Bulimia.com's recent blog post features images of female video game characters that have been reversed Photoshopped to feature the body proportions of the average American female; the images have circulated like wild fire across the Web. I've seen it trending on social media, cropping up on various gaming sites, and discussed on mainstream news sources such as CNN and DailyMail. As a woman who games, I found a few, relatively small issues with the original post on Bulimia.com. My intent is not to bash Bulimia.com's creativity or message; but rather to to offer a small critique that extends an additional perspective on the images.
I study media, particularly video games, and lately I've done some research on representations of women in games. While I admire the message for more realistic and believable portrayals of women in video games, I can't help but feel that games are an easy scapegoat for the overall lack of diversity of body types in ALL kinds of media. I understand that the original post and images come from a support website for eating disorders and that the message is an important one, but really, what I'd like to see is not simply "average sized women" but ALL kinds of women in games - thin, average, large - you name it, and for them to have dynamic and interesting personalities.
More than that, the Bulimia.com post ignores that the standards are also high for male characters in video games - especially leading male protagonists, that almost always conform to a masculine body type ideal. Hence, I created my own set of images, for a few popular male protagonists, to show a similar comparison. The differences may not be staggering between the original images and what I've created, but it serves to illustrate the point that most male protagonists are relatively thin with musculature - if not overtly muscular (Marcus Fenix, anyone?).
Moreover, the athletic builds of video game characters are often intentional by design. A character like Lara Croft, an aerobic adventurer and treasurer hunter, is more believable onscreen with a relatively slim and athletic body performing the various feats that require agility. The character model of Lara in the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot, for example, drastically improved upon the impossibly-small-waisted Lara in Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness. However, in video games where agility is not the main objective, I sincerely hope to see more diversity. Arguably, there's FAR more diversity of male body types in video games, generally speaking. Just look at the range of male bodies in fighting games - from super buff, to slim, and average builds ... even overweight if you've seen Bob from the Tekken series. Let's see that kind of body range for female fighters, too.
Importantly, I also think it is interesting that the altered images conform to the body types of the "average American woman" when at least five of the characters originate from video games made in Japan, designed by Japanese staff. In other words, Bulimia.com's call for action in the video game industry assumes that all games and their characters should conform to the average American body type - however, it is often problematic to impose one culture's values on another. I'm not an expert on Japanese culture, by any means, but general observations suggest that Japanese people, in general, are smaller than a good deal of Americans.
The thin ideal is prevalent across all media, especially advertising and Hollywood movies; it's not just video games that are prioritizing thin bodies. That's why I stress the importance of embracing all kinds of bodies in media. Video games can and should portray a broader representation of women, too, but I feel that it's rather unfair to point fingers when the issue is much wider than a single industry that breaches national and cultural borders.