In Resident Evil: Revelations, Jill Valentine somehow manages to wiggle her whole body while she runs. In Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, Evie Frye is a character who avoids falling into many of the sexualizing traps that some playable female characters do. But she still walks with an exaggerated hip sway. In Saints Row the Third, you can change your character’s gender at any time. If you go to the clinic and swap your gender from male to female, you also come away with a newly sexualized walking animation, even though you’re literally supposed to be the same character. Male heroes are allowed to simply walk like normal human beings, in ways that are “average” or strong or graceful or goofy. Meanwhile, motion-captured animations for female characters often make them look as if they’re walking down a runway at a fashion show in stiletto heels, even when the characters are actually in combat situations.
Watching these characters in-game movement animations, you’d think that the director of the motion capture session directed them to walk like a model instead of a hardened space warrior or master thief or bioterrorism agent or crime boss or vampire or assassin. Of course, in the real world, people do walk with a sway of the hips when wearing high heels. If we want to get really technical about it, this slight hip sway occurs in order to maintain balance. This in and of itself is not a problem, (other than generally being deeply uncomfortable), but it raises an important question: why are these female characters in combat roles wearing high heels!? With all the fighting, running, and climbing these women have to do, dressing them in heels is clearly a decision rooted in sexualized aesthetic pleasure rather than believability. In fact, animating so many female characters in games to fit into this very gendered, sexualizing walk pattern is an example of one of the ways the male gaze manifests in video games.
The term male gaze was coined in 1975 by feminist film critic Laura Mulvey and refers to the tendency for the visual arts to assume, and be structured around, a presumed masculine viewer, or in this case, player. The male gaze manifests when the camera takes on the perspective of a stereotypical heterosexual man. An indisputable example of this is when the camera lingers, caresses, or pans across a woman’s body– although it’s not always that obvious. In games, it can be as simple as the in-game camera resting so that a character’s butt or breasts or both are centerline, it can be cutscenes that rest on a woman’s butt, it can be clothing that they are wearing or the way they talk, or it can be as basic as the way a female character moves around the game world.