The babygirlification of Ghost in COD is threatening the incels

Illustration+by+Rachel+Choi

Photo: Rachel

Illustration by Rachel Choi

By Rachel Choi, Multimedia Managing Editor

Video game franchise “Call of Duty”’s newest installment “Modern Warfare II” was released on Oct. 27, and its revamped visuals and characters have been received positively across the board. However, one unprecedented event has occurred: TikTok’s girly pop communities have gotten ahold of “Call of Duty”’s edgelord Ghost, and all the chronically-online dudebros who rely on Ghost to live out their superhero fantasies are losing their minds.

Ghost is, in its simplest terms, being babygirlified to the highest degree. Many predominantly female communities seem to be drawn to Ghost’s faceless and masked concept, low-toned voice, and general physique, deeming him their “babygirl” to express their fondness for him. From headcanoning him, kicking his legs, and blushing at a compliment to wearing cat ears, Ghost’s menacing persona is being accepted as a cute little quirk to the girlies. In response, much of COD’s male fanbase is accusing this mostly-female demographic of babygirlifiers of sexualizing him. 

Except, what exactly are they deeming as sexualization? The edits of Ghost walking to phonk music and the art of him blushing? In an ironic twist, Ghost’s babygirlification and subsequent outrage is a perfect segway into addressing the hypocrisy within the overwhelmingly male gaming community. Sure, Ghost might be sexualized to some extent like being drawn in a maid costume, but it’s nowhere near—and nowhere as graphically uncomfortable—as the sexualization and objectification of any female character on screen. It’s about time we acknowledge and scrutinize the oversexualization of female characters in video games, and why it’s a problem to both male and female gamers alike.

The gaming industry has always been male dominated, creating a space where blatant disrespect and sexism against the female minority is expected and encouraged. 

The trend continues today. This is most evident in cases like Activision Blizzard, a game maker that was sued in 2021 for workplace harassment fostered by a “frat boy” environment. The case is made more bizarre by the fact that Activision Blizzard is the game maker for the “Call of Duty” franchise. It’s no surprise then that gaming has a “by men for men” attitude in the creation process. There has been a withstanding stereotypical view of female characters: they’re big breasted, sexy, and alluring. 

These long-standing standards of industry can help put into context the hypersexualization of female characters that began during the earliest forms of gaming.

Take for instance “Metroid,” an NES game released in 1986. The game follows Samus, a character perceived to be male (even addressed by male pronouns) the entire game. However, it’s revealed Samus is actually a woman. In what was supposed to be a breath of fresh air through the introduction of a female protagonist, this twist is used as a prize. If a player finishes the game under three hours, Samus will be suited in a tight, form-fitting leotard. In under one hour, she will be in a bikini. When Samus was supposedly a man, she was heroic and strong. Yet the moment she is revealed as a woman, she is used as eye candy.

This is a trend throughout history. In 1999 “Resident Evil” special operations agent Jill Valentine wears a thigh-high skirt and tube top that accentuates her breasts. In 2012 “Halo 4”’s Cortana, a literal artificial intelligence construct, is made to appeal sexually with a voluptuous body just barely obscured by black markings. In Huniepop, a dating simulator that is entirely based on the premise of a man being trained to land himself in multiple women’s bedrooms—women who are scantily dressed, with unrealistic body proportions and voice lines that are mostly just aroused moaning. Or “Street Fighter 6,” a game to be released in 2023, has characters like Chun-li whose most iconic pose is one with her legs spread open with only skin-tight leggings to skirt past censorship.

Now, I can already hear the booing from the crowd, like the woman who was booed at by the all-male panel and majority-male audience for asking a question about the sexualization of female characters at 2010’s Blizzcon. I can even hear the retorts—what about Freya, from the recent game “God of War: Ragnarok,” or Ellie, from “The Last of Us 2?” Recent years have shown a rise in female game developers and female protagonists with complex characteristics and qualities. I’m sure many men are asking the question: There are plenty of strong, nonsexualized, and diverse female characters! What are you complaining about? 

Great question. Recently, the problems of hypersexualization come less from the actual games, but from the majority male players consuming the media. Rule 34—a term used to state that if a piece of content exists on the internet, there’s a pornographic rendition of it—has come into worrying effect. Gamers are now predisposed to technology that can make their imaginations come true, which makes it easier for any video game character to sexualize any character to the point where the content is just porn. 

Some of the most popular modifications for games like 2019 “Jedi: Fallen Order,” are making female character Merrin completely nude. Others are replacing loading scenes with 3D-rendered sex scenes focused on—you guessed it—Merrin, and other female characters. They’re even changing the main male protagonist into a female version and making her naked. 

The most vital part of understanding the problems that stem from hypersexualization of women goes a bit further, however, than simple sexualization. The biggest problem is female characters are not just sexualized, but objectified. As a result, they are usually targets of sexual objectification—their bodies are treated as objects, separated from the actual person and character. 

The sexual objectification of fictional female characters directly influences women in real life; it bleeds into societal views of the objectification of women, and these very views of sexual objectification are then internalized. This internalization is referred to as self-objectification. 

Self-objectification has been seen even in women who consider the media’s sexualization of women to be harmless or flattering. Research shows self-objectification often leads to mental health problems such as depression, disordered eating, shame, anxiety, and reduced productivity. The hypersexualization and objectification of female characters is negatively impacting people in real life, yet the problem is still invalidated by the male majority. The fact that Ghost being babygirlified is an issue while most, if not all, video game female characters are uncomfortably sexualized is a testament to this fact. 

The sexual objectification of women isn’t just affecting women, it’s affecting men, too—especially adolescents. Men are taught at a young age to be hypermasculine, rejecting any notion of femininity, which plays into deeply internalized sexism, misogyny, and homophobia. This prevents men from expressing or feeling any emotion that is considered weak; men internalize any moment of vulnerability and weakness as shame. These masculine ideals are exacerbated by teaching young boys that women are objects to be dominated. Consequently, this belief absolves men of responsibility for their actions, and protects men from the supposed weakness that comes from rejection in relation to a woman.

These facts explain the reason so many male gamers are angry at female gamers babygirlifying Ghost: the feeling of their masculinity, directly tied to their favorite hypermasculine character of Ghost, being transformed into something many perceive as feminine by women is a terrifyingly vulnerable moment that threatens their carefully fabricated masculinity. The fact that many female gamers are shipping Ghost with another male character, Soap, adds onto this. Not only is their masculinity being threatened, but even the mere idea of their favorite cool, masculine characters being madly in love with each other is driving them wild. Internalized misogyny and homophobia is strikingly apparent in their backlash. 

Sexual objectification goes further than just creating fragile masculinity, though. It also creates an alarming societal viewpoint that encourages men’s compliance and even willingness to commit aggressive sexual acts against women, and even become detached from the suffering that comes from it. Yet, despite all of this, many men still feel ashamed at their objectification of women—and with it comes extremely low self-esteem and knee-deep internalized shame. 

This entire fiasco stemming from the babygirlification of a tall, masked man is the perfect time to reflect on society’s problem of perceiving both men and women. Male gamers being angry over Ghost being referred to as a teenage girl’s “little meow meow” and him and Soap cuddling on the couch is a model display of how misogyny, sexism, and homophobia bring an onslaught of hypocrisy that traces back to the very foundations of how many men are raised. 

As time progresses, however, there are increasingly diverse casts of characters that display different types of qualities regardless of gender. Take Kratos, from the “God of War” series, originally a buff, rage-filled, Greek deity-killing Spartan, now displaying sadness, grief, loss, tenderness, and love for his deceased family and son—all of these seemingly nonmasculine qualities. Or “Horizon Zero Dawn,” where Aloy displays perseverance, strength, physical competence, and complex character development without running around a post-apocalyptic world with heels and thigh-high skirts accentuating her figure. 

It’s well past time for this slow tide of non-stereotypical depictions of characters to become the new trend in gaming. Maybe kids in the future will grow up with more positive depictions of different people, and be assured people are all uniquely great in their own right, without using sexiness or stoicism to prove it.