Even with a Photoshop makeover, video game icon Lara Croft looks like she could still kick some computer-generated butt. An eating disorders site has transformed Lara and nine other bombshell video game characters into women with more normal measurements, with the goal inspiring the industry to "get real about women."
There have long been calls to change how women are portrayed in video games — invariably busty with tiny waists and Kardashian-sized rumps. Finally we can see how they'd look if they were more in line with a typical American woman.
Bulima.com, a San Diego website that provides support and information on eating disorders, did what it calls "reverse Photoshop" to create parodies of 10 unrealistically sexy video game characters, including Jade from Mortal Kombat and Cortana from Halo 4. Earlier this year, the site's creative team designed female superheroes with more normal, but still very tough, bodies.
Bulimia.com follows Buzzfeed's illustrations of Disney princesses with softer, thicker waistlines. And last year artist Nickolay Lamm developed the normal "Not-Barbie" doll with the proportions of an average 19-year-old woman.
“Video game designers and their companies have complete control over the female bodies in their games. So why is it they so often opt to make these characters into unrealistically idealized versions of their human counterparts?”, according to statement on the site.
It's a reasonable question. Even in a fictional gaming world, being bombarded by unrealistic images can do more than undermine a real world woman's self-esteem or, in some extreme cases, trigger eating disorders. There’s evidence that interacting with hyper-sexualized women in video games causes people to feel sexist. Jesse Fox, an assistant professor in the School of Communication at the Ohio State University, conducted several studies examining how people react to vampy video game characters.
In one study, both men and women who interacted with sexy female characters expressed more sexism.
"The fact that we didn't see a difference between men and women was shocking," she says.
In another study, women played a virtual reality game with avatars. Some of the avatars looked like sexualized women found in any video game; others resembled sexualized versions of the women who were playing, while others looked more like an average American. When women played with a sexualized avatar they were more likely to self objectify. Even worse, when women played in sexualized avatars of themselves, they were more likely to believe that women deserve to be raped.
“I was kind of floored. I expected it to be the opposite,” Fox says.
While Fox believes that making video game women look realistic can be an important step, more needs to be done.
“Yes, [women] need to be realistic in their body proportions but that is only going so far,” she says.
Fox hopes to see female characters who mirror real women; women valued for their attributes, such as intelligence or strength. And, she’d like to see them wearing more than a few pieces of string.
“So much is not about their abilities, but about their appearances,” Fox says.