Gender representation in video games
The portrayal of men and women in video games, as in other media, is a subject of research in gender studies. Men are featured much more often in games than women. 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.
- 1 Portrayal of women
- 2 Portrayal of men
- 3 Portrayal of LGBT characters
- 4 Effect of gender representation in games
- 5 See also
- 6 Footnotes
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Portrayal of women
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.
Early video games typically presented women in subsidiary roles, dependent on male protagonists. Many more recent games include women in active and self-reliant attitudes, but some have also increased the sexualized portrayal of women so as to appeal to a male audience. 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." Controversy is generated by cultural stereotypes, sexism and violence towards women portrayed in games.
Women as non-player characters
Female characters are often cast in a role of damsel in distress and their rescue as the final objective of game. 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.
A number of games will 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".
Some games feature female characters as major enemies or even main villains. The Dark Queen in the Battletoads series is one of the first major female villains in video games. SHODAN, an artificial intelligence with a female voice and a female face, was the main villain of the game System Shock, praised as one of the most recognizable female characters in gaming. Similarly, GLaDOS, an insane computer with a female voice, was widely praised by game critics and public as one of the best new characters of the decade. Another recognized female villain is Ultimecia, the main antagonist in Final Fantasy VIII. At PAX Prime 2013, she was voted among the best female antagonists in video gaming history.
Women as player characters
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 less marketing budget as games with male heroes. In 2013, for instance, Epic Games was lauded for the inclusion and portrayal of Anya and Samantha Byrne in Gears of War 3, the series' first playable female characters. Despite the positive response from female players who found her empowering, Epic Games believes that the video game market would not support a Gears of War title with women as the central protagonists, although they later clarified that this did not rule out a female protagonist at some point in the future. During a talk at GCD Next 2013, Ubisoft Quebec's narrative designer, Jill Murry, pointed out that the basic reason for not putting women in leading roles in video games, because of a lack of real and historical examples, was invalid, citing historic and contemporary examples of strong or powerful women.
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. An example of this continued trend is found in Remember Me, a 2013 video game featuring a mixed-race female protagonist. Because of these factors, many potential publishers were unwilling to take the game.
Nonetheless, a trend for women to appear as the sole protagonist in modern games has been identified. Samus Aran, the heroine of the Metroid franchise, is cited as a trailblazer. Players were unaware that Samus was a woman until the end of the first Metroid game (1986), when she takes off the helmet of the armored suit that hides her sex during the game. Thus, her female characteristics are not emphasized over her viability as a character and are ultimately incidental in the plot of the series. Although Samus is often cited as "the first playable human female character in a mainstream videogame", other earlier games featured human female characters; in particular Toby Masuyo ("Kissy") from Namco's Alien Sector is a playable female human spacewoman similar to Samus, appearing one year earlier than Metroid.
Lara Croft is among the best-known strong, fictional women in a variety of media that do not depend on men to achieve heroic deeds. The reception of their independence as action heroines and their eroticized portrayal has been ambivalent. April Ryan, protagonist of The Longest Journey, 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. Contrarily, Jade, the protagonist of Beyond Good & Evil, was widely recognized as a strong and confident female character lacking any overt sexualisation and Chell, the main character of Portal was noted for the fact that she was neither in third-person or sexualised unlike most female characters in first-person shooters. Another example of a non-sexualised female character is Remember Me's protagonist Nilin. Her creator, Jean-Max Moris, stated: "You have to avoid the pitfalls of making [the character] just a damsel in distress or a sex bomb, because this is what you think would appeal most to the hordes of men that constitute your fan base."
Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency has pointed out in her series “Tropes Vs Women in Video Games” that many female characters are part of the “Miss Male” trope, where female characters are an existing male character with a feminized visual aspect, for instance a pink bow. An example given is that of Ms. Pac-Man.
Objectification and sexualization
Female video game characters tend to suffer from a particularly extreme manifestation of the male gaze — even when not serving the male characters (be it as a plot device, reward, or something else), "the woman" will commonly find herself serving the male players through the systematic enforcement of sex appeal, with rarely much regard to how gratuitous, out-of-place or out-of-character such appeal might be (e.g. high heels in armed combat). Another common feature often used for sex appeal is the use of "jiggle physics", when a female character's large breasts bounce, sway, and make various other random movements. Like with many other media, complaints have been made regarding a perceptible underlying implication that there is quite simply no point for a female character to even exist if her presence does not in some way entail the sexual pleasure of male consumers.
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." 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; in fact, it has been claimed that this fandom objectification is harmful to the character (in Tomb Raider: Legend, Lara underwent a radical redesign, ostensibly to make her less sexualized).
Similarly, Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball has been criticized as being more about eye candy than it is about the sport of volleyball, having been created merely for the purpose of displaying women's breasts. 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.
Sexualization is also an issue in game advertising. It may feature sexualized content that is not present in the games themselves. For instance, an advertisement for an add-on to the game Civilization IV featured a large-breasted Statue of Liberty with the text "CIV GOES BIG", although the game contains nothing overtly sexual.
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. 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.
Women in scanty armor
A recurrent representation of women in fantasy settings, originating in the 1960s, is the woman warrior dressed in unrealistically scanty armor. 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. The prevalence of this portrayal is an instance of the common sexualization of women in the geek culture including video games, comic and movies. In reaction to this, the art blog "Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor" compiles depictions of women fighters wearing realistic armor.
Depiction of violence against women
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. More recently, major controversies were sparked by some Japanese games such as RapeLay and Battle Raper.
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. Crystal Dynamics later denied that the scene depicted an attempted rape, contradicting Rosenberg's earlier statement.
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.
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". Some game companies have attempted to make their games more "family friendly", allegedly to persuade female consumers to buy them for their male relatives or friends, whereas some franchises, such as Mass Effect, reacted to studies suggesting over half of gamers are female by allowing complete customisation of the protagonist character, up to and including gender. Mass Effect in particular received praise for its minimal adapting of both script and armour for the different genders, allowing portrayal of a, "remarkably serious and capable-looking woman," which has been welcomed by some female gamers as an indication the gaming market is beginning to lose its record of using women solely to appeal to male gamers.
Portrayal of men
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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. Game heroes or protagonists are most often male and carry large weapons. The main villain is most often either a monster or a human man. 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."
One male character who has come in for criticism due to his appearance is Chris Redfield, a protagonist of the Resident Evil series, for his redesign in Resident Evil 5. GameSpot stated that the character appeared as if he had been abusing steroids.
Portrayal of LGBT characters
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.
Sexual orientation and gender identity have served a significant role in some video games, with the trend being toward greater visibility of LGBT identities. 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.
Effect of gender representation in games
Impact on children
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.
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.
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 she or he is young has a significant impact upon the perspective of that individual and the additional roles she or he 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.
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.
Parents fear the violent video games are influencing their children's view about violence. Studies have been conducted to proof the effects of violent video games on children and adolescents. Several of the studies apply Bandura's Social Modeling Theory, which describes how individuals can learn behaviors merely by watching a model commit a behavior and be rewarded for it. With video games, the model is the main character, who gets rewarded with more points or advancement in the story, when he takes part in a violent act. There is a positive correlation, but research does not necessarily support the hypothesis that violent video games will cause increased levels of aggression.
Impact on adults
Impact on women
Women continuously exposed to extreme versions of the modern "ideal woman” (large breasted and slender, with longer-than-normal legs and breasts that defy gravity) are reported to have increased levels of body dissatisfaction, negative moods and depression, and lower levels of self-esteem and self-worth. In addition, studies have found that females playing a highly sexualized characters, compared to a condition featuring no video game play, resulted in negative feelings of self-efficacy. The influence of the media on young women’s body image have led researchers to speculate that media might also play an important role in negative behaviors such as eating disorders.
Impact on men
Men who view images of “the ideal male” (muscular with very little body fat) have been reported to have more negative body images and are more likely to try to gain weight/muscle mass or use steroids, as well as, more recently, increased risk of suffering from eating disorders. Men who play games featuring highly sexualized characters reported less favorable attitudes towards womens' cognitive capabilities, compared to those who don't. Also, men who participated in games in which female characters were portrayed as sexual objects were then primed with thoughts of women as sex objects, and are at an increased at self-reported tendency to sexually harass.
- LGBT characters in video games
- Portrayal of women in comics
- Sexual harassment in video gaming
- Tropes vs. Women in Video Games
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