Modern culture has different factors that shape the mind of its representatives in a specific society. One of the strongest sources of influence is films and computer or console games. Often represented by large and powerful corporations, film and game industries obtain significant revenues from their products, which is why they tend to depict issues that attract potential consumers. One of such issues is the concept of a female body, which has been attracting public attention and caused different ethical discussions, disregarding the stage of the development of humanity.
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The contemporary film and gaming industries offer a wide range of women’s roles, which are typically represented by their body types. The works released by the representatives of both industries involve a variety of concepts such as female abuse, subjectivation to feminism, and superhuman, which inevitably involve unethical attitudes toward women overall. The analysis of these concepts from a theoretical perspective demonstrates that the typical images of a female body in movies and games often represent a distorted reality, leading to different negative tendencies in society. Therefore, the ways of encoding the aspects of sexual difference in the body images in contemporary films and games often produce a negative impact on the audience, as the former tend to stimulate unethical attitudes associated with a female identity.
Typical Female Body Types in Films
Due to the fact that the film industry has a long history of existence, it has accumulated a wide range of representations of both genders that are typically demonstrated by the body types and psyche of a character. For instance, lazy or friendly female characters are more likely to be overweight whereas aggressive or active ones are depicted as slim and athletic. The first category of characters is often characterized as ‘body positive’ (Tonic) due to jokes and positive attitudes, which are inevitably connected with the excessive size and weight of a female body. Examples of such films include Fat Amy, Hairspray, Pink Flamingos, and others where a woman who is often represented as overweight or obese becomes the epicenter of comedy and controversy (Tonic). Thus, in the film industry, the image of an overweight woman is used mostly for gaining additional attention due to specific cultural cliches.
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At the same time, there are some controversial examples when the image of an overweight or obese woman depicts an annoying protagonist, disregarding the fact that it is a character of a comedy. The most relevant example of this case is the film Norbit, where a male actor Eddie Murphy plays an overweight African-American woman named Raspuita (Reese). However, this film offers a grotesque image of an Africa-American woman, which is typically played by a male actor and involves different racist and misogynic references (Figure 1) (Reese). Such films support specific traditions of African-American comedies offered mostly for adult audiences, as they have an excessive amount of sexual references and obscene jokes.
Figure 1. The Poster of the Film Norbit (Reese).
In contrast to the image of an overweight female body, their slim and athletic counterparts are most recurrent in action films, thrillers, and other films where a female protagonist is active and even aggressive. For instance, such films as Resident Evil, Mortal Combat, Underworld, Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, The Fifth Element, The Matrix, Tomb Raider, and others have ‘the most hardcore women’ (‘Movies with the Most Hardcore Women’). The protagonists of these works have slim or athletic bodies, demonstrate outstanding flexibility, often have skills in martial arts and shooting and kill different types of enemies. Due to the last fact, such types of films are frequently rated R or X meaning that they contain scenes with obscene language and gore. In the public mind, a slim female from an action or thriller film is a dangerous and strong woman who opposes numerous rivals and has to use violence to overcome them. Accordingly, such characters kill as ‘they have to’ (‘Movies with the Most Hardcore Women’) in order to survive and protect their families, community, or even humanity (Figure 2). In such films, the female body has a resemblance to classical images of a strong man due to the presence of muscles and observable low level of body fat.
Figure 2. Sarah Connor, the protagonist in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (‘Movies with the Most Hardcore Women’).
The last types of films that are highly popular due to the depicted images of female bodies are the ones that have different sexual references, implicit or explicit. The first category of such works involves female superheroes typically present in different comic series. Examples of such films include Wonder Woman, X Men? Catwoman, and others where the protagonist typically wears a costume of tight leather or another material, which has various erotic references (Figure 3). In some cases, these films may involve the aspects of female subjectivities associated with sexuality or violence (Hansen-Miller, p. 181). Therefore, the image of a female body in popular films often becomes an object of different ethical issues such as the danger from subjectivation and the distortion of the image of a real woman by the media.
Figure 3. The image of Catwoman in Catwoman (‘Catwoman’).
Typical Female Body Types in Games
In contrast to films, modern game developers tend to significantly accentuate sexual references due to the peculiarity of the markets and the target audiences. As a result, the number of body types depicted in games is mostly limited to slim and athletic ones and a separate type of unrealistic body types that involve sexual references. Thus, slim and athletic characters are presented in the majority of action and thriller games such as Metal Gear Solid, Uncharted, Bloodrayne, Mortal Kombat, Mirror’s Edge, and others (Figure 4).
Figure 4. The character Faith in Mirror’s Edge (Theodoros II).
In the majority of cases, games with slim and athletic female characters are active and involve violence associated with the use of arms or martial arts, which is why immature gamers have restricted access to them.
The predominance of slender and trained female bodies in computer and console games has led to the critique of game developers who have created body types that have no connection with reality. On the one hand, the critics are not right because the gaming industry is associated with the creation of unrealistic worlds and characters. However, their point is reasonable for the games, which attempt to imitate reality such as the Grand Theft Auto series. For instance, Ramanan argues that until 2016, the major part of the games did not involve female characters that represented women of color whereas the major part of them are still slim or athletic, which is far from reality. Partially, the reporter explains this issue by the fact that only 14% of females work in digital gaming industries whereas only 4% of them are African-American, Asian, or of another minority ethnic group (Ramanan). Therefore, due to the fact that the gaming industry is a male industry, its peers tend to create female body images that they and their audiences want to see, but not the ones that represent reality.
Some of the critics have developed the idea of irrelevant representation of a female body in games and modified the most popular female images from the gaming industry for them to look more realistic. Such a step can be regarded as an attempt to attract the attention of game developers to gender and ethical issues associated with the female body images they produce. Partially, the abovementioned issue is characterized as a problem of culture, as the mainstream representatives of the gaming industry produce content for young men (Ramanan). Consequently, sexual and athletic female protagonists are recognized by gaming developers as a factor that improves the level of revenues associated with different games (‘Video Game Characters with Average Body Types’). In contrast, the inclusion of realistic female body types offered by the critiques is a risk factor for the gaming industry, which is typically avoided by major game development studios (Figure 5).
Figure 5. The modifications of female body types in games offered by the critiques (‘Video Game Characters with Average Body Types’)
Ethics and the Image of a Female Body in Games and Films
The analysis of the most typical female body types in games and films demonstrates that they inevitably lead to different controversial ethical issues due to their orientation toward the unrealistic change of the image of a female body. In this sense, the critics argue that gaming and film studios use hyper-realistic digital solutions in order to enhance the quality of the visuals; however, surprisingly, they do not achieve realism when portraying a female body (‘Video Game Characters with Average Body Types’). According to such practice, unrealistic imagery in games and films leads to different problems in cognitive thinking, as the audiences tend to compare and contrast visual imagery with reality. For instance, Pennell and Behm-Morawitz (2015) argue that the image of sexualized female characters in popular films leads to lower body self-esteem in female viewers. Therefore, an ethical problem of such media products is in the objectification of female body representations that adversely impact gender-related beliefs (Pennell & Behm-Morawitz, 2015). However, this is not the only issue that causes public disagreement in regard to games and films.
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Furthermore, experts argue that in the film and gaming industries, the image of a female has been irrelevantly changed due to the unequal representation of women in the profession, which is an ethical problem itself. A result of such male gender domination is the presence of a male gaze, which is especially relevant in Western visual culture (Smelik, p. 2). A typical adverse effect caused by such reality has included stereotyping women according to different sexist schemes (Smelik). In the case of the film industry, this situation is better because it involves diverse female body types in different genres. However, the features of the gaming market make different communities pressure gaming development studios for the latter to be more ethically correct when they design the bodies of their female characters.
The analysis of the problem of representation of female body images in films and games demonstrates that the major ethical cause for film and game producers to continue representing unrealistic female body images is a material principle. Thus, from a theoretical perspective of Kant’s theory, both industries have a considerable interest in attracting customers, which is why all their actions are justified ‘to a simple axiological currency will’ (Timmermann, p. 37). Thus, the practical will of major film and game developing studios is to grant profitability of their products, which is possible by including a concept of a female body. In this sense, the irrelevant depiction of a female body as overly sexual, violent, dangerous, and so on has become a factor of success.
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Recognizing the defined factor of success associated with women’s images, film and game producers use it for meeting their business aims, which negatively affect society overall due to ethical problems. In such cases, these peers produce their decisions on the basis of the marginal application of utilitarianism according to which there is no need to follow common sense or rules if anyone pursuits individual utilitarian goals (Broad, p. 155). However, their works lead to different negative effects among their audiences such as a support of objectification of women, misogyny, admiration of violence, irrelevant sexual behavior, and others. For instance, research performed by Gabbiadini et al. (p. 2) revealed that male gamers are mostly affected by violent-sexist video games, which increase their masculine beliefs, leading to the negative prediction of empathic feelings toward female victims in a game. Therefore, although irrelevant practices of film and game producers associated with female body images in their products lead to the increase in financial revenues, they adversely impact society owing to the shift to unethical utilitarian business practices.
The analysis of the ethical issues related to the problem of the depiction of a female body in film and game industries demonstrates that the producers of both industries pursuit their individual material goals, ignoring the negative effect their works have on the public. Thus, major film and gaming studios tend to depict female characters as slim and athletic, which, in many cases, does not correspond to reality. As a result, the distorted image of a female body leads to different adverse outcomes in the public such as the admiration of sexual topics, decreased self-esteem, and others. According to Kant’s ethical theory, the representatives of both industries pursuit financial goals, which justify their actions. However, from a broader perspective, such practice is incorrect, as it damages the cognition of the audiences of game developers and film production studios.