Sexism in Video Games

It is difficult to disagree that video games have nowadays become one of the largest entertainment industries. Annually, a large number of video games are released—starting from independent projects or self-made games with basic graphics, and ending up with expensive AAA titles, operating budgets equal or bigger to those in Hollywood, with astonishing graphics and visual effects. One of the best examples is Grand Theft Auto V—the product that has brought video gaming standards to a whole new level, introducing a vast interactive copy of Los Angeles with tons of activities, missions, a deep story, and graphics which looks great even several years after its release.

Unfortunately, along with rapid development and stunning innovations, the video gaming industry also brings up a number of issues not every society knows how to properly deal with. The widely-discussed controversy of violence in video games, for example, causes governments to sometimes ban certain video games; this is strange, to put it mildly, because movies and other forms of art addressing delicate issues remain easily accessible to everyone, including children. Another controversy about video games is the gender stereotypes and sexism they often promote. Indeed, if one takes a look at almost any major game present on the market nowadays, he or she will notice how much exploitation, sexualization, and stereotypization some of these games contain. Female characters are often portrayed in perfect physical shape, sexually appealing, and unrealistically good-looking. Male characters, in their turn, are aggressive, overly self-confident or showing off, and prone to violence when solving difficult situations.

The examples are many. A popular fighting game “Dead or Alive: Last Round” heavily exploits the subject of feminine sexuality, portraying all the female fighters half-dressed, and allowing players to dress them in more-than-explicit outfits. “Bayonetta,” a console third-person action game, named after the main heroine, sexualizes the main protagonist in an over-the-top manner. “Fallout 2,” a role-playing game, which is considered to be one of the best video games in history (and also one of the most politically incorrect ones), allows female characters to achieve certain goals through sex. “Soul Calibur,” Mortal Kombat” IX and X, “Bloodrayne,” or almost any of the modern MMORPG games do the same: stressing on feminine sexuality and partial nudity, they set unrealistic images of beauty and of behavioral standards, mostly because the majority of their target audiences are young men.

Besides, women in video games are often displayed as passive personalities. The image of a damsel in distress waiting to be rescued is used in a number of old and modern video games. In the best case scenario, such an approach turns female characters into “plot triggers,” when the main protagonist must go through hardships to save the maiden; there are games in which female characters act not only as passive objects, but also behave in sexually suggestive ways. Thus, they transmit additionally-reinforced sexist messages, which can be interpreted as “a woman passively waiting for a player to perform actions, motivating him or her with potential sex as reward” (IFR).

At first glance, it might seem not like a big deal. However, there are certain problems connected to such an approach in character development. One of them is that even if a game does not intend to promote sexist attitudes (the aforementioned Mortal Kombat series, for instance, as it emphasizes fighting rather than sexuality), it still does it. According to Douglas Gentile, a professor of psychology at Iowa State University, such attitudes can be inspired subconsciously, through a gamer’s prolonged and repetitive exposure to certain content. This thesis is supported by an extensive study conducted by Gentile and his colleagues, and involving more than 13,000 teenagers. Gentile says that, “Many different aspects of life can influence sexist attitudes. It was surprising to find a small but significant link between game play and sexism. Video games are not intended to teach sexist views, but most people don’t realize how attitudes can shift with practice,” Gentile said. “Nonetheless, much of our learning is not conscious and we pick up on subtle cues without realizing it” (ScienceDaily).

Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory suggests that learning different ways of interacting with the world around us is possible through the representations of this world in models, and our exposure to them. People tend to use knowledge they acquired (for example, perceiving other people or building relationships with them) through interacting with these models in the real world. Contemporary media psychology suggests that being regularly exposed to digital representations of the female body and behaviors can affect the ways in which gamers perceive and interact with women in real life—not only forming attitudes, but also changing already formed ones. Teenagers playing video games may build up expectations about women, or develop cognitive and behavioral patterns regarding women, based on distorted realities depicted in these games. Supposedly, the more time a teenager spends playing video games that depict women in sexist or even misogynistic ways, the higher chances sexist attitudes may develop. Since video games are interactive (and thus often let gamers not only develop attitudes, but also apply them “in practice,” despite it being in the virtual world), they may effectively help gamers learn and anchor wrong ideas about gender roles (Frontiers).

Although many modern games try to break gender stereotypes and depict women in more respective ways, the fact that the majority of gamers are men still influences game development, so female characters continue being displayed in ways appealing to men. Scantily clad, overly-sexualized or sexually suggesting, passive and waiting-to-be-taken-actions-upon female characters in video games still promote sexist attitudes. Regarding the fact that video games can be seen as highly effective interactive learning tools, this fact needs to be heavily considered and fixed by game developers.

Works Cited

“Video Games Influence Sexist Attitudes.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 Mar. 2017. Web. 22 June 2017.

Bègue, Laurent, Elisa Sarda, Douglas A. Gentile, Clementine Bry, and Sebastian Roché. “Video Games Exposure and Sexism in a Representative Sample of Adolescents.” Frontiers. Frontiers, 13 Mar. 2017. Web. 22 June 2017.

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