Friday, February 8, 2013

Viewing Yourself After A Gaming Life

Recently I finished reading a study by Downs and Smith for the third time. I read one line again which, for a scientific paper, hits me on a rather personal manner. Downs and Smith write that “[d]ifferences between female body sizes in the media and actual body sizes have been linked to eating disorders, low self-esteem, body dissatisfaction, feelings of objectification, and to the attitude that women’s bodies are projects that need to be worked on”. I knew this before I read over it, I see it spelled out plainly in documentaries or by pop culture critics online or I can easily deduce it by reading magazines or just turning on the TV.  Video games are a recently new, but quickly growing, form of popular media that is open to more and more people every year. I grew up in a generation of children vastly influenced by games. And while I had always been warned about TV and magazines, no one warned me from my computer, N64, or Sega Genesis, and during my adolescent no one warned me from my Xbox or PS2 (except that I spent too much time with them).

But when I look at what I do now, when I look at how I constantly work to better myself, when I try to look at myself, I see the influence I tried to avoid has seeped in through the cracks. I have wonderful childhood memories of playing videos games, alone or with friends and family, and I love so many games as they were and as they are, but while they have changed me for the better in many ways, I also recognized that they have manipulated me negatively as well.  I can say that I do hold a view of body dissatisfaction, and the feeling that my physical appearance is a project that needs to be worked on.  While body dissatisfaction is clearly a useless negative way of thinking, I recognize it.  I’ll never have the bodies of the women I played as, I’ll never be Lara, but that also doesn’t mean I can just stop trying. In contrast to some extent, the idea of being a project that I myself work on doesn't feel bad at all. It feels empowering at times. I read a story about Marcus Dickinson a while ago that made me feel great about the way games can inspire people. If I want to emulate the women in games I grew up viewing as heroines, I need to work at it.  I am a project that I won’t let fall by the wayside. Lara was intelligent, physically fit, and successful. None of those attributes seem like things I should not work towards.  So, I am taking the good with the bad because I know both exists and neither is fully exempt from the other.
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

I know the case of Marcus Dickinson is different from what most women face. He had the capacity to become a fit and physically strong man through natural means. Women sometimes, if not most times, face physical impossibility, such as a waist too small to physically support all the space for human organs, or modifying chest size (without artificial means).  These common depictions of women in games lead to those popular aliments Downs and Smith described, and it will take some time for the video game industry to right these problems.

I hope to examine Lara more extensively later on, but I would like to make one note here first. While Lara is called a Sex Object by many, she doesn't have to be. The mods that show her nude, the increased attractiveness of the Lara model over time, and other actions taken to turn Lara in to the Tomb Raiding Babe were taken by people who wanted to see her like that. But I choose to see her the way I saw her first; as a little girl wanting to see a confident woman shoot a few baddies every once in a while. Can we really base a character off of a popular opinion shaped by just a portion of anonymous gamer males? Maybe she can be reclaimed, this time on our side, ladies.


PS: To take a look at the study for Downs and Smith:

Downs, Edward & Stacy L. Smith
2010    Keeping Abreast of Hypersexuality: A Video Game Character Content Analysis. Sex Roles. 62:721-33.

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