Girl in the Machine
Monday, July 9, 2007
The Grand Dominatrix Phenomenon

Welcome, friends! Buckle up your favorite studded collar, oil up your leathers, and lace those whalebone corsets tight -- it's time for us to talk about the timeless Dominatrix Phenomenon of Video Games!

I'm sure I'm not the only one who's noticed this obvious trend in female villainy. From Maniac Mansion's sadistic Nurse Enda in the 1980s to the whip-tastically femdom antics of Soul Calibur's Ivy Valentine of today, women baddies have typically walked the fine line between sultry femme fatale and disciplining dominatrix. So what's the deal?

(Not that I'm here to knock on dominatrices in practice or in theory. I happen to know a couple, and they're quite the fun crowd. Rock on, dommes of dungeons dark, rock on.)

Let's consider our leather-clad villainesses from a gamer's perspective. Why is it every other female villain I run into a whip-wielding vixen who's turned on by pain? Why is it that for every self-titled "mistress" there is a voluptuous little minx of a mastermind who wants some screwin' to go with her kicking of ass? Wherefore the sexy danger, often completely devoid of relevance to the character herself?

Hmm. Dictionary time!

Dominatrix. Noun. 1. a woman who plays the dominant role in a sado-masochistic sexual relationship or encounter. 2. a woman who dominates. From the Latin "dominatrix," a female ruler or mistress.

Can't get much more cut and dried than that, folks.

A good starting point is the bare-bones etymological origin of our title. What more is a typical video game villain than a ruler, a holder of power? Oftentimes it's as simple as that. So, we have a woman -- our dominatrix -- who takes a dominant role -- that is, she poses as a powerful force for our hearty protagonists to overcome. That's not unusual by any means. Throwing in a nice handful of sadism doesn't change things much at all, either. It doesn't take much to recall a plethora of male villains who take joy in harming others, so what's so special about their female counterparts who do the same?

Here's where our roads diverge. Because it isn't the same. The female villain fashioned into a dominatrix is a completely fetishized view of a woman in power, done so in a way that rarely (at best!) occurs with her male counterpart. When was the last time you saw Ganondorf in a harness, anyway? As the dominatrix, the villainess obtains her power through sexualized male fantasy instead of through other means (that could, conceptually, involve actual character development instead of an age-old stereotype).

Game developers fashion their villainous dominatrices specifically for the target audience of video games: the young male demographic. The male gamer becomes the metaphorical "sub" to the villain's professional "domme," the client who purchases a sexual fantasy. If we are to consider the balance of power in a typical dominant/submissive interaction, the sub has theoretically more power over the domme (owing to the sub's ability to stop the action whenever she or he feels is necessary). In this way, the female villain as a dominatrix implies a superior power in the male player, who finds his sexual fantasy bought and paid for.

The conspicuousness of this stereotype varies, of course. The drow queen, or Valsharess, in the Neverwinter Nights expansion Hordes of the Underdark wields a whip and vaguely BDSM-style accouterments. Besides a rather unhealthy appetite for inflicting pain, there's little else to attest to her kinks (and at the very least, female drow are naturally dominant). However, Veronica from Shadow Hearts: Covenant leaves very little to the imagination. Not only does she strut around in the full leather get-up (complete with riding crop!), she also routinely tortures captives in a dungeon, femdom-style, complete with a fettered cross and extreme electrostimulation! Don't try that at home, kiddies.

In the end, I believe that it's fair to say that, while sexuality is cool and empowering and getting kinky with things is even better, defining a female villain solely by the stale stereotype of a whip-cracking nymphomaniac domme is definitely not cool. If this weren't such a frequent occurrence, I'd give it a pass, but the only trend I'm seeing here is the concept of a woman in power as a simple sexual fetish. And that really yanks my leash.

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 Posted by BomberGirl
 12:01 AM + Link to this post
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