Video gaming is one of the most popular, if not the most popular, pastimes and hobbies in modern culture. It is enjoyed by people of all ages and genders owing to the versatility of programs that can cater to varying gaming needs of different consumers. With video games becoming more and more competitive over the years, video game developers look for new ways to attract gamers to buy their games. While the gameplay itself is very important in creating games, developers race to give their consumers extra value.
With research and statistics pointing to older males who do not view video games as just toys, being the bulk of the purchasers, marketers have resorted to sexualizing female characters to parallel their taste in movies. Specifically, more than half of the gaming market consist of males over the age of 17. Correspondingly, M-rated games featuring graphic violence and sexual references are the “fastest growing genre in the home market” (Mariott, 2002, p. G1). One of the most popular and successful of this form of game marketing – combining violence with sexual references – is the game franchise of Dead or Alive.
The Dead or Alive franchise has come a long way since its first release of the fighting game in the arcades in 1996. Console releases have been available for the Xbox and Playstation after its successful launch in the arcade. The basic fighting game has produced sequels including Dead or Alive ++ (1998), Dead or Alive 2 (1999), Dead or Alive 3 (2002) and Dead or Alive Ultimate (2004). In addition, the franchise has also branched out to feature the women in bikinis and various states of undress in Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball (2003) and Dead or Alive Xtreme 2 (2006) (Alfonso, 2004).
Dead or Alive has come to be one of the most sought after games parallel to the high-grossing Final Fantasy series and the Tekken franchise, reviving the failing Temco company. In terms of gameplay, the Dead or Alive fighting game is as dynamic as martial arts wuxia goes and not stuck with just fancy punches, kicks and holds. The game pits men against men, men against women, and women against women with differing skill sets in order to beat the enemy and advance.
What really sets it apart, however, is its infamous for the “bouncing breasts” and (nearly) impossibly perfectly proportioned of its female characters that titillate the fancy of male gamers. As the game is known for its big-breasted, perfectly-proportioned women, the developers capitalized on this aspect of the game to create the famous and popular beach volleyball game infused with casino games and relationship building system that make the gaming experience of the program more varied. Its success is evidenced in the sequel that was released adding more beach and pool games, and items for the character’s personal use or as a gift item.
This entices the players to have more “experiences” with the female characters they control. The Dead or Alive franchise has constantly been bombarding their patrons with ideas of the “perfect” figure of a woman and her supposed role and identity in the real world. The franchise features highly realistic females set up for sexual stimulation tied to violence – two important factors when trying to get the male audience to patronize the game. The female characters, whether in the fighting game or in the volleyball game, are scantily clad and are made to look like they are supposed to perform for the heterosexual male gaze.
The popularity of this game franchise hinged on the fact that female characters are there to cater to the gamers’ fantasies. This supports Cassel and Jenkin’s claims that video games are “often filled with stereotypical and even degrading images of women accompanied by graphically violent narratives” (Cassel, Jenkis, 1998). Because of these prevalent stereotypes, female gamers, who enjoy video games and are growing more in number, are being alienated by the companies that produce the video games. This creates a market black hole leading to the male-dominance in the gaming industry (Soukup, 2007, p. 128).
This means that the only way for both the male and female players to gain social acceptance is to stay within the sex-role expectations that their games portray. That is, the sexual nature and appearance of Dead or Alive female characters and the masculinity and dominant appearance of the male characters become templates as to how men and women should look and act. The message of women empowerment in Dead or Alive is justified in the fact that they are fighters in the game and that they can win against men and even kill at will. However, this portrayal is a double-edged sword in establishing gender identities.
As Bell Hooks (quoted in Marriot 2003) states: “Now women can be killing machines, but adolescent about everything else . . . That is what one sees in ‘Charlie’s Angels,’ the women kill as ruthlessly and as brutally as any men, but when it comes to sex that drops out and they are little girls. It is a tremendous burden. ” This hammers on the patriarchal idea that women should be both highly sexualized and childlike to be eye candies for heterosexual men. The fact that women are barely covered (and that even if they are, their clothes perfectly fit the female contours) leaving very little to the imagination.
This sets precedence to how women should dress considering that most men idolize, fantasize and hold these “perfect females” to be the ideal woman. The “eye-candy woman” is then, considered to be a role that women should play within the context of fulfilling the identity of what a virtual woman should be like. This carries on to be the ideal role and identity women should be playing in reality. Allowing men to manipulate these characters as the “gods” of the virtual Dead or Alive world only highlights the locus of control that they are supposed to have over women, given that the game is geared toward this particular group.
Because the video gaming environment positions other characters (in the case of versus games, other players) as objects to be conquered, it is easier to dominate these human representations because they are not real. However, the more players stay in the virtual world, the more they equate it to the reality of the world wherein they live. This overlapping of worlds often applies the values and ideas they have in the virtual gaming environment to real life, and in turn, this greatly influences their image on the roles and identities that each gender should portray (Soukup, 2007, p.
172). Another aspect that should be taken into consideration in the patriarchal idea of dominating another person is the arousal that they elicit that makes the Dead or Alive environment very ideal for gamers – especially male gamers. This is what Soukup terms as “insisting on forwarding the patriarchal ideals” (2007). As players violently defeat the enemy in the fighting game, one of the sources of pleasure that can be derived from it is the process of reaching their violent objectives (i. e. trumping over all characters).
For gamers, beating the computer characters (or the avatars of the human player) into submission, or “dominating the enemy” makes the game worthwhile (Soukup, 2007, p. 64). As “gods,” the players gain more pleasure in controlling the characters feeling as if they are the characters themselves, or a t least a part of the virtual gaming world of Dead or Alive. This interactivity between the player and the game environment, as Grodal (quoted from Soukup, 2007) argues, makes it “possible for players to gain control over the elicited arousal. ”
The combined influences of the media and the virtual environment, and the gaming experience, sets the stage for enforcing stereotypical gender roles and identities: men as muscular and overpowering and women as eye-candy, no matter what their profession. This ideology is embodied well in the Dead or Alive game installments and further enforces patriarchal ideas of domination, force and power. The game focuses on the portrayal of the “ideal” men and women in both appearance and in their subliminal messages regarding their attitudes toward sex and sexuality.
The game’s focus is augmented by the gamers’ experience, prompting the players to equate the virtual world’s reality and make it into the real world’s ideals because of the excitement and arousal they feel toward playing the game and being its “god. ” Dead or Alive is not the only game which uphold these stereotypical portrayals. In a growing gaming market where the majority comprise of males over 17, games infused with sex or sexual references and violence will continue to flourish to cater to the hormonal demands of this lucrative market. References Alfonso, A. (2004 August 2).
The History of Dead or Alive. IGN. com. Retrieved April 2, 2009 from http://xbox. ign. com/articles/535/535283p1. html Marriott, M. (2003, May 15). Fighting women enter the arena; no holds barred. New York Times, p. G4, Retrieved April 2, 2009, from LexisNexis Academic: http://web. lexis-nexis. com Marriot, M. (2002, November 7). Game Formula is Adding Sex to the Mix. New York Times, p. G1, Rerieved April 1, 2009, from ProQuest: http://www. proquest. co. uk Soukup, C. (2007). Mastering the Game: Gender and the Entelechial Motivational System of Video Games. Women’s Studies in Communication. 30(2):157-179