Bulimia.com, an organization supporting people struggling with eating disorders, is calling attention to unrealistic and potentially damaging body image depictions in gaming by reverse Photoshopping some of its most famous characters.
Unrealistic body image depictions are a well established problem in fashion and advertising, where camera, makeup, and Photoshopping tricks can create an ideal that is literally impossible (and sometimes horrifying). Video games aren't scrutinized as often, but considering that game developers are overwhelmingly male, making games marketed to young men, and that the female bodies they're designing are completely malleable and don't adhere to the basic laws of physics, it's not surprising we get characters that look like Bayonetta.
"Some gaming studios boast their hyper-realistic lighting techniques, touting natural cloud movements as the latest features of their games," Builimia.com wrote in a post to its website. "And with that kind of attention to detail, it makes us wonder, why can’t they accurately portray the female body?"
After giving superheroes the same treatment back in March, the organization redesigned characters like, Halo's Cortana, Tekken 5's Christie Montiero, and Mortal Kombat's Jade to represent the average American woman's measurements.
The most iconic character in the group is the star of the Tomb Raider series, Lara Croft, though Bulimia.com chose an older design from Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness (2003) as its starting point. It's much closer to the original design from the first Tomb Raider game. As the story goes, lead graphic artist on the game Toby Gard accidentally increased Croft's breast dimensions by 150 percent, but the rest of the creative team liked the accident so much they decided to keep it. Croft's cup size was reduced and her general appearance changed for the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot.
"We chose her old character because of how iconic that iteration of her was, specifically for the objectification debate," a Bulimia.com spokesperson told Motherboard. "If you look at how her form has changed from the original, it's clear developers are listening to feedback from consumers. They're definitely moving in the right direction."
"Girl gamers—especially young ones—could develop a skewed image of how the female body should look," Bulimia.com wrote. "This might mark the beginning of obsessive thoughts about their own bodies, and self-questioning as to why they don’t align with their perceived ideal."
As the organization notes, the changes are especially noticeable since most of the characters are half naked, which is a problem in its own right for female game characters.
"The scope of impact goes way beyond the people playing the games," a Bulimia.com spokesperson said. "Every doll-like character they design is harming cultural perception of the female body, and in turn the women they care about. In fact, a recent study by Rosalind Warren explains it's not even something male players want to see. There's no reason this can't change."