Stereotypes of women in video games

This issue is crucial because past research have shown how contradictory the representation of female characters in video games is. Even while some academics have made progress, there are still many outdated studies that explore the stereotyping and depiction of women in video games. Nevertheless, despite whether there is an improvement or not, the center of these studies is a great focus on trying to find the element of equal gender representation. They view women characters in the video games with the assumption that they are equally significant regarding the fact that, they are female, and they should constantly be compared with male. Therefore, what this research proposal will try to do is to check on matters of gender representation in different methods broadly.
Also, the application of theoretical propositions in this research proposal will check on various roles that female characters take in a video games and determine whether they are given significant role or whether there is equal gender representation compared to the roles given to male characters. This research shall not just discuss female stereotype and representation in a general manner, but it will rather divide the whole female gender population into different groups of various characters to discuss the crucial differences among them. Moreover, this research will also check the representation of the male character and discuss whether stereotype also exists. Focusing on the role of both genders will help to portray the differences and show where stereotyping and misrepresentation occurs.
The female characters have been used with assumption despite being equally important to the male characters in the video games. Therefore, digging deep on the research question is very important, because it will help to find more distinctions within the video game industry, which might be significant for the development of the subject and further investigation and this makes it an essential area of study that requires excellent research and analysis.
Entertainment is a significant part of everyday life for the majority of people. All over the world people spend an average of 20% of 45% of their free time to engage in leisure activities. During the 1990s, this time was mostly used to watch television, but nowadays video games have significantly changed the situation. According to the research, 59% of Americans play video games regularly, whereas 52% of the households own game console, and 50% of those playing video games have reduced their TV usage together with other media entertainment activities (Fromme, 2012). Nowadays games have spread beyond being used in household, since they are now accessible on tablets and mobile devices, making them available without limitations. The tremendous increase in their usage has created concerns regarding the possible impact of the video games towards the users, especially the youth. Issues such as gender representation, stereotyping, racism, and violence have been observed in video games. Gender stereotyping is a common phenomenon in the many video games available in the market. The majorities of the young individuals are still developing their perception towards women, because of these video games. The stereotyping is harmful and can establish a distorted representation of the female characters since they are usually entrenched in stereotypes. In most instances, the male characters typically achieve more, talk more, and appear frequently compared to the female characters. This demonstrates to the game users that male characters have more opportunities and leadership skills compared to the female players (Brown, 2011).
The researchers are working hard to reveal that mass media is affecting people’s perception regarding the real world and its standards by providing them with unreal moral rules and made-up beauty (Fromme, 2012). Video games are part of mass media. Therefore, the proposed research question regarding, ‘how is the female gender stereotype represented in the video game industry and what are the effects of these stereotypes?’ will provide a clear image concerning how female gender is stereotyped and represented in the video games. The research question will help to explore more information that can help in providing professional advice to the key controllers of the video games industry. Therefore, this research proposal guided by the parameters of the research question will hopefully portray a clear image regarding how women are currently being represented and stereotyped in the video games industry. One of the primary objectives of the research question in this research proposal is to unearth whether female gender stereotyping and misrepresentation exist in the video games industry and what are the effects of these stereotyping and misrepresentation to the society and young people (Huesmann, 2012).
Review of previous studies
Subordinate and passive characters
Female characters are mostly portrayed as subordinate and passive characters that depends on the male, whereby sexual relationships are maintained as their primary role in the game. Therefore, women characters are usually categorized as heroes, feminists, victims, and prices. In recent research of modern video games, 29% showed the woman as sex objects, 22% represented females as victims, 42% of the games have no women characters, and only 14% portrayed females as heroes in the games (Lukaianov, 2014). Also, there is a high probability of women characters to wear revealing clothes in video games than male characters. Moreover, female players are likely to be pictured in hypersexual methods like having smaller body sixes, bigger breasts, having unrealistic body images, wearing revealing casual clothes, and being half nude. All these stereotyping and misrepresentation can be potentially damaging to female and male character’s perception of the genders and development of their attitudes and identity towards the opposite sex. The one of the huge concern of these kinds of female characters stereotyping is that they are available to almost all video games irrespective of the game rating and this potentially exposes kids and the youth to inappropriate content (Brown, 2011).
Most of the video games producers use women to advertise their products irrespective of whether these women are part of the game. One of the adverts for the game Neverwinter Nights featured a woman character within the game mostly nude and only covered with seashells (Reichert, 2006). Nevertheless, during the whole game play, this female character that appeared in the advert was nowhere as nude. Another example of sexualizing the ad is that of Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: future soldiers that showed a highly sexualized woman playing the game, whereas the players in the video game were all covered with full body armor (Reichert, 2006). In a real sense, it is clear that when women are included in video games, their primary roles are mainly sexual.
Damsel characters
One of the stereotypes portrayed on a woman’s character in most of the video games is that of a damsel in distress. A good example of this character is Princess Peach (Gitelman, 2014). These kinds of characters are paved in a manner that they will always keep on being rescued by the male main character. This mostly happens because they have weak combat skills compared to male characters and sometimes they are kidnapped or held hostage. All these kind of characters given to females portrays them as people that always require males for rescue (Lee, 2014).
Another substantially known stereotype characters given to women is that of magic users. Women players are more likely to use magic in the video games than males. Also, apart from being the magic users, they are mostly portrayed as having the healing magic. The problem with these stereotypes is that the magic users are mostly not physically capable of combat and those having the healing magic, mostly lacks the abilities to damage or fight their enemies. Therefore, females provided these roles lower capabilities expected from them. One of the examples of healing magic is portrayed in a video game called Final Fantasy X by Yuna. Yuna begins the game understanding the abilities of white magic. Although she has combat skills, for her to defeat her opponents, she uses her magic to summon different creatures to fight for her, and thus remove her from the combat. With this kind of personality in the video game, Yuna is portrayed as a damsel in distress character (Lukianov, 2014).
However, in some instances, men are also stereotyped, whereby they are objectified even though not much as women. This happens when male characters are used as a silent blank slate that has muscle, but little intelligence. A good example is the character of Duke Nukem that has bursting muscles with limited knowledge. The Duke shows an example of how men are also sometimes being objectified in the video games (Lee, 2014). This kind of character can send the wrong message in the same manner that damsel distress character does. Exposing characters such as Duke Nukem to children can reduce their self-esteem and encourage them to do everything they can to emulate him.
Virtual reality technology
It is very intriguing to look in the mirror only find out that you have another gender body. When a person wears virtual reality hardware, it provides him/her with the illusion of being comfortable into somewhere imaginary or being someone else. For example, a virtual reality technology enables a person to be on particular place and at the same time if you are a man you find yourself being with a woman body (Luppicini, 2013). This highly affects the young people’s mind, particularly when their brain is confused on how to deal with this kind of information. The illusion of finding yourself with another gender body makes one dizzy and generates specific questions about how you would be if you were that gender. The idea/illusion of making people believe that they can exchange their bodies can be very devastating information for children to understand. Although virtual reality technology affects both genders, it creates confusion among the children, whereby they start wishing that they were of different gender and this can trigger gender misunderstandings. Also, it affects person’s self-esteem, for example, when a woman tries to use a slim body with big breast and a man trying to use a muscular body (Luppicini, 2013).
Theoretical propositions
In this part, the theoretical perspectives and concepts, which are related to the gender identity, self-esteem, and representation, are discussed. The theoretical proposition will review theories about sexism and cultivation theory. The critical analysis and review of these theories will be done, based on the previous research articles and papers that were collected during this study.
Theories regarding sexism
According to the Ambivalent sexism theory, inherent within the social structure is a hierarchy power whereby female is submissive and male dominant (Aimee, 2003). Moreover, the society members also uphold hostile and benevolent attitudes towards both genders that include heterosexual relations, gender differentiation (stereotypes and roles), and domains-paternalism (power difference). The benevolent attitudes regarding male is a stereotype that men are powerful, respectable, and instrumental, whereas the hostile attitude is the belief that men are aggressive, unscrupulous, and arrogant. Compared to men, women are stereotyped as submissive, weak, likable, and warm. On matters dealing with heterosexual relations, women are portrayed as objects that male desire and are there to fulfill man’s requirements, instead of women being equal agents that have their desires (Aimee, 2003).
Media stereotypes facilitate inequality whereby they tell sexist ideas concerning power and gender and regarding the relationship between women and men. According to the research conducted by Glick and colleagues concerning attitudes towards males in seventeen countries, they concluded that where the ‘wrong, even though bold’ stereotype of males was identified, there was also the presence of broader gender inequality (In Fortner, 2014). For example, females had inadequate literacy rates, unpleasant prestigious occupations, and lacked enough purchasing power.
According to the Connell’s theory of hegemonic masculinity theory (HMT), femininity and masculinity are usually designed about one another, instead of being independent (Lusher, 2009). Socially masculinity, though not attainable by many is an understood ideal that includes heterosexual conquest, material success, aggressiveness, and power. However, femininity is constructed only based on the hegemonic masculinity, that is, female exist only for male’s ego stroking and sexual titillation, to raise kids, and generally to serve male (Lusher, 2009).
Based on the HMT theory, there exist sexist images in the media every day that acts as necessary forces, which maintain the socially believed stories of femininity, masculinity, and more significant the male dominance whereby men rule women in bed, government, and businesses. Concerning this research, the video games images of femininity and masculinity are by definition impoverished, over-simplified, misrepresented, and stylized since their primary objective is not to show the reality because they designed to continue perpetuating the myth. In the end, these myths construct the social realities, which kid, youth, and grown uphold and act on (Lusher, 2009).
Cultivation theory
Cultivation theory deals with the relationship between public assumptions, message systems, images, institutional processes, and policies which they cultivate. According to cultivation theory, media builds and affects the individual’s view of social reality (In Fortner, 2014). Video games, magazines, and television affect individuals’ perception of the real world and its moral and social standards by availing them with the mainstream of ideas concerning how the world and people should behave and look. In the same way, video game images assemble within the minds of the youth and kids and eventually result in the expectations of the real world, which coincide to media representations. Previous researches on media have shown that tailored television programs hurt the viewers’ self-esteem and positively present body dissatisfaction and perfectionism. These researches demonstrate the perception that those who watch television are much more affected. Therefore, it is logically presentable to assume that those who play video games much suffer the same fate (In Fortner, 2014).
When dealing with the video games, the idea of involvement as a critical factor in cultivation portrays the active nature of media utilization, whereby people are engaged in active, constructive stories instead of being passively exposed to them and this is essential to analyze video games. Therefore, using cultivation theory, one can examine why nowadays beauty ideals, large breasts, and thin figures are considered as normal features and desirable. The heavy media users (video games, magazines, and TV) have minds that are significantly affected, whereby the evidence is shown by the perception that men and women have on the female body. Most of the female users force themselves to meet the images of the bodies that they see in the mainstream media, and this is evident by the increase in the number of plastic surgery done by women (In Fortner, 2014).
To answer the research question, it is significant to utilize both qualitative and quantitative research methods for further analysis of the theoretical propositions used in this research proposal. The proposed data to be used for this research question will be collected from game designers’ experts from different educational institutions in the country and also from the social media (Twitter or Facebook or both of them) whereby the young people who play the video games will be asked the questions. Moreover, the research will include interviews and questionnaires (Bernard, 2013).
The questionnaire will be the core part of this study whereby the targeted young video game player in the social media will be asked the questions. The number of the participants cannot be anticipated at this level of the research proposal, because it will depend on the number of the young people that will respond to the questionnaire in the social media. Also, the number of participants in term of gender representation cannot be determined at this level, since it will depend on the number of respondents (Neuman, 2014).
Also, two or three game designers’ experts from the education institution will be asked the same questions that young people from the social media will be asked. Also, more questions will be asked for these experts to ensure that the research question is well answered. Two types of the questionnaire will be used in this research (closed-questions, an open-question). The closed-question questionnaire will be used to evaluate the quantitative methodology part, and open-question questionnaire will be used to evaluate the qualitative methodology part (Neuman, 2014).
The young people in the social media who play the video games will be asked questions from the closed-question questionnaire, and the game designers’ experts will be asked questions from both closed-questions and open-question questionnaires. The primary limitation of the quantitative method is that all the participants will be required to answer a set of fixed questions with possible answers. Therefore, no explanation will be required from these participants after answering the questions. Also, the primary limitation of the qualitative method will be the interpretation of the results that will be received from the participants. However, in both scenarios, the researcher will rely on the answer given by the participants and believe that they were honest (Bernard, 2013).
Also, it is an online platform that will be used to collect the data, because the participants, particularly the young people will be contacted through the social media. For the game designers’ experts from the educational institutions, both questionnaires will be sent to them through private email, and they send back their answers through the same private email (Bernard, 2013).
The reason for choosing a quantitative method to collect data is that it is more objective and reliable and can utilize statistics to generalize the results. Moreover, it restructures and reduces complex issues to a limited number of variables. Also, since this research proposal is utilizing theoretical propositions to analyze research question, quantitative method is the best tool to test these theories. Also, this research proposal is covering a vast scale of data collection from the social media, and the quantitative method is the best tool to collect this data, since it is less detailed compared to qualitative data method (Bernard, 2013).
In addition, the reason for using the qualitative method in this research inform of open-questionnaire only limited to the game designers’ experts, is to facilitate an in-depth examination of the research question. It is used to ensure that the issues that cannot be answered with a simple answer from the closed-questionnaire are well explained by the game designers’ experts in a wide context to provide a more clarity of the female gender stereotyping and misrepresentation in the video games industry (Neuman, 2014).
Using both quantitative and qualitative methods to collect data for this research will be of great benefits towards shedding clarity of female gender representation in the video games industry. It will help on disclosing what is happening in the video games industry in many different angles and show the repercussions of the female gender stereotyping and misrepresentation to the society (Neuman, 2014).
Aimee, D. H. (2003). Theory creation: Ambivalent sexism and soul blindness explain gender harassment.
Bernard, H. R. (2013). Social research methods: Qualitative and quantitative approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Brown, J. (2011). Dangerous Curves: Action Heroines, Gender, Fetishism, and Popular Culture. University Press of Mississippi.
Fromme, J., & Unger, A. (2012). Computer games and new media cultures: A handbook of digital games studies. Dordrecht: Springer.
Gitelman, E. R., & Rosen, R. (2014). Beyond princess peach: Gender issues and the boy’s club hegemony of video game development.
Huesmann, L. Rowell, Sekaquaptewa, D., Campbell, Scott Walker, Dal Cin, Yang, G. (2012). Do the gender and race of video game characters matter? The effects of violent game playing on implicit stereotyping and aggressive behavior.
In Fortner, R. S., & In Fackler, M. (2014). The handbook of media and mass communication theory: Volume 1.
In Malkowski, J., & In Russworm, T. A. (2017). Gaming representation: Race, gender, and sexuality in video games.
Lee, J., Rank, S., & Drexel University. (2014). Realistic avatar creation and player choice.
Lukianov, & Catherine. (2014). Finding the Invisible Player and Understanding Women’s Experiences in Online Multiplayer Video Game Environments. SURFACE.
Luppicini, R. (2013). Handbook of research on technoself: Identity in a technological society. Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference.
Lusher, Dean, Robins, & Garry. (2009). Hegemonic and other masculinities in local social contexts. Sage.
Neuman, W. L. (2014). Social research methods: Qualitative and quantitative approaches.
Reichert, T., & Lambiase, J. (2006). Sex in consumer culture: The erotic content of media and marketing. Mahwah, NJ: L. Erlbaum Associates.

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