Gender representation in video games

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"Sexism in video games" redirects here. For sexism towards gamers, see Sexual harassment in video gaming.
"Women in video games" redirects here. For women as video game developers and players, see Women and video games.

The portrayal of men and women in video games, as in other media, is a subject of research in gender studies. While 48% of all game players are women,[1] men are featured much more often in games than women.[2] The way men and women are portrayed in games often reflects gender roles or popular stereotypes, such as that of the damsel in distress for women.

Portrayal of women[edit]

The portrayal of women in video games is the subject of academic study and controversy. Recurring themes in both include the level of independence of female characters from their male counterparts, as well as their sexual objectification and sexualization.

Studies have shown that women who play video games with sexualized female main characters identify with these stereotypes and base their appearance off of them. When the unrealistic appearance shown in the game cannot be achieved, this leads to issues with self-esteem and self-confidence. This is similar to how men are portrayed as heroic and masculine with bulging muscles, which cause young men who play video games to identify with these characters and attempt to achieve similar body types.[3]

Roles of women[edit]

Female player characters[edit]

The vast majority of female characters have been found to be non-playable, meaning they cannot be played by the gamer. This suggests a female secondary status in video games. When playable female characters do appear in video games, it is most likely they are scantily dressed and over-sexualized in unrealistic ways.[4]

Prevalence[edit]

According to data gathered by Electronic Entertainment Design and Research (EEDAR), few video games have exclusively female heroes. This is in part because, according to EEDAR, "there's a sense in the industry that games with female heroes won’t sell", which Penny Arcade attributed in part to these games receiving much smaller marketing budgets than games with male heroes.[5]

In a sample of 669 action, shooter, and role-playing games selected by EEDAR in 2012, only 24 (4%) had an exclusively female protagonist, and 300 (45%) provided the option of selecting one. Examining the sales data and review scores of these games, EEDAR found that the games that included the option of selecting a female hero obtained better scores, but the ones with male-only protagonists sold better than the others. However, games with a female-only protagonist had, on average, only 50% of the marketing budget of female-optional games, and 40% of the marketing budget of games with male-only protagonists.[5]

Evolution[edit]

Samus Aran, the heroine of Metroid (1986) and its successors, is often cited as "the first playable human female character in a mainstream videogame".[6] However, other earlier games featured female player characters, such as Toby Masuyo ("Kissy") from Baraduke (1985).[7][8]

Lara Croft, the protagonist of Tomb Raider (1996), is among the best-known strong, fictional women in a variety of media.[9] April Ryan from The Longest Journey (1999) has been compared to Lara Croft in that respect, as she shows less prominent physical feminine attributes than Lara but more feminine psychological traits, as contrasted with Lara's masculine connotations like aggressiveness and force.[10] Contrarily, Jade, the protagonist of Beyond Good & Evil (2003), was widely recognized as a strong and confident female character lacking any overt sexualisation.[11][12]

In 2014 the developers' choice to omit playable women in the latest iterations of the top-tier gaming franchises Assassin's Creed and Far Cry became a focus of discussions in gaming media. This indicated, according to game industry professionals cited by Polygon, a shift in the industry's attention towards issues of diversity in gaming, in conjunction with video games as a whole growing beyond their former core audience of younger men.[13]

Female supporting characters[edit]

A number of games feature a female character as an ally or sidekick to the male hero. Some of them, like Ada Wong and Mona Sax, were turned into player characters in later instances of their series. Alyx Vance, a supporting protagonist of Half-Life 2, was praised for her "stinging personality" and intelligence, developing a close bond with the player without simply being "eye candy".[14][15]

However, female characters are often cast in the role of the damsel in distress, with their rescue being the objective of the game.[16][17] Princess Zelda in the early The Legend of Zelda series and Princess Peach through much of the Mario series are paradigmatic examples. Both of them, however, became playable in the later games of their series or had the pattern altered.

Female antagonists[edit]

The Dark Queen in Battletoads (1991) and its successors is one of the first major female villains in video games.[18] SHODAN, an artificial intelligence with a female voice and a female face, was the main villain of the game System Shock (1994), praised as one of the most recognizable female characters in gaming.[19] Another prominent female villain is Ultimecia, the main antagonist in Final Fantasy VIII (1999). At PAX Prime 2013, she was voted among the best female antagonists in video gaming history.[20] Similarly, GLaDOS from Portal (2007), an insane computer with a female voice, was praised by critics as one of the best new characters of the 2000s.[21]

Depiction of women[edit]

Objectification and sexualization[edit]

Many recent games have increased the sexualized portrayal of women so as to appeal to a male audience.[16] In 2012, for instance, Dead or Alive director, Yohei Shimbori, admitted the developers received complaints from fans who had played the Dead or Alive 5 demo packaged with Ninja Gaiden 3. According to Shimbori, "We actually got a lot of feedback from people who were playing it, saying, 'We want bigger breasts. Make the characters more like that.' That was kind of surprising."[22]

Female video game characters have been criticized as tending to suffer from a particularly extreme manifestation of the male gaze.[23] A print ad for the fighting game Soul Calibur V received some controversy for simply being a close up of a female character's breasts with a tagline.[24]

Since her introduction in 1996, the character of Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider series in particular has been criticized for her unrealistic breast size; Lara was claimed to personify "an ongoing culture clash over gender, sexuality, empowerment, and objectification."[25] However, the game's creators maintain that she was not designed with marketing in mind, and have claimed to be rather surprised at her pinup-style adoration.[26] In Tomb Raider: Legend, Lara underwent a radical redesign, ostensibly to make her less sexualized.[27]

In two sequels of fighting games Soul Calibur and Tekken that take place several years after the original issue, recurring male characters were allowed to age but all female characters were kept the same age or replaced by their daughters.[28]

In their 2005 study, Dill and Thill distinguish three major stereotypical depictions of women in gaming: (1) sexualized, (2) scantily clad, and (3) a vision of beauty.[29] The study revealed that over 80% of women in video games represented one of these depictions. More than one quarter of female characters embodied all of the three stereotypical categories at once. Dill and Thill also note that another prevalent theme with which women were depicted was a combination of aggression and sex, referred to as eroticized aggression.

S. "Wild Card" Williams of Momzone magazine argued that Nintendo's Princess Peach was "gaming's lone female role model," writing that "the new generation of women characters in gaming, tiresome in its commitment to all things generic, makes one pine for the days of Peach's spunk and gutsy charm." [30]

Women in scanty armor[edit]

A recurrent representation of women in fantasy settings, originating in the 1960s, is the woman warrior dressed in unrealistically scanty armor.[31] They feature armor designs which have been described by such terms as chainmail bikinis, largely consisting of small decorative plaques that reveal large portions of the body skin to the weather and that expose vital organs, thus being completely noneffective as protection.[32] The prevalence of this portrayal is an instance of the common sexualization of women in the geek culture including video games, comic and movies.[23] In reaction to this, the art blog "Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor"[33] compiles depictions of women fighters wearing realistic armor.[34]

In comparison to male characters[edit]

According to Anita Sarkeesian, many early female video game characters (such as Ms. Pac-Man) are identical to an existing male character, except for a visual marker of their femininity, such as pink bows, lipstick and long eyelashes.[35][36]

In a study done in Southwestern Oklahoma State University comparing the appearances of male and female characters on video game covers, a few things were discovered. On covers, male characters were five times more likely to represented as the main character in the game, and women were merely portrayed as side kicks or accessories. Also, both male and female character's physiques were overexaggerated on video game covers; however, females were more physically altered (especially in the bust) than their male counterparts, and even more so if the female was the main character of the game.[37]

Violence against women[edit]

Sexual violence[edit]

The 1982 game Custer's Revenge was first noted for containing elements of rape and some Native American groups and the National Organization for Women have criticised this as well as alleged racism.[38]

The 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider series drew controversy with a depiction of an attempted rape on its main protagonist. Executive producer Ron Rosenberg claimed rape was utilized as means of her "evolution" and character development.[39] Crystal Dynamics later denied that the scene depicted an attempted rape, contradicting Rosenberg's earlier statement.[40][41]

The 2013 game Dead Island: Riptide generated controversy when the special "zombie bait" edition of the game included a statue of a torso of a busty, dismembered woman in a skimpy bikini.[42]

Non-sexual violence[edit]

Violence in video games is a hotly debated topic, especially with regards to the Grand Theft Auto series; however, some sources have specifically condemned the series and similar games for promoting violence against women.[43]

Reactions[edit]

Ubisoft has formed a group of female gamers called the Frag Dolls; the intent is to create "role models for a whole legion of girls out there who may have been too intimidated to play games online - or even play at all".[25]

Portrayal of men[edit]

Video games tend to show men as big in all aspects. They are portrayed as being tall, having larger heads, and more muscles than real men. For instance, men in video games have chests that are about 2 inches (6%) larger than in reality, heads that are about 13 inches bigger, waists that are 5 inches wider, and hips that are 7 inches wider.[44] GamesRadar writer David Houghton, writing in an article on sexism in video games, was highly critical of many stereotypes that came with male protagonists, outlining them as "the primeval hunter/gatherer type [with] arm-cripplingly ripped biceps, necks too muscley to turn, emotion dials stuck on “aggressive grimace” and a 50% lack of chest coverings."[45] Chris Redfield, a protagonist of the Resident Evil series, came in for criticism from Gamespot for his heavily-muscled appearance in Resident Evil 5.[46]

Portrayal of LGBT characters[edit]

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) characters have been depicted in video games since the 1980s. Common depictions include comical gender confusion, transgender characters, gay characters in fighting and action games, and gay romance in role-playing games.

In the history of video games, LGBT content has been subject to changing rules and regulations, which are generally examples of heterosexism, in that heterosexuality is normalized, while homosexuality is subject to additional censorship or ridicule. Companies Nintendo, Sega and Maxis policed the content of games with content codes in which LGBT themes were toned down or erased.[47][48][49][50]

Sexual orientation and gender identity have served a significant role in some video games, with the trend being toward greater visibility of LGBT identities.[51][52][53] Speaking on the Ubisoft blog, Lucien Soulband, who is openly gay and was the writer for Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, said that openly gay or lesbian characters would not appear in video games for a long while as anything other than a one-off or something that was created through user choice as seen in the Mass Effect and Dragon Age games.[54]

Effect of gender representation in games[edit]

Impact on children[edit]

Video game characters have the potential to shape players’ perceptions of gender roles. Through social comparison processes, players learn societal expectations of appearances, behaviors and roles.[55]

Girls may expect that they will continue to be victims and needy and that their responsibilities include maintaining beauty and sexual appeal while boys may determine that their role is to protect and defend women and to possess them even through the use of violence.[55][verification needed]

Thus, the roles internalized by the child, including gender, become for the child, and later for the adult, a basis for other roles and for action. The gender role that is internalized by the individual when he or she is young has a significant impact upon the perspective of that individual and the additional roles he or she assumes in later life. Feminine and masculine symbols become a part of a child’s identity. Boys and girls may come to see Barbie as a feminine symbol and Spider-Man as a masculine symbol.[55]

Men are characterized as either good guys or bad guys and aggressive behavior is exhibited and expected in either of these roles. At the same time, women are depicted in stereotypical roles that typically pertain to sexuality in which the woman focuses upon beauty/physical attractiveness and traditional family roles.[55]

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ 2014 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry. Entertainment Software Association. April 2014. p. 3. Retrieved 23 June 2014. 
  2. ^ Burgess, Melinda C. R.; Steven Paul Stermer & Stephen R. Burgess (30 June 2007). "Sex, Lies, and Video Games: The Portrayal of Male and Female Characters on Video Game Covers". Sex Roles 57 (5–6): 419–433. doi:10.1007/s11199-007-9250-0. 
  3. ^ Burgess, Melinda C R, Steven Paul Stermer and Stephen R Burgess. “ Sex, Lies, and Video Games: The Portrayal of Male and Female Characters on Video Game Covers.” Sex Roles 57.5 (2007): 419-433. ProQuest. Web. 22 April 2014.
  4. ^ Behm-morawitz, Elizabeth, and Dana Mastro. “The Effects of the Sexualization of Female Video Game Characters on Gender Stereotyping and Female Self-Concept.” Sex Roles 61.11 (2009): 808-823. ProQuest. Web. 22 April 2014.
  5. ^ a b Kuchera, Ben (21 November 2012). "Games with exclusively female heroes don’t sell (because publishers don’t support them)". Penny Arcade Report. Retrieved 21 November 2012. 
  6. ^ Guinness World Records 2013: Gamer's Edition. Guinness World Records Ltd. 2012. p. 154. ISBN 9781904994954. 
  7. ^ Kurt Kalata. "Obscure Namco characters". Hardcore Gaming 101. Retrieved 6 October 2013. 
  8. ^ Sean Aaron. "Nintendo Download: 13-14 October 2009 (Japan)". nintendolife.com. Retrieved 6 October 2013. 
  9. ^ Egenfeldt-Nielsen, Simon; Smith, Jonas Heide; Pajares Tosca, Susana (2008). "Player culture". Understanding video games: the essential introduction. Taylor & Francis. p. 163. ISBN 978-0-415-97721-0. Retrieved 2011-07-03. ""Helen Kennedy [...] summarizes these arguments, and Lara Croft's ambivalent role as both an action heroine [...], and an eroticized object of the male gaze with a great deal of voyeuristic appeal"." 
  10. ^ Lie, Merete. "Lara Croft and her sisters". Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Retrieved 2011-07-03. "She is attractive, but no sex bomb" "April may, however, appear as more feminine because even if she is tough and brave, she is depicted as both sensitive and vain" 
  11. ^ Rougeau, Michael (March 4, 2013). "50 Greatest Heroines In Video Game History". Complex. Retrieved March 24, 2013. 
  12. ^ "Bayonetta: empowering or exploitative?". GamePro. 2010-01-06. Archived from the original on 2010-01-09. Retrieved 2010-01-16. 
  13. ^ Crecente, Brian (23 June 2014). "As game players diversify, developers start to rethink the stars of their games". Polygon. Retrieved 23 June 2014. 
  14. ^ Top 50 Videogame Hotties. UGO.com. Retrieved on 2008-12-14
  15. ^ Top 11 Girls of Gaming. UGO.com. Retrieved on 2008-12-28
  16. ^ a b Kaitlin Tremblay (06/01/12). "Intro to Gender Criticism for Gamers: From Princess Peach, to Claire Redfield, to FemSheps.". Gamasutra. Retrieved 8 October 2013. 

    In video games, the major stereotyped myths of women are typically the damsel in distress, hyper-sexualized villain (Sylvia Christel from No More Heroes) and the sexy/strong best friend (Tifa from Final Fantasy VII). [...] In all of these instances, the female character is, more likely than not, in love with the male protagonist or trying desperately to bang him.

  17. ^ Stephen Totilo (2013-06-20). "Shigeru Miyamoto and the Damsel In Distress". Kotaku. Retrieved 8 October 2013. 
  18. ^ Steven A. Schwartz, Janet Schwartz, The Parent's Guide to Video Games, Prima Pub., 1994 (p.8)
  19. ^ TenSpot: Ten Best Female Characters. GameSpot. Retrieved on 19 November 2013
  20. ^ Ewalt, David M. (2013-08-31). "Are These The Top Women Game Characters of All Time?". Forbes. Archived from the original on 2013-10-31. Retrieved 2013-10-07. 
  21. ^ "The 25 best new characters of the decade". GamesRadar. 2009-12-29. Retrieved 2010-01-04. 
  22. ^ "Team Ninja learns to fear its fans". Gamasutra. 2012-09-26. Retrieved 2013-03-15. 
  23. ^ a b Harris O'Malley. "Nerds and Male Privilege". Kotaku. 
  24. ^ David Griner (January 10, 2012). "Videogame Ad Sets New Low for Objectifying Women". AdWeek. Retrieved 7 May 2014. 
  25. ^ a b Zoe Flower. "Getting the Girl: The myths, misconceptions, and misdemeanors of females in games". 1UP.com. Retrieved 2007-09-09. 
  26. ^ N'gai Croal and Jane Hughes (1997-11-10). "Lara Croft, the Bit Girl". Newsweek. 
  27. ^ "Lara's curves reduced to appeal to female gamers". The Sydney Morning Herald. 2005-05-21. Retrieved 2007-07-09. [dead link]
  28. ^ Geordie Tait. "To My Someday Daughter". 
  29. ^ Dill, Karen E.; Thill K. P. (2007). "Video Game Characters and the Socialization of Gender Roles: Young People’s Perceptions Mirror Sexist Media Depictions". Sex Roles 57: 851–864. doi:10.1007/s11199-007-9278-1. 
  30. ^ http://cdn.worldheritage.org/articles/Princess_Peach. 
  31. ^ Griner, David (4 June 2013). "Will the Fantasy Genre Ever Grow Up and Ditch the Chainmail Bikini? Industry bulletin's cover sets off firestorm". Adweek. Retrieved 7 June 2013. 
  32. ^ "Fantasy armor and lady bits". MadArtLab.com. 
  33. ^ Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor
  34. ^ Charlie Jane Anders. "Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor: An Idea Whose Time Has Come". io9. 
  35. ^ Sarkeesian, Anita. "Tropes vs Women Ms. Male Character". Feminist Frequency.
  36. ^ Patricia Hernandez. "New Anita Sarkeesian Video Looks At Gaming's 'Ms. Male' Trope". Kotaku. Retrieved 7 May 2014. 
  37. ^ Burgess, Melinda C R, Steven Paul Stermer and Stephen R Burgess. "Sex, Lies, and Video Games: The Portrayal of Male and Female Characters on Video Game Covers.” Sex Roles 57.5 (2007): 419-433. ProQuest. Web. 22 April 2014.
  38. ^ "Top Ten Shameful Games: 1. Custer's Revenge (Atari 2600)". GameSpy. 2002-12-31. Retrieved 2007-07-09. [dead link]
  39. ^ "You'll 'Want To Protect' The New, Less Curvy Lara Croft". Kotaku. 2012-06-11. Retrieved 2013-11-18. 
  40. ^ "Tomb Raider Creators Are No Longer Referring to Game's Attempted 'Rape' Scene As an Attempted Rape Scene". Kotaku. 2012-06-13. Retrieved 2013-11-18. 
  41. ^ "Tomb Raider Creators Say 'Rape' Is Not A Word In Their Vocabulary". Kotaku. 2012-06-29. Retrieved 2013-11-18. 
  42. ^ Brian Crecente (January 15, 2013). "Dead Island Riptide's bloody torso statue sparks anger, confusion". Polygon.com. Retrieved 7 May 2014. 
  43. ^ "Women's role in popular video games: Stripped down and killed off". Media Report to Women 31 (1): p. 1. Winter 2003. Retrieved 2007-09-09. 
  44. ^ Martins, N., D.C. Williams, R.A. Ratan, and K. Harrison. 2011. "Virtual muscularity: A content analysis of male video game characters". Body Image. 8 (1): 43-51.
  45. ^ Houghton, David (2012-06-23). "Are video games really sexist?". GamesRadar. Retrieved 2014-02-28. 
  46. ^ "Character Most Likely to Fail a Performance-Enhancing Drug Test - GameSpot's Best Games of 2009". Gamespot.com. Archived from the original on 2013-09-01. Retrieved 2013-07-22. 
  47. ^ Steltenpohl, Crystal. "GLBT History in Video Games: 1990s". Gaming Bus. Retrieved 9 May 2013. 
  48. ^ Ripplinger, Mike (2002). "The Two Phantasy Stars". Camineet. Archived from the original on 2008-02-04. Retrieved 2010-01-29. 
  49. ^ "Autonomous Romantic Socials - Same Sex", by werismyki
  50. ^ "Why is My Town Gay?", by Srikandi
  51. ^ games/ "Homosexuality in Video Games", by Lydia Sung
  52. ^ "How Not To Address Homosexuality In Gaming", by Mike Fahey
  53. ^ Alexander Sliwinski. "Gay gamer survey results with large hetero inclusion". Joystiq. 
  54. ^ Gera, Emily (2014-02-28). "Video games won't feature gay protagonists 'for a while,' says Far Cry 3 writer Lucien Soulban". Polygon. Retrieved 2014-02-28. 
  55. ^ a b c d Dietz, Tracy (1998). "An Examination of Violence and Gender Role Portrayals in Video Games: Implications for Gender Socialization and Aggressive Behavior". Sex Roles 38 (5/6): 425–442. doi:10.1023/A:1018709905920. 

References[edit]

  • Brown, Jeffrey A. (2011). Dangerous Curves: Action Heroines, Gender, Fetishism, and Popular Culture. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 160473714X. 
  • Dickerman, Charles; Christensen, Jeff; Kerl-Mcclain, Stella Beatríz (2008). "Big Breast and Bad Guys: Depictions of Gender and Race in Video Games". Journal of Creativity in Mental Health 3 (1): 20. doi:10.1080/15401380801995076. 
  • Jansz, Jeroen; Martis, Raynel G. (February 2007). "The Lara Phenomenon: Powerful Female Characters in Video Games". Sex Roles (New York) 56 (3–4): 141. doi:10.1007/s11199-006-9158-0. 
  • Martins, Nicole; Williams, Dmitri C.; Ratan, Rabindra A.; Harrison, Kristen (3 May 2012). "Virtual muscularity: a content analysis of male video game characters". Body Image 8 (1): 43–51. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2010.10.002. PMID 21093394. 

External links[edit]