Video Game Pole Dancing is (Mostly) Bad

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Video game sexiness has come a long way since the days of the original Leisure Suit Larry, but its depictions of pole dancing are largely stagnant. Dead-eyed women walk around poles in heels, their faces void of expression, as if the people animating them have no concept for what “sexy” is other than that it involves lingerie.

While Melissa and I are pole hobbyists, not experts, we can appreciate a sexy lady as much as any other and toss in a bit of pole dance critique to boot. It’s a mode of expression, an athletic feat, and a sexy dance style often devalued by judgy anti-sex worker types. We’re here to judge poor animations and goofy concepts of what sexiness is for the presumed male player, not to shame pole dancers of the professional or hobbyist persuasion.

Limber up and get some Dry Hands on, because it’s time to get started.

Melissa: Honestly, I expected Grand Theft Auto to have some of the worst pole dancing scenes, just because of how weird the women in this game look and the series’ pretty foul treatment of sex workers, but I’m pleasantly surprised. While I can’t stand this woman’s outfit and some of her animations are a little wonky, the moves she’s doing are actual pole moves and not just twirling around in a sexy outfit. And by giving her the shoes, the animators have ensured her toes are pointed, avoiding the dreaded flat foot, which makes even the sexiest moves look like you’re at a gyno appointment. I have a feeling that this series of animations was made by actually looking at a pole dancer, not just thinking that lingerie + tits + metal pole = pole dance.

Stephani: She’s got that fake pouty/monotone expression that makes me feel like she’s internally hurling insults at her audience (which, I mean, come on, it’s GTA, so that’s totally fair). I’m not a fan of the “you should smile more” line, buy anyways, the spins were decent if mechanical, they could look sexy if performed by a real girl in an outfit that didn’t include an ugly olive green skirt.

Melissa: I’d be giving Franklin that look if he didn’t tip, too.

Melissa: We’re not going to even bother with all the normal Dead or Alive criticisms. I’m just going to be honest here–her floorwork sucks. Good floorwork is hard to pull off, but it’s also super sexy if done well. This isn’t. One of the first rules of pole dance is to point your toes to avoid the “I’m at the gynecologist” look, which the animators appear to have missed. Her actual pole work leaves much to be desired as well, mostly because she seems to only know how to do a basic climb and come back down. I get that the point here is the boob physics and the skimpy outfits, and that’s all well and good, but like, why not have her jumping on a trampoline, then? Pole dancing has a lot more possibilities, and strippers are more talented than a flat-footed kick and lackluster climb.

Stephani: As a child, Helena Fortune must have secretly dreamed of being a star MMA fighter. She’s a pro leg kicker with a penchant for a pole dancing move that I can only call “The Sumo Wrestler Squat.” Instead, she was cast in a crummy softcore pole dancing porn with an amateur filmmaker whose camera angles can only be described as unflattering (bordering on nauseating). There were moments of good hip gyration, but they were negated every time she lewdly presented her ass like a dog in heat or waved the bottom of her foot in front of the camera. She’s dancing in front of an empty room. I can only assume that the smell of her Athlete’s Foot scared all of her customers away.

Melissa: I never even considered the weirdness of her dancing for an empty room. I assume it’s meant to be a private dance just for you, the viewer, but who is the viewer in a DoA game? Are they putting on a show for all their gal pals, or are you playing some kind of weirdo who just stares at all the ladies as they play beach volleyball and dance around?

Stephani: The answer is that Helena Fortune, hopeful star MMA fighter, makes ends meet by filming amateur not-porn with a very, very bad film student. The viewer is the shitty cameraman.

Melissa: Okay, on a technical level, this isn’t that impressive. But it’s also Bayonetta, so she doesn’t give a fuck. She’s not putting on a show for me. And her legs are incredible, so whatever–you do you, Bayonetta.

Stephani: A+ music choice; it was weird, and this is the only song in this article that I would pick to actually dance to. Extra points for flowy clothing, which we all known looks badass when you’re pole dancing. Bayonetta clearly isn’t dancing for our amusement. She’s not trying to be sexy, she’s just whimsically twirling around with her sleeves waving about. This looks like a light warm up routine she might do before battle—all that stretching is good for the glutes.

Melissa: This is the most egregious example of lingerie + tits + metal pole = pole dance I’ve ever seen. She does do a pretty nice carousel spin midway through, but the overwhelming majority of her routine here is just walking in circles. The lingerie is nice, though. But designers, I implore you, check out some actual stripper routines on Instagram or YouTube or something. Even when they’re not doing flips and inverts and spins, they’re varying their movements and doing all kinds of things that are not robotically moving their hips and staring into a middle distance. If you’re trying to program sexy, maybe work off of actual humans dancing as their job?

Stephani: Lingerie approved, love the garters and stockings, but who the hell did her makeup? Her face looks uber pale, like SICKLY. There’s such a thing as sexy goth, but this isn’t it. I think this video earns the award for the most fluid movements, but she really should stop bending her knees so much. She looks like she’s crouching half the time.

Melissa: She’s crouching because she’s secretly an assassin. That’s my headcanon, and I’m sticking to it.

Stephani: She and Helena Fortune are going to start an Avengers-esque squad of lady heroes.

Melissa: Honestly? These are some of the best moves I’ve seen so far. This is one of the few games that makes me think they actually looked at a pole dancer before making it rather than just imagining women walking around a pole in heels. Also, it’s notably the only game where you play a pole dancer–while the game itself pulls the whole “shaming your parents” thing, I get the impression that the people behind it have, at least, actually seen a pole dancer in action before.

Stephani: Cool spins; there were a couple I want to try. For a small game with few animations, it does well! I like her simple wardrobe and how her blond hair flows. Full Lust seems a little gross, though, (I kept thinking about the sanitation conditions of that pole) and some of her inversions are literally impossible since she’s got zero thigh meat pressed into the pole to hold her in position.

Melissa: “Thigh meat” is a particularly sexy phrase, I think. Let’s change “full lust” to “max thigh meat.”

Stephani: Change approved. Take notes, game developers.

Melissa: I’m not sure what move she’s doing during this boss battle, but I’m impressed. She may only have one move in her arsenal, but it takes a lot of strength to pull something like that off, and she shoots lightning and fire while she does it.

Stephani: Does anyone else find the weird possessed demonic voice and the color coordinated yellow eyes/bikini kind of hot? I love this boss idea, and she does a really good job of being creepy. Her outfit is beautiful, too. I would wear it, minus the weird face hexagons.

Melissa: Stephani, yes. I think it’s the Garrus Vakarian/Bill Cipher effect. Something about distorted voices gets the engines revving for a lot of people, and that she’s doing something pointedly sexy, however impossible, ramps it up by a significant margin.

Stephani: I’ve changed my mind, I want to wear the weird face hexagons.

Melissa: This definitely isn’t the most technically impressive dance we’ve seen, but I have to give this Asari points for looking so lively! A lot of these pole dances have been so focused on being a very particular kind of sexy that they don’t look fun, but this dancer looks like she’s having a great time, and I appreciate that. She makes a lot of great shapes, too, which look fabulous against the vibrant background. At least somebody in Mass Effect can dance.

Stephani: Fast, fun, flirtatious. Good to see something with some pace and an actual prancy walk! The crouch butt pop move was a little repetitive, but I liked the idea of her silhouette against the neon background. There were some striking moments that would have been awesome if followed up with an actual spin (those back bend moves!). I feel like she could have performed this whole thing without the pole, which kind of defeats the purpose. More importantly, though, can someone describe the implications these dance moves have on Asari culture? Why don’t any of these girls touch themselves while they dance?

Melissa: Touching might imply that they’re feeling themselves, but I don’t think the people animating these scenes are considering that pole dance can be a liberating and powerful thing. Nah, it’s all about the show they’re putting on for the presumed male player.

Stephani: As always, the presumed male gaze ruins everything. Sigh.

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About Author

Stephani Hren is a part time tutor, a full time procrastinator, and a committed almost-author. Her secret talents lie in homemade cookies, equestrian sports, and surprise smackdowns in her one (and only) area of video game expertise: Tetris Attack, a 1995 puzzle game turned sacred art.

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