Women in Pittsburgh see a slow transformation in video gaming

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A fight to the death is about to begin. Siegfried wields a broadsword with one hand. He is covered in the metallic armor of a knight and a purple cape drapes from his enormous shoulders. Ivy wears bright purple spandex that, with strategically placed holes and openings, doesn't leave much to the imagination. She carries a whip that is as long as her legs.

The game is "SoulCalibur V," which is just as famous for its hyper-sexualized female characters as its fast-paced fighting action. Such images, long a standard of video games created with male gamers in mind, are starting to get a makeover in the wake of concerns that they alienate an audience that is growing each year: the female gamer.

"Game companies see the vast majority of their players as heterosexual men who enjoy this type of hyper-sexualization and they create these games to feed that demographic," said Lindsey Bieda, 26, of Shadyside, a software engineer. "It's hard for these types of games to be accessible to people outside of that demographic and it creates a feedback loop."

How a game depicts female characters does influence which games she plays, she acknowledged. "More often, however, I've been drawn to playing certain games because of the depictions of female characters being progressive."

Developers of one of the most popular video game series have made changes in response to such complaints. The latest in the "Tomb Raider" series, which debuted last week, has been rebooted with a new look for lead character Lara Croft, a female Indiana Jones who was popularized by her curvy figure (she was played by Angelina Jolie in two movie adaptations). In the latest version, game developer Crystal Dynamics provides a more realistic depiction of the famous explorer.

But it will take more than one forward-thinking game to change the trends of an industry. This is the first "Tomb Raider" game to go in this direction; there have been five "SoulCalibur" games.

"I look at video games. I can't find a character that looks like me," said Julie Pagano, 27 of Squirrel Hill, a software engineer for Google. "I'm not crusading against [scantily clad characters] never appearing, but a little girl can't play a video game that she can identify with."

She believes that depictions are getting better. "There are a lot more independent games that are attracting demographics by being able to build your own character. 'Mass Effect' received a lot of praise because of the player's ability to pick a gay or lesbian character."


Max Parker blogs about interactive games at http://communityvoices.sites.post-gazette.com/index.php/arts-entertainment-living/the-game-guy.


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