Recently, a website offering support and help to fight eating disorders published an article highlighting how video games portray unrealistic bodies of women. In it, they argued that the characters were given bodies that were more about the sexualisation of them as females (scantily clad and incredibly thin) rather than as actually biologically accurate. In response to this, the website threw the pictures through Photoshop to enlarge them to the average American woman’s size. All positive and utterly understandable, except I still think these pictures are unrealistic to these character’s activity levels.
The 1990’s Lara Croft from Tomb Raider is usually flagged up about this, with her body disproportionately distributed so that most of her weight would come from her hefty cleavage to counteract the impossible circumference of her waist (uh, hello, organs). She is sexualised and unrealistically shaped, but simply making her bigger doesn’t solve this; when you play the game, you realise that she is a very active, very body-conscious woman, and whilst her original dimensions don’t represent her, portraying her as an average woman’s size would not work either.
I do not want you to misunderstand me. Body size is not proportionate to the amount of exercise one does, and we should all know this, but with active characters as the ones portrayed, their weight would not be simply distributed by fat, it would be incorporated into muscles, thighs, and core muscles. Weight and body image are not correlated.
Moving on from the outdated model of Lara Croft, and shifting up a gear on the graphics, there is Jade from the 2011 game, Mortal Kombat, A re-skin of the arcade classic. She is wearing more clothes, and on the ‘bigger model’, her clothes seem to fit her better, but in the 2011 picture, her arms are toned and her thighs strong, even if she does look like she could snap at the knee. She is still too well endowed, but the main problem is if she is that thin in her torso, no amount of cloth would stop the outline of her ribs and hips; they would stick out through the fabric. Jade is a fighter, her entire drive is to fight; it makes sense that she would be well toned to do so, but toned doesn’t mean she has to be stick-thin.
Jade was modelled on a real woman; Becky Gable, who also modelled for two other Mortal Kombat characters; Kitana and Mileena (right). Mileena, in the 2015 Mortal Kombat X, as you can see, has taken on some very idealised muscle. I would argue that although this image is still very, very idealised, it is moving towards the realistic body shape a very dedicated fighter could attain, at the expense of being able to eat whatever they wanted, and working out 16 hours a day.
Video game characters are unrealistic. Even male characters are unrealistic, with any fat characters being portrayed as bumbling, idiotic fools. Some male characters should be unfit and overweight; the much-loved, medically handicapped pilot in the Mass Effect series, Joker, should be bigger. He is at danger every time he stands up of breaking a limb, so he doesn’t move, and as such, unless he has a very unstable eating pattern (a whole other issue, for another time maybe), he would eat the same as fighters who spend their time running around, yet sitting still. Although, could you imagine *that scene* in Mass Effect 2 with a fat Joker?
My point is, video games portray bodies unrealistically, especially women’s bodies who are sexualised for the player’s supposed benefit, but simply making them fatter does not solve the problem. The developers of these games need to be more conscious of what these characters would really look like in relation to their activity levels, their natural metabolisms, their obsession or aversion to exercise. To have characters who are healthy, we need characters whose bodies reflect their real-life priorities, rather than fitting into a mould that exemplifies every female, regardless of their abilities.