If yesterday you were sitting at your desk wondering to yourself why a large number of the IT staff called in sick, you'd probably forgotten that it was November 6, a.k.a. the release date of the video game blockbuster, Halo 4.
It goes without saying that the Halo franchise beat ridiculous odds to find its popularity. From starting out as a game that was originally going to be released on the Mac (of all platforms), it has since transcended its form and made icons of its principal characters: Master Chief and Cortana. But you don't need to be a video game enthusiast to notice the changes to the character design as the series progressed. Sure, technology has undergone immense improvements since 2001 so the renderings would definitely be sharper but see if anything about Cortana gets you to do a double-take:
Above: The progression of Cortana from Halo 1 to 4.
Yes, friends, there's no need to be shy about it. For inexplicable reasons (to the plotline that is), Cortana has undergone a Grinch-like transformation and her boobs have grown several sizes since her debut. Let's take a look at the numbers to try to get to the bottom of this. The entire franchise has sold over 46-million units since, while also breaking sales records every time a new instalment is released (and you can bet we'll be seeing some pretty numbers when the fourth chapter gets tallied up) so it seems obvious why Cortana will be suffering from back pain by the time Halo 7 rolls around.
The unfortunate reality is that Microsoft and friends are trying to get these games to appeal to a mainstream audience, that is, the male demographic. Back before the first Halo was released and might have been considered a niche game, it didn't really matter. In fact, Cortana's sexual appeal wasn't even a primary factor back then, rather, her brains, quick wit, and manoeuvring to guide the player through the game were what originally brought her to icon status (even with classic flubs like "This cave is not a natural formation"-- stated when examining a structure that was clearly built by aliens).
But Cortana's somewhat miraculous evolution isn't exactly a new or even the most extreme example of this particular phenomenon:
Why can't female characters, especially ones that were created to break the mold of the male-hero-saves-the-day, retain their brains and problem-solving abilities as their selling point? When Lara Croft first hit the scene, she was praised for being one of the first leads to break the female ("help, I'm trapped in X castle") archetype formerly found in most video games. With today's version of the famous archaeologist, she appears much more as a trophy for the male gaze (and that's without even mentioning the rape/sexual assault undertones hinted at in the upcoming reboot).
Even Samus, who famously shocked Nintendo fans when the revelation that she was a woman came through at the end of Metroid (because of the non-sexual nature of her suit, one could assume she was a man throughout the entire game), hasn't managed to escape from being sexed-up as her franchise found renewed popularity.
Despite all of the above, there are developers working to undo these stereotypes. Games like Portal and Mirror's Edge place emphasis on the lead female character's skills rather than... her assets. In fact, you tend to forget about the characters' genders while you're playing games like these, which should really be the case in any aspect of life.
We live in a golden age of video games, not just because motion-controlled technology has helped to multiple its audience many times -- but because with the technology that now exists, everybody has the tools available to make one. This means that more games will continue to emerge with characters that break the tropes that we're used to. After all, video games are supposed to be escapism from the messed-up, patriarchal world we live in, so it's about time they started living up to that expectation.