If you follow video game news on the internet at all, you’re probably aware that gaming culture has something of a boob fixation. On the bulk of mainstream gaming blogs, discussion of characters’ breasts — and also those of players and game creators — is pretty much constant. But even amidst the eternal stream of “I’d hit that”s and “Top Ten Gaming Hotties” lists, there are always a few boob-related gaming news moments that really stand out.
One of my recent favorites is the maybe-unintentional breast reductions that took place in the Age of Conan MMORPG (ably chronicled here), which resulted in a little bit of player panic. Age of Conan is a game about which Jorgen Thereldsen, the Project Director at Funcom, has said (among other delightful things), “It’s good to be a healer. You have a naked lady buffing you.” It’s no real surprise that much of the player base reacted to the sudden drop in boob size with dismay and anger. Of course, it’s easy to brush that particular boob-crisis aside as not actually representative of gaming culture in general. I mean, this game is based on Conan! What do you expect, right?
Ah, but there’s always more. Let’s talk about fighting games! There is, of course, the eternal embarrassment to gaming that is the Dead or Alive series, famous for its “boob physics.” But the fun doesn’t stop there. Namco’s Soul series hasn’t exactly been a shining example of equality for female characters in gaming in the past, but it is a solid fighter series with lots of interesting (and deadly) women in it. One of these, Ivy Valentine, has been undergoing a strange transformation as the series progresses, though. Her clothes are getting smaller and smaller, and her boobs are getting — you guessed it! — bigger. Way bigger. But hey! Ivy’s not the only woman in the Soul series, and the newest game, Soulcalibur IV, is going to have at least one cool-looking new female character dressed in awesome-looking, full-coverage plate armor. Except… Apparently her armor comes off during battle. Way to go, Namco!
I could go on. But, frankly, chronicling the boob issues gets boring after a while, as well as dispiriting. Adding to the frustration of it all for many female players is that despite the puerile fascination with women’s sexy bits in game development and gamer culture at large, there are still far more male characters than female in the majority of games. This is getting better — there are many more games out right now that allow the player to choose a female avatar than there were even a couple of years ago. But the default for avatars and (less obviously) for NPCs is still male.
A female player usually has fewer choices of avatar in a game if she wants to play a character that looks a little like her, and she’ll run into very few female NPCs. The ones she does meet are fairly likely to fall into the roles that video games stereotypically allot to female characters: healer, spunky kid sister, damsel in distress, and prostitute. And there are plenty of male players as well as lots of female ones who would really like the option of choosing female avatars that aren’t primarily defined by their sexiness in more games.
Happily, there are games out there that happen to contain boobs without focusing on them. Here are some of my recommendations for games with female avatar options (in several, you can only play a female avatar), female NPCs, and a variety of cup sizes:
Metroid Prime Pinball for the Nintendo DS
Do you like pinball? Do you like shooting aliens? Do you like Samus Aran, one of the first female video game characters and owner of super-awesome power suit? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you will like this game.
Metroid Prime Pinball is an excellent choice for newbie gamers, since the controls are easy to master, but the various tables and modes make it a nice challenge for more experience players, too. And it has one of the best multiplayer modes I’ve seen on a DS game yet, allowing up to eight players to compete against one another through the DS’s wireless system with only one card.
Barbie in the 12 Dancing Princesses for the Nintendo DS
I can guess what you’re thinking. A Barbie game? Really? But if you’re a fan of the platformer genre (games in which you progress through levels by jumping from platform to platform, using and refining a combination of puzzle-solving skills and quick reflexes), you really need to check this game out, because it is wicked-cool.
You play as Genevieve, a princess on a quest to save her father and sisters from an evil relative bent on conquest (aren’t they all?). As you progress through the game, you’ll be helped by your sisters, who loan you their dancing shoes, each of which grants a helpful ability (such as the weaponized butterfly net, or extra speed). It’s a fun game with some clever takes on typical platformer challenges, and you get to play a kick-ass princess.
Portal available for Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and Microsoft Windows
You have probably heard good things about Portal. They are all true. Innovative gameplay, fantastic atmospheric visuals and sound, deliciously dark humor — Portal has it all.
As main character Chell, you’ll view the world of Portal from a first-person perspective and use your Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device to solve puzzles. As you progress through the game, you’ll have to dodge increasingly dangerous threats, leveled against you by GLaDOS, an unstable artificial intelligence. Seriously, this game kicks ass.
Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords available on pretty much every system everywhere, including many cell phones
Puzzle Quest is a brilliant melding of a Bejeweled-like puzzle game and a classic video game RPG. You move your little avatar around a map, beating monsters by outpuzzling them, gaining followers and uncovering plot.
Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords allows you to choose your character class, and each class has a handful of avatars to pick from that includes an equal number of male and female portraits. The NPCs you’ll encounter in-game are also pretty evenly split, and there are some really interesting and unusual characters, including the Dwarven spokesperson, who happens to be both female and bearded. I recommend this game highly, but I also recommend that you set a timer or something while you’re playing it. It’s frighteningly addictive.
Mass Effect for the Xbox 360 and Microsoft Windows
An epic science fiction plot featuring lots of female characters and also people of color? Sign me up! Seriously, Mass Effect does everything right in terms of NPC diversity, sporting a wide range of non-player characters with a variety of skills and attributes not linked to their gender or the color of their skin. And with a super-customizable character builder, your avatar can be almost anyone you want her (or him) to be, too.
The game features a complex, many-branching, dialogue-heavy plot with first-person shooter controls, so you get a great mix of discussion and mayhem. And one of the spiffiest things about Mass Effect, in my opinion, is that the many decisions that you make when generating your character — and also when interacting with NPCs throughout the game — actually effect which subplots are available to you. Awesome.
So if you’d like a change from the usual boob-centric approach in gaming, go forth and check out some of these titles. No bra required!