Bodies in video games

We talk quite a lot about breasts, their precise size, how they move and how much of them is shown by the developer. It’s a distraction from the much more important issue of how bodies in general are designed in video games.

People in real life typically look nothing like video game characters. There is a shininess, an artificial fluidity in all video game characters that does not reflect the solidity (even in a skeletal Kate Moss) of actual humans. This is also shown by the computer graphics effects in movies.

The larger issue is the ridiculousness of physique in video games. According to the World Health Organization, 33.9% of American adults are obese, while 8 other countries in the world have an even higher rate of obesity. Globally, 7.4% of people are obese, while 2.7 billion people in the world live on less than $2 a day in income and are thus (generally) too poor for obesity to be an option.

Even though video games are heavily inspired by the United States and Europe, obesity has not been much of an inspiration for game developers, if the typical tight, supple, well muscled bodies of especially game protagonists but also to a substantial extent other characters is any indication. It’s also very interesting that game protagonists have a considerably greater physique than other characters in the game, especially their victims, who are often depicted as scrawny or normal (ala the undead fodder such as skeletons and zombies or usually the hapless 3rd world soldiers in military shooters). This is a bit reminiscent of well-fed and conditioned Arian Nazi guards murdering ravaged starving Jews, gypsies, or disableds, who often looked like human skeletons, in other words “monsters”, prior to being cleansed by the Nazi protagonists, a small difference being that the Nazi guards were not sporting enough to give the human skeletons a weapon prior to cutting them down.

The other primary issue is age. The median age of humans in the real world is 26.4. The median age of humans in some of the most influential countries for game developers, lets say the United States, Japan, Germany, and the United Kingdom, is 36.9, 44.6, 43.7, and 40.5, respectively.

What’s the median age of video game characters? I doubt anyone’s researched it, but my sense is maybe the mid to high 20s, with Japanese developers being noted for using very young characters in their games. In particular game protagonists are quite young – even playing a middle aged one such as in The Walking Dead or The Last of Us is strange for gamers. Playing an elderly one would cause most of us to fall out of our chairs in shock and the rest to congratulate themselves for not doing so.

Let’s look at this a bit deeper. Game engines, as John Carmack understands them, are like race cars – the whole point is to make them fast, sleek, and responsive, or “sexy” as he would put it. Fat isn’t sexy, old isn’t sexy. Young, well-conditioned, supple, tight, 6-packed, surgically crafted, etc. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to have an engine built on the philosophy of well-conditioned youth and then populate it with people who don’t fit the bill.

Something even more interesting emerges when we consider the history of video games. For much of gaming’s history, game graphics simply couldn’t render a “tight, young, supple” human physique. The game could still have one, as described in the manual and imagined by the player, but it couldn’t show it. And, strangely enough, THEREFORE IT DIDN’T HAPPEN.

I’m straining to think of a single game, even a single one, which had a Lara Croft, Dante, Bayonetta, or Kratos prior to them being able to be graphically rendered as such. Games with primitive graphics which could still render physique, such as the original arcade version of Gauntlet, did not present even the Warrior as anything like Kratos or Dante – really just a beefy lumberjacky guy – the kind of guy one would expect as a warrior.

Just as the not-so-wise John Carmack engaged the game industry in a race for the sexiest engine, game developers of today are in a race for the sexiest possible renderable game protagonist – so Bayonetta battles Lara Croft while Dante battles Kratos and bi-gender Shepard battles sanity.

And game reviewers and “critics” get up on their soapbox to once again talk about boobs, now in Dragon’s Crown. Boobs and how they are shown and isn’t that so fucking terrible. Some fools just can’t see the forest for the trees.

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