Breaking the Stereotypes: Addressing Sexism in the Video Games

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Playing video games has become a common leisure activity in the US. Based on the research done by the Entertainment Software Association in the year 2018, 64% of the US household own a video gaming device with an average of 2 gamers in every game-playing household. Due to the advancement of technology, video games had become easier to obtain as it was introduced to mobile devices. Due to the rise of video games, it has raised awareness over the negative impact such as violence, racism and sexism it has on the users. My topic will be focusing specifically on the impact of gender misrepresentation, especially sexism in video games as this essay will focus only on female characters. The intent of this literature review is to examine whether the issue of gender misrepresentation as a kind of sexism exist in the video game culture, the intention of gender stereotypes use in video games and the social impact it has on the users.

Edward Downs, a professor at Pennsylvania State University, studying and working professionally in media-related disciplines, published an article called ‘Keeping Abreast of Hypersexuality: A Video Game Character Content Analysis’ in 2010 with Stacy Smith, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who is researching on racial and ethnic representation on-screen. Due to the increasing popularity of video games, the authors intuited that gender roles and sexual objectification presented in video games might have a negative impact on the users. Therefore, this article referenced over 489 video game characters from 60 video games to examine a series of obvious sexuality variables and the sexuality representation of video game characters.

In the article, the authors use Lara Croft from Tomb Raider and Helena from Dead or Alive as examples to demonstrate the display of improbable body figure of female characters. This article also referenced several studies conducted by professionals like “Children Now”, “Beasley and Standley” and “Haninger and Thompson” on the portrayal of female stereotypes. One of the earliest studies done by Tracey Dietz, an expert in quantitative social and social stratification research, examined the portrayal of gender stereotype in 33 of the well-known video games, stating that female characters are absent from 41% of the video games and 21% of the female characters were presented as “damsels in distress” and 28% of the games which human characters are present, 28% of the female characters served as sex objects.

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The authors conducted their own research and generated information and statistics based on sexually revealing clothing, nudity, body proportions, sex talks, appropriateness of attire, breast size and waist size of those video game characters. This article is written with to aim to evaluate the common overt sexuality in video games and the differences in how video game characters are portrayed in video games based on their genders. The authors have come out with two hypotheses based on their findings, one being the under-representation of female and two being the sexualisation of female characters. Their first hypothesis received factual support after the female to male characters ratio findings observed to have met the Beasley and Standley’s findings in the year 2002 and the Children Now findings in the year 2001. The second hypothesis was too acknowledged when substantial evidence of sexuality and objectification of characters in video games were found as female characters with unrealistic body proportion occupied 25% of overall characters. When being compared to Children Now’s findings, a slight increase in percentage was noticed. Distinct differences were found when comparing the nudity contents of the two genders. Overall, the presence of female characters in video games is lesser and more sexualised than male characters.

This article written by Christopher Near, a lecturer majoring in Sociology at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, also agrees on the gender misrepresentation phenomena in video games. His research interests are social problems and gender-related topics. He published the article ‘Selling Gender: Associations of Box Art Representation of Female Characters With Sales for Teen- and Mature-rated Video Games’ in the year 2012 based on studies related to the video games available in the US. Studies by professionals like Collins Standley and Tracey Dietz used content analysis to examine gender roles in video games. Similar results have been observed through those studies and concluded that female characters are not portrayed equally to male characters and often displayed unrealistic body image to overemphasize femininity. In the earlier study based on the most well-known Nintendo games, female characters were either a vulnerable “damsels in distress” or being sexually objectified into the role of “bad girl” to use as a motivation for the male protagonists.

Female characters are most likely to be presented as hypersexualised even they are being presented in a more superior way. In the recent study done by “Downs and Smith”, shows similar results as studies done by “Miller and Summers” and “Knowles and Henderson”. Those studies revealed that the majority of female characters were wearing exposing attire, or even worse, partly naked. Studies also implied that female characters in video game appeared to be skinnier than normal female adults in the US when the games were targeting on the more matured players. Gender misrepresentations were highlighted when the body proportion of male characters in video games were similar to actual male adult in the US. The author also uses Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider series as an example. Despite being portrayed as an adventurous female protagonist, she too shows the traits of female stereotypes by having an unproportionate body figure that is close to a Barbie doll.

Even though both articles provided the same insight on sexism in video games, there is a limitation to these articles as both of the authors took references from the same studies published earlier by the same group of experts. In order to address sexism in video games, there needs to be more diversity in the development teams and a conscious effort to create more inclusive characters and storylines. Game developers also need to take responsibility for addressing toxic behavior in the gaming community and creating a safe and welcoming environment for all players.

In conclusion, sexism in video games is a complex issue that requires a multifaceted approach. While video games may not be solely responsible for sexism in society, they do have an impact on the attitudes and perceptions of players. It is important for the video game industry to take responsibility for creating a more inclusive and respectful environment for all players.

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