Gender Representations in Video Games
Table of Contents
Gender Representations in Video Games 4
Impact of Gender Representations in Video Games 6
Relationships and Interactions between Men and Women 7
Current Limitations and Topics for Future Review 8
Many individuals believe that the terms sex and gender have the same meaning and thus are often used interchangeably. In actuality, these words have very different meanings. Sex describes the biological traits that make an individual male or female. Contrarily, gender expresses an individual’s psychological traits that are construed as masculine, feminine, or androgynous. Beliefs, opinions, morals, personality, sexual orientation, and gender identity all comprise an individual’s gender (Ivy & Backlund, 2004).
Unlike a person’s sex, gender is not inherent, but rather is socially and culturally composed. Maleness and femaleness is taught to all people from a very early age through numerous avenues. The behavioral expectations parents place on children, interactions with peers, and societal influences are the major sources which shape an individual’s gender identity. The family is the primary driving force in gender identity development. Through one’s family, a sense of self is cultivated, language is developed, and standards of communication are established. When peers enter into this equation, gender identity becomes further developed as sexes flock together, teaching and learning from one another how to behave according to gender. Through play, games, and schooling individuals form a secondary view of what it is to be masculine or feminine. Aside from family and peer interactions, outside society, particularly various forms of media, may have the strongest influence on gender identity. Messages of how an individual should act according to their sex are incessantly broadcasted through television, music, advertisements (Ivy & Backlund, 2004), and in more recent years, video games (Dill & Thill, 2007).
What is gender? What is sex in biological terms? Are gender and sex the same thing? Explain why or why not? Gender is a subclass within a grammatical class (as noun, pronoun, adjective, or verb) of a language that is partly arbitrary but also partly based on distinguishable characteristics (as shape, social rank, manner of existence, or sex) and that determines agreement with and selection of ...
Video games have become a popular leisure activity of late and their depiction of men and women via characters can bear just as much influence as other forms of media (Downs & Smith, 2010).
Players can pick up on societal expectations of gender in terms of the appearance, behavior, and roles of characters in games. Similarly to how celebrities can be idols for many individuals, video game characters can take on the same role for players (Miller & Summers, 2007).
Additionally, technological advances have made these characters more lifelike and therefore more influential. The industry has seen a shift from virtually sexually indistinguishable characters, such as Pac Man and Mrs. Pac Man, to blatantly sexist depictions which can be noted in characters like Duke Nukem and Lara Croft (Dill & Thill, 2007).
Male characters are the epitome of stereotypical masculinity, displaying unnaturally muscular physiques (Burgess, Stermer, & Burgess, 2007), overly masculine facial features such as a chiseled jaw line and facial hair, and exaggerated facial expressions exhibiting power and authority (Dill & Thill, 2007).
Women are equally, if not more, gender stereotyped through hyper-sexualized imagery of abnormally large breasts paired with extremely thin waists, arms and legs (Burgess, Stermer, & Burgess, 2007) and sexually suggestive poses and facial expressions (Dill & Thill, 2007).
Although many female characters who encompass this sexualized image can be as equally tough as their male counterparts, most are depicted as the damsel in distress or cheerleader (Yao, Mahood, & Linz, 2010).
Language and Gender might not seem like the most interesting topic to a high school class, but I am here as a future teacher to show that the differences between the sexes and the way they use language have affected history and continues today to shape the way society thinks and functions. By providing history on gender, language, and giving examples of the differences between the sexes, I feel ...
The effects of such stereotypical, gender focused portrayals of men and women include the development of sexist beliefs, negative feelings about self-worth (Behm-Morawitz & Mastro, 2009), and an increased likelihood to sexually harass (Yao, Mahood, & Linz, 2010).
Additionally, relations and interactions between the sexes are impacted in various ways through depictions of genders in all types of media, including video games. Numerous pieces of literature have analyzed and conducted studies aimed at identifying gender stereotypes in video games as well as the impact these stereotypes have had.
Gender Representations in Video Games
Previous studies on gender representations across all types of media have shown that men and women were typically portrayed in a stereotypical manner. In terms of gender roles, men have been depicted engaging in sports and other physical activities and women were shown doing housework. Physical appearances were also stereotyped and found to be sexist as media tended to picture men with muscular physiques while women were highly sexualized with thin bodies and large breasts (Miller & Summers, 2007).
Television, music, and advertisements are the type of media that have generally been associated with skewed gender representations. However as video game popularity continues to rise, the representations of gender presented through the characters in these games have become an important issue with regard to media impression (Behm-Morawitz & Mastro, 2009).
Recent literature has shown that 87% of 8-17 year olds have played video games (Burgess, Stermer, and Burgess, 2007).
Additionally, children in this group spent an average of 7 hours a week playing video games (Miller & Summers, 2007).
Although children accounted for a large portion of video game players, the average age of individuals who played these games was 35 years old (Behm-Morawitz & Mastro, 2009).
With such a vast age range, it has become apparent that almost every age group in America is exposed to gender representations in video game characters. Due to the increased volume of people and time spent partaking in this form of entertainment, it is essential to recognize how men and women have been depicted in video games.
Throughout many decades women have been struggling to be equal to men, both at home and in the work place. Women have come a long way and are certainly fighting to gain that equality, but gender roles are very important in our society. They have become important in life from birth, and society continues to push these gender roles. The treatment of the male gender is very different from that of the ...
Male characters in video games have demonstrated a tendency to take on the same stereotypical role. Primarily, they were usually the main character (Miller & Summers, 2007).
In a study conducted by Karen E. Dill and Kathryn P. Thill, results indicated that women were main characters in only ten percent of games (2007).
In addition to being the main character, male characters were depicted as heroes more often than not (Miller & Summers, 2007).
The heroic role included being a problem-solver (Downs & Smith, 2010) in a position of high status and power (Behm-Morawitz & Mastro, 2009), in which they often rescued a woman in need of help, i.e. a damsel in distress (Downs & Smith, 2010).
The overwhelming abundance of men in video games rendering the heroic, main character emphasized an overly masculine gender role in which men are powerful, dominant, and aggressive (Dill & Thill, 2007).
Physically, the typical male character in video games displayed characteristics reflecting the behavioral traits associated with their role of heroic main characters. Men in video games tended to have exaggerated muscles, many of whose biceps were larger than their heads (Burgess, Stermer, & Burgess, 2007).
Facial features common to male characters included a chiseled structure and facial hair. Research conducted by Monica Miller and Alicia Summers showed that muscular physiques were equated with power (2007).
Similar findings were reported in a study by Dill and Thill in regards to chiseled facial features and facial hair (2007).
The findings of these studies contributed to the explicitly masculine gender role portrayed through behavior which emphasizes dominance and aggression in men (Dill & Thill, 2007).
Aside from behavioral and physical traits, male characters have been shown to significantly outnumber female characters. On average, video games featured one female for approximately every five males. This trend could be attributed to the gaming demographic which illustrated that 88% of men play video games (Miller & Summers, 2007) versus 40% of women (Behm-Morawitz & Mastro, 2009).
(Or Thats Just What We Let Them Think) Call me Sybil. I have two personalities. One is the helpless, quivering mass that men like to call vulnerable and female and the other is pure Paige. The latter is in your face, pull the bootstraps up and take the bull by the horns. This duality has occurred by necessity, not by choice. For years men have been allowed to think that they are the dominant ...
Regardless of the cause of this gender-biased trend, it highlights a sexist view that men are more important or interesting than females.
Like their male counterparts, female characters in video games took on sexist, stereotypical gender roles. Primarily, women in video games were supplemental, secondary characters to men who were typically the main character (Miller & Summers, 2007).
Female characters were shown to be main characters in just ten percent of games (Dill & Thill, 2007).
As secondary characters, women were illustrated as either the damsel in distress in need of saving by her male hero or the cheerleader supporting and encouraging the male main character (Stermer, Burgess, & Stermer, 2007).
Even when the female hero, or heroine, was not absent, she was infrequently represented in video games. While men were shown to be heroes about 58% of the time, women were only heroes about 35% of the time (Miller & Summers, 2007).
These heroines were further undermined through their physical attributes which encompassed a sexualized feminine appearance. Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider series was exemplary of this strong, yet overtly sexual depiction. Croft was a mixture of stereotypical and non-stereotypical representations of women. She was powerful, clever, and autonomous (Behm-Morawitz & Mastro, 2009) yet her appearance was objectified through a disproportioned breast-to-waist ratio adorned in skin-tight, revealing clothing (Downs & Smith, 2010).
As noted in heroines like Lara Croft, the physical appearance of women was hypersexualized, or depicted as overtly sexualized (Downs & Smith, 2010).
Female characters were much more likely to be sexualized than men as was evidenced in a study by Dill and Thill. According to their research, women were portrayed in an explicitly sexualized manner in 60% of video games versus the meager 1% of men. These sexualized depictions included a vast number of physical attributes. Hypersexualized women were dressed in tight clothing baring skin on their breasts, midriffs, and legs. Also similar to Lara Croft was the extreme proportions of large breasts and extremely thin waists. Contributing to the overly sexualized depiction of women were the postures and poses which were noted to be provocative in manner. (Dill & Thill, 2007).
Men are From Mars, Women are from venus, gender differences in communication "MEN ARE FROM MARS, WOMEN ARE FROM VENUS: GENDER DIFFERENCES IN COMMUNICATION" Men and women typically use different discourse strategies in communication, and, in general, women's linguistic behavior is disadvantageous compared to men's. This paper will attempt to demonstrate this fact, through the many stereotypes ...
Contributing to the findings of Dill and Thill’s study, other literature has demonstrated that 70% of women in Mature-rated games and 46 % of women in Teen-rated games were illustrated with copious amounts of cleavage. The same literature also noted that 86% of female characters wore revealing clothing. The physical attributes represented in video games reinforce the view of women as sex objects (Behm-Morawitz & Mastro, 2009).
Also revealed in literature on female gender representation in video games was the promiscuous or highly sexual behavior exhibited by non-playable female characters. This trend dated as far back as 1982 in a game entitled, Custer’s Revenge. The objective of the game was for the main character, General Custer, to dodge obstacles in order to reach a naked indentured Native American woman and have intercourse with her. More recently, in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, a mission in the game required players to have sex with their girlfriend (Yao, Mahood, & Linz, 2010).
Other games in the Grand Theft Auto series have allowed players to pick up prostitutes, have sex with them, and then murder them (Miller & Summers, 2007).
Such demeaning actions again reinforce the image of women as merely disposable sex objects.
Impact of Gender Representations in Video Games
As previously stated, individuals have become increasingly exposed to video games and the portrayal of men and women via the characters in these games as their popularity grows. Because male and female video game characters have been shown to take on stereotypical gender roles, several areas of gender identity development have been impacted. In particular, sexist beliefs, negative feelings about self-worth (Behm-Morawitz & Mastro, 2009), and an increased likelihood to sexually harass (Yao, Mahood, & Linz, 2010) are likely to transpire in different ways for each sex.
Women and men are nestled into predetermined cultural molds when it comes to gender in American society. Women play the roles of mothers, housekeepers, and servants to their husbands and children, and men act as providers, protectors, and heads of the household. These gender roles stem from the many culture myths that exist pertaining to America, including those of the model family, education, ...
Research has revealed that men who were exposed to sexualized and stereotyped portrayals of women in the media developed negative attitudes and perceptions about females. Specifically, men who were exposed to hypersexualized images of women viewed them as sexual objects whose bodies were nothing more than possessions (Downs & Smith, 2010).
When men observed women who took on stereotypical gender roles, they were more likely to adopt opinions reflecting the same stereotypes, such as the belief that women should be housewives who are obedient to their husbands (Miller & summers, 2007).
As a form of media with increasing popularity, video games have been shown to demonstrate similar effects on men (Barlett & Harris, 2008; Dill & Thill, 2007; Downs & Smith, 2010).
The largest age group amongst children who played video games was 11 – 14 year old boys. This group is in a pivotal stage of gender identity development and is greatly influenced by the way men and women are depicted. Overwhelming evidence presented in current literature suggested that the stereotypical representations of the sexes lead to gender-biased beliefs amongst all age groups. When playing as male main characters who took on the role of a hero, men were prone to develop gender-stereotyped beliefs that they should be problem-solvers whose duty is to save women who are thus viewed as powerless and incapable of helping themselves (Downs & Smith, 2010).
Additionally, men who played video games in which women were portrayed as the damsel in distress adopted traditional gender role values including men are more appropriate leaders, women should have less freedom than men, and women should be submissive to men (Dill & Thill, 2007).
When women were overly sexualized through curvaceously thin bodies, tight and revealing clothing, and suggestive behavior, men held expectations for women which reflected this sexual representation. As a result of viewing women as sex objects, men were more likely to partake in sexually harassing behaviors toward women (Yao, Mahood, & Linz).
Besides the influence on gender-related beliefs and behaviors, stereotyped characters in video games were also shown to impact men’s feelings related to self-worth. Men who played games in which male characters had unnaturally muscular physiques were more likely to display negative attitudes regarding their body satisfaction. Such negative feelings concerning physical appearance has been proven to lead to an increased probability of steroid use (Barlett & Harris, 2008) or obsessive weight training in order to achieve what the media projects as the ideal masculine body image (Dill & Thill, 2007).
Literature on the impact of media on women has indicated a pattern of negative perceptions of physical appearance. Social pressure to achieve and maintain certain beauty ideals has resulted in 40 – 60% of girls and women possessing low self-esteem regarding their image. Video games are no different from other media in the effect they have had on girls and women, particularly because certain groups have been shown to spend more time playing video games than watching television, a form of media which has been shown to be extremely influential (Martins, Williams, Harrison, & Ratan, 2009).
Current literature has revealed that 40% of video game players in the United States are female. The effect of hypersexualized portrayals of women in video games has become more evident as this demographic has increased. The primary impact of exposure to stereotyped female characters was negative feelings of self-worth. In a study performed by Christopher P. Bartlett and Richard J. Harris, negative self-esteem was defined as the way in which an individual thinks and feels about their appearance that has a negative impact on their self-worth and physical satisfaction. Using this definition, Bartlett and Harris analyzed the effect of exposure to female video game characters who were highly sexualized and displayed unachievable standards of beauty. The particular characters in the study wore tiny bikinis that revealed extremely thin waists paired with large breasts. After playing the game, female participants felt poorly about themselves physically and displayed characteristics of negative self-esteem (2008).
Other literature supported the findings of Bartlett and Harris’ research, revealing that the hypersexualized, unachievable physical appearance of women in video games leads to low self-esteem (Behm-Morawitz & Mastro, 2009; Downs & Smith, 2010).
Aside from developing negative feelings of self-worth, women who played video games also acquired stereotypical and sexist beliefs related to gender identity and roles. Included in gender identity and roles were women’s perceptions of the thoughts, interests, psychological qualities, societal associations, and careers they should possess in order to be considered feminine. Results from a study conducted by Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz and Dana Mastro indicated that after playing a video game featuring a hypersexualized female character with stereotyped roles and behaviors, women believed that because of their sex they would not be able to succeed in the real world (2009).
Additionally, women demonstrated less positive opinions about their cognitive abilities and authority after playing video games featuring stereotyped female characters (Behm-Morawitz & Mastro, 2009).
Relationships and Interactions between Men and Women
While research has not been conducted specifically on how men and women interact and form relationships after playing video games with stereotyped gender representations, implications stemming from the same types of depictions in other forms of media have been applied to video games. Individuals who have been exposed to sexist media were known to hold dysfunctional opinions about how men and women should interact in a relationship. There has additionally been a link to acceptance of sexual harassment and attitudes supporting rape from individuals who were not only subjected to sexist media, but also to violent video games. Moreover, individuals who possess stereotypical views on gender roles were more likely to engage in sexual activity at a younger age and less likely to use contraception when partaking in sexual acts (Dill & Thill, 2007).
Current Limitations and Topics for Future Review
Although literature regarding gender representations in video games and their impact has made significant progress and development in recent years, there are still limitations to these studies which leave room for topics to be addressed in the future. Mainly, the studies only looked at a few video games and drew generalizations about all video games in general. While it is not feasible to evaluate each and every game produced, investigating a larger quantity in a variety of genres would provide a more accurate illustration of how genders are depicted and the effect that these depictions bear on players (Behm-Morawitz & Mastro, 2009).
Race and social class were not studied in conjunction with gender in any research conducted thus far. Age was also an issue in many of the studies reported in the literature. Participants were adults which leaves a disparity in exactly how younger individuals would be directly affected by the gender representations in video games. Future research should include participants from a greater diversity in order to address how age, race or social status may affect gender-related beliefs and behaviors (Dill & Thill, 2007; Miller & Summers, 2007).
Similarly, body mass index (BMI) of participants was not taken into account, which could have presented a bias in how characters were physically represented. Studies in the future should record the BMI of participants and include individuals with a variety of BMIs in order to calculate how an individual’s BMI may affect perceptions of gender representations in video games (Barlett & Harris, 2008).
Additionally, in the studies conducted, games were not played in their entirety. This leaves many gaps in how characters’ portrayals may change during the course of game play. Although it would be extremely costly and time consuming to complete a study in which a game is played from beginning to end, doing so would provide more accurate statistics relating to character portrayal and its impact on players (Martins et al., 2009).
Another issue is that most new games leave independence in the hands of video game players, allowing them to make decisions which alter events in the game. Again, it would be very time-consuming to conduct a study in which every possibility in a game is analyzed, but it would provide a more complete outlook on gender representation and its impact on players (Miller & Summers, 2007).
An additional factor not considered was how an individual’s performance in a game may have affected their responses regarding self-esteem. For example, and individual who performed poorly in a game may have reported a more negative view of self-worth than someone who performed well. Future research should investigate how this variable may skew results through recording how each individual performed in the game (Barlett & Harris, 2008).
In conjunction with the information provided by the literature analyzed herein and their limitations, there are still further avenues to explore in regards to gender representation in video games and its impact. As mentioned earlier, the effect on relationships and interactions between men and women after being exposed to gender stereotypes in video games should be studied. Assumptions have been made based on research across all forms of media, but there has not been a study yielding accurate results relating specifically to video games (Dill & Thill, 2007).
Individuals who frequently play video games should be compared to individuals who rarely play video games in order to test whether the amount of overall immersion affects feelings toward gender identity and roles. Also a topic for additional study is the long-term affect of gender representation in video games. All prior studies have looked into immediate and short-term impacts and have been used to project how individuals will be affected in the long-term. A study conducted over several years would provide accurate information on the topic (Barlett & Harris, 2008).
Overwhelming evidence in numerous literary sources has pointed to a trend in gender representations that portrayed men and women in stereotypical gender roles. These interpretations of masculinity and femininity have caused several consequences related to gender identity, self-worth, and behavior between the sexes. Although there is still much to be learned about the ways in which gender is represented in video games as well as its impact on each of the sexes, individuals should use the information garnered from the discussed studies as a tool to understand and prevent succumbing to the effects of witnessing extremely stereotyped depictions of what it means to be a man or woman.
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