Virgins and Whores in "Rayman: Origins"
Rayman: Origins has many unlockable characters, but they are all re-skins of three basic body types: Rayman himself, the large toad Globox, and the Teensies.
These are all male characters, at least to begin with. In case I was in danger of forgetting it the game soon sets about aggressively gendering its female characters.
First up we have the nymphs, representing the sexy-damsel-in-distress contingent. And when I say sexy I mean extreme sexualisation, especially by the standards of kids' games. They have heavily exaggerated features and revealing clothing. After rescuing the nymphs from cramped cages they pose to seductive music and grant new powers.
In mythology nymphs are usually beautiful maidens, and they have become strongly associated with sex (e.g., nymphomania). But in the Rayman series this hasn't been part of their design previously. Nymph here is synonymous with fairy, and they have previously been designed to emphasise magic rather than sexuality. Check out this redesign:
Rayman: Origins also introduces Betilla's younger sisters. They have some of your basic fetishes covered if you favour ogling fat or oh-so-exotic black women. Oh, the character diversity. Pun names are bad enough at the best of times, but calling the Gourmet Fairy Edith Up, well, I'll let you draw your own mental images.
I think they were going for over-the-top silliness, but it feels out of place, like we've stepped straight from a kids' cartoon onto a porno set. The design invites you to imagine how grateful these women are to be rescued and how they might reward you. Where you is naturally a straight, male player.
But don't worry! They've considered the ladies too, with one unlockable female character out of a total sixteen playable characters. She's a cute, pink Teensie princess. Girls like pink, right? Here's some dialogue directed at her:
Your royal Teensetteness! How's it going; you Pink Terror you! Last I heard, you were blazing through the desert bubblizing baddies!
(Note: characters are defeated by turning them into bubbles.)
It's almost like they got defensive about including yet another pink princess and had to point out how tough she is. Princesses are all well and good (feisty or otherwise) and sexy nymphs have their place too (though I'm not sure that place is here). But geez this limited character diversity gets boring.
Rayman: Origins suggests a classic virgin-whore dichotomy, where women are cast as virtuous innocents (princesses) or filthy sex-fiends (nymphs), with no options in between. And all served up in a G-rated package, no less. There's a clear message for kids about what girls and women can be, or indeed what they are for. Sex underlies all of this, defining women through sluttiness or virtue, neither of which are appropriate measures of value.
I'm inclined to say that as a kids' game Rayman: Origins suggests a progression to girls playing it. The princess, as the playable character, is the girl you are now while the nymph is the woman you can aspire to become.
Interestingly, there was an additional playable female character in the works who didn't make it to the final release, Globox's wife Uglette.
Ah! Uglette! How are your 650 kids? And that handful of a hubby...! I don't know how you do it...! A little love tap from time to time should keep Globox in line. Mom power!
If that quote's for real I can see why it was cut. Any extra female diversity would have been a good thing for this game, and I appreciate that Uglette is effectively a reskinned Globox rather than a smaller, stereotypically prettier toad. But let's not kid ourselves, she's called Uglette, we're not supposed to want to be like her. If we are, it's in the form of the supermum stereotype, which is yet another difficult expectation placed on women.
I don't even want to comment on the "love tap" thing.
Rayman: Origins has been widely praised for returning to classic platforming trends. The story's incoherent, but few people seem to mind as long as the jumps are fluid and the environments are bright and interesting. Looking backwards seems to work for it. But that doesn't mean it has to be a dinosaur when it comes to character design. It's trivially easy to do better than this.