Although the video game characters are viewed as role models in contemporary youth culture, little research has been done on how they relate to gender stereotypes and gender portrayal. Male characters are more likely to be aggressive than female characters, with male characters 84% more likely to be hostile than female characters 61%, according to a content analysis of photos of these prominent video game characters from the best-selling U.S. gaming publications (Huesmann, 2012). Typically, 63% of female characters and 2% of male characters are depicted as being sexualized. This study will concentrate on how female characters are used, stereotyped, and shown in the video game business. The results show that female gender is highly stereotyped, sexualized, and used as objects. This research will rely heavily on previous academic studies and results.
Female Gender Stereotype in Video Games
The research question of this paper is, ‘how is the female gender stereotype represented in the video game industry and what are effects of these stereotypes?’
The rationale for the paper or importance of the study
This topic is paramount, because it is evident through previous studies, shows that the role of female character portrayal in the video games is highly conflicted. Also, there are extensive dated studies that are discussing the misrepresentation and stereotyping of a female in the video games even though some researchers have shown some improvements. 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. The female characters have been used with assumption despite being equally important to the male characters in the video games. Therefore, this research is an essential area of study that requires excellent analysis. This research will attempt to look on the matters of gender representation in video games from various angles. The research will check on various roles that female characters take in a video game and determine whether they are given significant role or whether there is equal gender representation compared to the roles given to male characters. Focusing on the role of both genders will help to portray the differences and show where stereotyping and misrepresentation occurs.
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. These stereotyping are 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, and this research will provide a clear image concerning how female gender is stereotyped and represented in the video games.
Review on previous studies
Subordinate and passive characters
Female characters are mostly portrayed as subordinate and passive characters, which 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 gameplay, this female character that appeared on 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.
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 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).
In this part, the theoretical perspectives and concepts, which are related to the gender identity, self-esteem, and representation, are discussed. The theoretical framework 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 own 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 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 show 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 showed 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 number of plastic surgery done by women (In Fortner, 2014).
Findings and conclusions
The research was conducted in cooperation with gamer league and participants from Twitter posts, Game Design Department of the University of Chicago, University of California and their lecturers. The research involved mixed methodology based on qualitative and quantitative research of interviews and questionnaires.
The questionnaire was a crucial part of the research, and it targeted the video game players and was distributed on several social media tools. The final number of people that responded/participated in the questionnaire was 235 individuals. The questionnaire had open questions to deal with qualitative part of the methodology and closed questions to address quantitative method. Also, two interviews were conducted with two lecturers from the University of Chicago and University of California. During the whole process, the interviewers heavily relied on the respondents’ personal experience and honesty.
Age and gender
The majority of the respondents to the questionnaire were males 78.24%, while the females were 21.75%. The questionnaire was distributed in various social media, and it was hard to predict the number of male or female gender that would participate. Based on the previous researches, it is clear that there are more male players than female. Therefore, the outcomes of these numbers can be understood and match the reality of video players funs. Out this 78.24% of males, 89% belong to the age group between 16-25 years and this portrays the majority age limit of video game players. It is also the same with the females, whereby out of 21.75%, 87.51% belong to the age group between 16-25 years.
Frequency and duration
Based on the results, most of the respondents spend about three hours when playing each video game. Those that play more than three hours were about 35.21%. Also, 31.61% spend about one to two hours in every game, and 25.63% spend about two to five hours. From these results, it is clear that at least many players spend around two hours when playing the video game. Concerning frequency, the majority of the respondents, 40.21% claimed that they play very often, whereas 19.52% claimed they play always, and 19.51% stated fairly often.
Stereotyping of females in video games
According to the survey results, 77.51% of all the respondents believed that female gender is highly stereotyped in video games. Also, 79.21% of the female respondents believe that there is high stereotyping of women in the video games, but 20.79% did not. Also, 77.41% of male respondents believe woman stereotyping exist, while 22.59% did not.
Real life and video game
According to the results, majority of the participants, 66.52% claimed that video games do not affect their real-life behavior and decision. However, 25.43% believe that video games affect their real life.
The two lecturers who are an expert on video game issues answered the questions that were sent to them through email. One of the experts is James Mayes, 47 years old and he is responsible for game design at the University of Chicago. The other one is Steven Thomson, 29 years old and he is a program coordinator for game design and programming at the University of California. Both experts were given the same questions like the video game players in the questionnaire, but various questions were added to get the broader opinion of the expert within the video game industry.
The two experts agreed that women are misrepresented in the video games and diversity issues like race discrimination, and ethnic is also questionable. Thomson believed both genders are stereotyped, whereby characters are not allowed to define their roles or make their own choices. According to James, the main common stereotype of women in video games is where females are used as prizes, sex objects, acts as victims, and are hyper-sexualized. Both experts claimed that there are social consequences of female gender misrepresentation and stereotyping in the video games industry that have negative effects on the consumers and society as a whole.
The objective of this research was to determine how the female gender stereotype is represented in the video game industry and the effects of these stereotypes. Previous studies (reviews) were analyzed, and the interviews and survey were conducted based on the theories about sexism and cultivation theory. Based on the findings of previous researches, theories, and the conducted survey and interviews it is clear that there is gender misrepresentation and stereotyping of women in the video game industry. The most ways of stereotyping women in the video games are creating sexually provocative characters that are dressed or undressed in seductive ways, using women as sex objects, making women acts as victims, using females as damsel characters, using seductive women to advertise games, and lack of female protagonist that can represent women as independent and active (Huesmann, 2012). Also during this research, it has emerged there are significant damaging impacts that these stereotypes and misrepresentation have for the kids and youth in the society. Kids and the young people can idolize the characters that they see playing in the video games. Therefore, the messages and roles played in these video games can significantly interfere with their perception concerning many things. Part of the effect is how the youth see the traditional gender roles and also their ideal futures (Brown, 2011).
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