Playboy’s Annual Girls Of Video Games

by Meagan Marie on Jan 07, 2010 at 09:08 AM

As someone completely unapologetic about her love for lady Lara Croft, it would be a bit hypocritical of me to get up in arms about female protagonists showing a bit of skin. Games featuring fierce (and usually half-naked) females never aggravated me – instead I gravitated to them. In the empowering vs. degrading debate, I’ve always sided with the digital heroines. That hasn’t changed much. If you were to walk into my office today you would see posters, pinups and statues of iconic females from games and comics (Lara Croft and Top Cow’s bikini-clad Witchblade being repeat offenders). So no, skin and sexuality don’t bother me much, as long as there is substance behind the pretty face.

All this being said, it shouldn’t surprise you that I never bat an eyelash at Playboy’s annual Girls of Video Games spread. The past few years have seen D-list characters bare all in provocative poses. No real harm, so no foul in my book. This year one particular character caught me off guard, however.

Playboy seems to be escalating their game. Playboy’s 2007 and 2008 spread saw characters from Age of Conan, Clive Barker’s Jericho, Tabula Rasa, Ride to Hell, Afro Samurai and Rise of the Argonauts – more often than not featuring secondary or lesser-known characters. This year several high profile games made the list (all of which are appropriately rated M). Hecuba Manaros from God of War III is no surprise, as the series comes with trademark topless women and sex minigames. Same goes for Beatrice from Dante’s Inferno. A game that uses Cleopatra’s nipples for an enemy spawn point isn’t afraid of pushing boundaries. Just wait until you see the various decorative motifs that adorn the wall in Hell’s circle of Lust. Then there is Bella Antonelli from Mafia II, Skylar St. Claire from The Saboteur and Lolita Chang from CrimeCraft – all games which aren’t afraid to explore sexual themes. So what character got me up in arms? Madison Paige from Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain.

I was immediately annoyed when I found out that Madison was included in the Playboy feature, and a lengthy rant to an unwilling ear followed. Heavy Rain is my most anticipated game of 2010. I can’t wait to get my hands on it. Everything about the game has been crafted to feel grounded and believable, including the visuals, story and characters. While I found all the characters intriguing from the get go, I was drawn to Madison’s atypical beauty and style – she stuck out as a character lacking the exaggeration of most female leads. (I even featured her in my “Ten Characters with Character” piece). It was refreshing.

After thinking a bit about why I was so annoyed, I realized that it boiled down to the fact that I like Madison, while I have no real thoughts or opinions about the other characters included in Playboy’s feature. I would probably be equally annoyed if Eidos ever caved and shipped a real Lara Croft nude code. Or if Naughty Dog had a moment of insanity and stripped down Uncharted’s Elena Fisher – one of my new favorite leading ladies. Along the same lines, what if Ubisoft threw Jade from Beyond Good & Evil in a centerfold?

Once my initial annoyance subsided I hunted down the photos online – being too lazy to go out and buy an actual Playboy. And in all honesty I was surprised. When I decided to blog about the subject I contacted the folks over at Sony to see if they had an official statement or to try to get a quote from Quantic as to why they thought Madison would be a good fit for the spread. While they were unable to give me any sort of official report, it was obvious that they felt the picture was in good taste and in line with the mood of the game. And after seeing it, I have to agree. Madison’s pose is anything but tacky or vulgar and feels like a scene (albeit a voyeuristic one) right from Heavy Rain.

Surprisingly the other characters’ submissions aren’t bad either. While the past iterations of Playboy’s feature have been a bit trashy, most of the 2009 entries have a “slice of life” feeling. Sexy, but not overtly sexual. The Mafia II piece looks like a retro pinup and Beatrice from Dante’s Inferno is very authentic to the game – veiny skin and all. The only one that feels a bit explicit is CrimeCraft’s addition – playing off a cheesy schoolgirl fantasy. (You can find censored versions of the spreads here, but keep in mind the link is probably still NSFW.)

After seeing Madison’s piece my peeved-ness wore off. Heavy Rain is a game for adults after all, and as evidenced by demos back at E3, Madison isn’t afraid to be sexual. Even if it gets her in a bit of trouble. It’s not a reason to throw her or her creators under the bus.

So while I’ve come to grips with Madison Paige’s inclusion in the feature, I wanted to see what all of you thought Playboy’s feature and the developers who chose to include their creations. Our industry obviously explores mature themes quite often, and the practice of sexualizing female characters isn’t new. Still, do any of you find the concept offensive? Does it diminish your opinion of a character or a developer? Or is it all in good, clean fun?

(I realize we’re talking about sex, nudity, and yes…boobs. So try to keep the conversation tasteful. Or I will modify your comments to make you look like an idiot.)