Video games are a growing medium. They have the capacity to be anything from really fun toys to deeply emotional experiences. In my twenty or so years of gaming, I’ve seen graphics go from crude pixel art to fully rendered, photorealistic models. Stories have become more involved and control schemes have become more complex. Of course, there are nostalgic efforts and departures from futurism, but the general level of quality is so much higher. What a time to be alive, indeed. However, while we’re making progress in some areas, we are still lagging behind in others. The content of our games and characters isn’t improving at quite the same pace. We’ve expanded the roles of what women are “allowed” to be in our games, so on the one hand, we are advancing the idea that women aren’t simply trophies in another castle to be rescued or obtained. But on the other, we are still very much pushing the idea that women in games have to be conventionally attractive.
(Trigger warning for discussion of pedophilia and rape apology.)
The sexualization of young girls is an ongoing issue in our society, and it constantly trickles down into our pop culture. Every day someone misreads Lolita as a romantic story, and every day someone has inappropriate thoughts about the Sailor Scouts (who are thirteen in the narrative, FYI). In recent months both Marvel and DC have come under fire for sexualizing young female characters; DC for the cover of Teen Titans #1, which featured a ludicrously busty Wonder Girl in an inappropriate-for-battle tube top, and Marvel for including a controversial scene where Falcon sleeps with a character who claims to suddenly be twenty-three after having been portrayed as a teenager for years.
In real life, the people who commit sex crimes against young, sexualized girls often defend themselves by saying the girls acted older, or were mature for their age—even that they led the offenders on. That they were mentally older than their physical appearance would state. This is some hot, rape-apologist bullshit, but characters like this—actual adult women trapped in childlike bodies—do exist in pop culture. An easy example is the Batman: The Animated Series villain Baby Doll, an actress who, because of her childlike appearance, can only play kids’ parts, and who longs for nothing more than to be treated as an adult woman. These stories tend to walk a fine line between subverting and confirming the idea that young girls can “ask for it”. On one hand, these characters are presented as tragic figures who struggle with their situation, and so we want to root for them to be treated as adults; on the other hand, the Venn diagram of people you want to have a relationship with and people who want to have romantic/sexual relations with children’s bodies are two circles that don’t touch. I started thinking about this trend a few days ago, after rewatching Interview with the Vampire for the thousandth time.