having a life means, right? Sure.

      These people will get educated away. As our culture becomes smarter and more empathetic, their dominance will become smaller. Language will change, game content will change, community policies will change, advertising will change… maybe not much, maybe not soon, but enough to scare the fuck out of David right now. Whatever games he likes or spaces he enjoys, they still will be there. It’s just that there will be room for people who are not him and he will no longer be the arbiter of games culture, but just one voice in it. Poor, baby.

  16. But, this is not saying that you should stop talking about any of these things. It’s definitely a great article, so comprehensive and I learned a lot. Thanks for putting your efforts into such a difficult subject. As a gaming female I have felt separate from the community and never could articulate why… but you did.

    It also makes me realise where the “I’m a nice guy and deserve you, hot girl, just cuz I was nice to you, and if you don’t you’re a slut!” bullshit came from. Clear proof here.

  17. I would really, really like to see you do a race-themed article, Anjin. Are any of these characters non whites, except the token black/middle-east/etc. characters whose whole existence is whatever racial stereotype they are? And isn’t it true dark skin brings negative connotations? Racism is just as bad as sexism in media. When I play a game or watch an anime I wonder what a (gay/bi) non-white female must be feeling. I know many who simply adopt “whiter” identities to fit in to the community.

    • Material on race is definitely in the works.

      I’m currently still in the research phase, reading up on issues and the history of racial stereotyping… But most importantly I listen to people of color and their perspective. When it comes to feminism I just dashed in because I felt I knew it all – being a smart ass – and ended up needing a lot of corrections from women and LGBATIQ folks. Not doing this again that badly prepared.

      Now is a time for me to ask questions about race and media, rather then write my view on things.


  18. Very complete and insightful.

    Just 2 pet peeves of mine about feminism in game critics:

    1) Do you realize that the original designs of many classic characters were dictated not by sexism but by the limitations of the hardware platforms of past times?

    2) Why equality of representation is always formulated in a restrictive sense? Why not instead of, by example, suppressing booth babes, adding booth boys? Why not to add eye candy for women and LGBTQIAs instead of removing eye candy for men?

  19. I was reading your misogyny articles and wanted to point out a trend in the comments. I might just be fanning the flames, but I’d like to respectfully ask everyone to remember one thing before they answer.
    1.) This is an opinion. You have every right to disagree with it just as I have a right to express it.
    That said, why fight on this? More types of female role models would be nice, that’s all. All girls are not the same, just as all boys are not the same. We don’t want to take away, just add.

  20. Hey,

    Just to say I loved the text, the vocabulary was on point. I have just one little concern you seem to have glossed over : asexuals. I didn’t knew that the intersex claimed for their letter in the acronyms, but Aces do : LGBTQA. Because people can have romantic interests in people and have no desire for sexual intimacy. If we want to include everyone, we have to include them; just throwing that out there.

    Thank you for the document I hope I can refer to it in my Media Classes

    Toodles ~

    • Thanks for pointing that out and you are not the first to do so.

      I reworked big parts of the article and fixed the initialism to be inclusive of asexuals.


  21. However I must disagree in that intersex is a scarce minority and transgender is not biological thus not a sex but rather something else. I mean down to the basics the words Men and Women exist because sexual dimorphism, so I would see a Transgender as a different Take on a given sex. I mean our bodies arent clay, we have a given form. Of course is not like we cant operate above that form to have multiple identities, a man/woman can be transgender. I think the answer lies in sociobiology

  22. People are afraid of equality because they think It means to take their privileges away. Im a straight man and I enjoy sexy women, Im aroused by objetified women but I dont use that as an excuse to be an asshole in real life. I dont think Is bad for me to look at this games and like them. But I think is unfair that women are excluded for the priviledge of indulging in their own fantasies, and thats fixed by giving room to women in videogames.

    • That assumes that women aren’t already writing games and mods for their own sexual/romantic needs. Have you ever played A Dance With Rogues? It’s one of the most famous mod for Neverwinter Nights that was made by a female developers for other women.
      It starts with the female protagonist getting BRUTALLY RAPED and then forced into prostitution. Then the protagonist has an option of ROMANCING HER RAPIST which also happens to be be the MOST FLESHED OUT CHARACTER in the mod.

  23. I like the way you wrote this. I believe I caught a typo, though: on 4.2. the second image, about Spelunky , reads “hommage”. I believe that should be homage.

    The images are fantastic. Are they based on an existing meme? If not, they should become one.

  24. This article is bullshit, you think you are helping by discriminating people?!

    People should be different!
    People have right to be different!

    People have right to ware bikini, pink or be weird – their sex or sexuality is not important!
    You are discriminating many people by thinking you are protecting discriminated!

    For you its sexism. For many women and _men_ it’s power
    For you its homophobia. For many people it’s power and freedom to be what they want to

    What we need in games is diversity!

    • “People should be different!
      People have right to be different!”

      Absolutely, yes. I have no idea what made you think this article argues for something else.

      “People have right to ware bikini, pink or be weird”
      Totally, again why you think you eed to point that out?

      “their sex or sexuality is not important!”
      This is decided by the people for themselves. Not me or you.

      “For you its sexism. For many women and _men_ it’s power
      For you its homophobia. For many people it’s power and freedom to be what they want to”

      There is something you fundamentally misunderstand about this article. I just can’t point to what that is.

      “What we need in games is diversity!”
      Yes, this article is exactly advocating for that.
      This article is advocating for games as an industry and culture that allows everybody express themselves and to be represented.

      I’m really confused by your responses. Please elaborate on what made you trip. Thanks.

      • My problem with this article is that it want everything to be the same.

        All characters should look as they “should”, like “no police officers with visible breasts”. Why? This is fantasy! Games are not reality! You can’t have it in real life! Don’t make this character a victim! It’s freedom!
        Games should enable us to do what we can’t do in real life!
        Victimizing women or gay is as bad, as being hostile towards them.

        • Ah, okay.
          You are confusing commentary about character design with commentary about human self-expression.

          Nowhere in this article is anything said about how people should look. No comment is about what it means if people wear pink or if actual police officers show breasts. This is article is not about how people are, it’s about how game designers create characters…

          …to be specific it’s about male game designers creating female characters.
          …cisgender designers creating transgender characters.
          … straight designers creating gay characters.

          It’s not criticising how people present themselves.

          Please, read this:

          You got the whole thing about feminist criticism of media representation completely wrong, not just in my article. Seriously, you got your heart at the right place, but you need to get on the next level here.

      • “Pink knight is bad”. Why? There are two types of gay. That look girly and they want to look like this and the ones that you would not know they are gay until they will say so.
        Both types should exist, this is a choice they make.

        Why showing sexuality of victims is bad? It should create whole range of fillings. From hate towards hostile individual and some not comfortable sexual excitement. Fantasy!

        Why women in distress are bad? All women have to be strong? No! They have right to be weak.

        • In fairness, I don’t think it actually said pink-knight is bad. The article seemed to be asking why a pink-knight is automatically seen as humorous.

      • It’s hard to write anything with 500 chars limit…

        What is my problem? You showed many different games, that should be different and you tell everybody that it is bad that they are different.

        There should be place for homophobic and non homophobic games.
        There should be place for very sexualized games and non sexualized games.

        We need MORE diversity! Not new “only good solution, make everything the same and equal” like yours!

        It would hurt women and gay as much as the other half of society!

        • Oh yeah and that…

          “There should be place for homophobic and non homophobic games.
          There should be place for very sexualized games and non sexualized games.
          We need MORE diversity! Not new “only good solution, make everything the same and equal” like yours!”

          There is no need to defend homophobic games or sexualized games… …because they rule the place. They are not threatened.
          Nobody advocates for cencorship, only for more thoughtful design. If this is seriously concerning for you, you definitely need to do more homework.

    • I know that feminists and other “we want better world” people think they are helping people, but it’s only HALF right!
      They help only HALF of women and gay people, other half they forget about because they don’t want them to exist!

      I know that life in world where homophobes, chauvinist, gay, feminist, other women and man live together seems horrible because all of this war between them.
      But it is BETTER than life in ONE PARTY WORLD, where you have to be politically correct or you can’t be you!

      • Sorry, but you just don’t know what feminism is.
        Or what political correctness is.
        …because none of these things in any way infringed on rights or freedoms.

        Since, you don’t even accept the most fundamental premisses of feminism and make a strawman out of me instead of addressing what I actually say, I will no longer publish any further comment from you.

  25. And on sexualization, I have wondered if spreading it in an equal manner along the genders can be considered inclusive design. From my perspective, if for any reason the creator includes some form of titillation aimed at the male gaze, then it seems fair to also include the same amount of titillation aimed at the female gaze. I remember an article on FFXIV highlighting how the skimpy armor typical of a MMO is available to both female and male characters with both being just as equally revealing.

  26. Very comprehensive article. I’m not a game designer, just a gamer and geek, but I have reflected lately on this topic. As a heterosexual cis male, the current landscape certainly favors me and I can’t deny I take advantage of the privilege. Yet I have become aware of many of these problematic elements and how they exclude, hurt and drive away women and LGBT minorities. It’s certainly something that needs to be addressed for the sake of the medium to grow and for society to become more inclusive.

  27. It might help if there were more examples of instances that support your argument, that is, characters or symbolism that defy such extreme stereotypes. Currently the article is rather flooded with androcentric examples and although in my (female, bi) head I can think of examples that attempt to challenge that stereotype, a “normal” straight male like yourself may not because you just haven’t been exposed to them. It would also balance out the negativity in the article.

    • Hey there..

      It would be helpful if you could provide the examples for my readers, since you seem to already have some on your mind.


      • Ok I actually had to look these up because I’m horrible with names. Just to clarify, I’m not trying to discredit your article in any way, but if the goal is to educate those to steer away from androcentrism in game design that they themselves might not personally be aware that they are doing (which you noted that it is because that’s all they know), it might help to have these examples. And as I noted previously, they are attempts in that direction…

        • …anyone can argue “well, they STILL show their tits” but it is not exactly a black and white scenario. I like looking at hot girls too, really that’s the only reason why I purchased Bayonetta. But anyways…

          Chell from Portal is female but really her character is not even really in the picture and her gender is completely irrelevant to any aspect of the game. Likewise Glados has an effeminate voice but that’s about it.

          Lara Croft with all her boobs is still portrayed as an intelligent and…

          • …capable woman, hardly a damsel in distress. Same goes for Jill in the Resident Evil series.

            King of Fighters has a pretty diverse cast of both genders, with characters like Elizabeth, Mature, and Vice who are fully clothed with slight sex appeal but not remotely close to being a sex symbol such as Mai. Ash in KOF xiii is also the main villain who is quite an effeminate looking male, complete with no manly muscles and bright nail polish and long flippy blonde hair.

            Hilde in Soul Calibur is..

            • …definitely female but compared with Ivy is a far cry from being a sexual object.

              BlazBlue series has a running joke throughout its story mode of how Jin is madly in love with his brother Ragna with a plethora of sexual innuendo, thus crossing two taboo lines. Likewise the oddball character Taokaka is obsessed with groping other female characters’ boobs, basically making the game make fun of itself for creating sexual objects (the game makes fun of itself and by association makes fun…

              • …of games in general).

                In terms of fan reception, FFXIII’s Lightning and Fang were accepted as strong female characters with not too much sexualization. In terms of playability it’s also not uncommon to hear of people supporting the “all girl team” because of their superior abilities to their male counterparts.

                I’m sure I’m missing on a lot of other key characters here but like I said I’m horrible with names.

                • To clarify on the “all girl team”, the team is supported because of their battle capabilities which can be viewed as superior to their male counterparts and not because they want to see hot ass on the screen all the time.

                  • Oh, let’s not forget the adorable moment when Cloud in FFVII dresses in drag to pretend to be a potential hooker and his sprite definitely changes to that of a female, and he is accepted as one damn hot chick by both the female and male characters.

                    In FFV Faris is a female who pretends to be male which is not discovered until partway through the game.

                    Mog in FFVI (and others) is a cute thing with pink wings and a pink puffball attached at the head but is widely accepted as a male character.

  28. Treating people’s bodily features as essentially gendered is fucked up. Just because a shitty game designer thought of a woman’s body hair as male, doesn’t make it less transphobic for you to call it such.

    And if you actually want to be inclusive of nonbinary people, cut out this “both genders” bullshit in the rest of the article.

    • Hey Shaed,…

      Your comment is a bit confusing, since we both are in violent agreement about gender and I thought I was explicit enough about that in the article. Obviously I wasn’t, so I apologize.

      To clarify:

      Treating people’s bodily features as essentially gendered is fucked up.

      Yes, absolutely. Bodily features are not actually related to gender. …but they are gender-coded, people read gender into them. It’s fucked up, yeah. I wrote all that. What am I missing?

      Just because a shitty game designer thought of a woman’s body hair as male, doesn’t make it less transphobic for you to call it such.

      I labelled it cis normative, hetero normative and later cisgenderist and heterosexist to think of features like a body hair as male or female. Was that not explicit enough?

      And if you actually want to be inclusive of nonbinary people, cut out this “both genders” bullshit in the rest of the article.

      Gender signifiers are either male coded or female coded. They are either read as male or female or at least masculine and feminine. Gender signifiers – our means to articulate gender – just come in those two pretty binary categories.

      Gender comes in all sorts of ways – a spectrum – which can be represented by having a character come with all sorts of different combinations of male coded or female coded signifiers or by having the character come with a significant lack of gender coded signifiers.

      There is no such thing as a gender non-conforming signifier. There is only gender non-conforming combinations of gender signifiers. That’s why it’s kinda mandatory to talk about gendering design features in this binary way. So I don’t see how I could change that or what is missing to make it “actually inclusive”.

      Any tips?

    • Hey again…

      I edited the chapter “2.1 Gender Indexes” to more explicitly comment on the transphobic nature of gender indexes and how they work.

      Thanks for your input.

      • You still refer to chest hair as male rather than male coded, and still constantly speak as though there were two genders. (refering to “both genders” “the other gender” refering to an unspecified person as “he or she”) You act like treating men and women equally would mean gender equality, like it is acceptable for nonbinary people to be an afterthought.

        • Hey shaed,

          thanks for coming back. BTW you can check a box to get notified when people reply to your comments if you enter a comment. You might wanna try it out.

          To your point:
          Yes, I see how my language frequently frames nonbinary people as an afterthought or frames visual signals as inherently related to one of two binary genders. I will go through my wording in the next couple of days (weekend maybe) and try to edit the passages to be more gender spectrum inclusive.

          I hope I catch everything. We’ll see.


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