Gender Stereotypes in Gaming
Below is an essay I’ve written for my SOCA1010 major essay. The question I was asked is how the media reinforces gender stereotypes. I decided to go with video gaming since it’s a current topic, is relatable to my readers and it’s an interesting topic. Enjoy. – Rade
We live in a modern world where we accept that as a species, we’ve matured enough to overcome differences and accept that contrary opinions do not reflect negatively on us or our intelligence. However, the media stream of sexist material makes this belief a fallacy.
During this essay, I will discuss how the media influences the gaming industry and those who partake in the video game hobby, how the interactive media contradicts what the PR departments say and how this sexism reinforces the idea that women should be objectified and this image plays into the hero wish fulfilment of males.
Video games were always seen as a male dominated hobby intended for children only; and that mentality still exists today. However, as the market grows and video game consoles become more accessible (price, availability, etc.) more and more women are taking up the opportunity to go on adventures through one of the most engaging mediums on the market today.
As of 2012, 47% of gamers in America were female which was a 5% increase from the year was before and along with the increase of female gamers, the average age increase from 35 years old to 41 years old in the same time span. (ESA, 2011) (ESA, 2012) Considering women make up almost half of the player base of video games, why do women feel objectified and harassed by their male counterparts?
During GDC 2013, BioWare senior writer David Gaider gave a talk entitled “Sex in Video Games” about how sex and gender are portrayed in video games and what responsibility the industry should take for the messages they send out. (Wilde, 2012)
Gaider spoke about the way that the public portrays gamers (“mostly children”) and the way that the industry views the same gamers (“teenage boys who want sexualised female characters”) (Wilde, 2012) but he reinforces the facts given by the ESA saying that women make up almost half of the consumer industry however, they’re under-represented in the medium itself. There are only a handful of strong female characters that are the leads in their own series and most of them have been tailored for a male audience with exaggerated physical features to play in to a “male hero” rescue fantasy
A major drawback for some women in gaming is that the majority of characters that people can play with are males. Male characters in video games are the more “preferable” sex for video games. Inspiration for games with male leads can be as easy as “rescue the princess” where women become objectified and are seen as a prize or goal for the male lead. Since video game characters are meant to be a blank canvas for the player to inhibit, giving the character an object of desire such as women, plays into a primal urge to protect the women in danger. The message those games are sending to players is that women are unable to protect themselves and require a stereotypical strong male character to provide support and protection and that this service will be rewarded with affection. This relationship seems to be reminiscent of those suffering from Stockholm syndrome.
When female characters are strong enough to protect themselves, they’re often sexualised in armour that is revealing and would result in a quick and immediate death. “Chainmail bikini” armour is a staple in many fighting games and Massively Multi-Player Online (MMO) games. A male and a female warrior could be the same level with the same perks and wear the same armour (name, specifications, etc.) but the male character would be more concealed than the female character. Most users who see this consider it inappropriate and have made it known that it is unacceptable, developers and publishers can hide behind sales figures and say that even though the armour is upsetting to some, there isn’t enough evidence to remove it.
Out of fear of being harassed, women who actively play games online will choose a ambiguous name and avoid using their microphone to communicate with others. If women decide against these measures, it can lead to trouble. Getting messages asking for sex (or being threatened with rape), being told to “get back in the kitchen and make me a sandwich”, or being called fat, ugly or slutty are common occurrences and websites such as “Fat, Ugly or Slutty” have been set up to show how vile some of the messages can be. They aim to educate people about interacting nicely with each other, show women that they’re not alone in the abuse and perhaps, their greatest ambition is to disempower these messages by making people laugh. By taking away any negative intent implied these messages, it’s giving women the opportunity to not feel as threatened and continue in their hobby without having to hide their gender identity.
Gaider makes the definition between “How about we just decide not to repel women?” instead of “How do we attract women?”’ When developers approach publishers with a game that features a female lead, they’re hit with roadblocks. (See Male and Female character comparison.)
When developer Dontnod Entertainment approached publishers with their game, “Remember Me”, they were told, “We don’t want to publish it because it’s not going to succeed. You can’t have a female character in games. It has to be male, simple as that.” (PRELL, 2013)
Creative director Jean-Max Moris knew it was too late to change the lead, Nilin, from a female to a male, but if he had, it still lead to problems. Moris wanted to show parts of Nilin’s life, which included her romances with men.
“We had people tell us, ‘You can’t make a dude like the player kiss another dude in the game, that’s going to feel awkward.’” (PRELL, 2013)
Publishers are reinforcing the hyper-masculinity stereotype found within subcultures while also disempowering women. Those who intend on discussing the discourse are generally seen to be upsetting the status quo.
Anita Sarkeesian, a media critic and feminist launched a crowd-funded project where she would discuss tropes in video games where women were underpowered or over-sexualised. When she put forth her argument to the Internet, her support base was outweighed by the vitriol thrown at her at gamers (mostly hyper-masculine males) offended by her implication that there was something wrong in their community.
Her intention was to generate conversation within the community and the industry at a whole and Sarkeesian started something else. When those who were offended threated to rape her, kill her and report her as a terrorist, the problems that were previously only spoken about in passing became a major topic in the gaming press and it inspired other women to speak out about the way they’d been treated.
Women within the gaming industry and community shared their experiences trying to break down the walls of the “boys club”. When the gaming media started publishing these stories, there were people who denied the issue. Since most of gaming media revolves around the social media sphere and instant communication, those who protested both for and against sexism in the industry took to social media as a way to have their opinions heard. The Twitter hashtag #1ReasonWhy was launched after a male developer asked “Why are there so few lady developers?” When people responded to this question, it showed the worst of the industry’s secret. (Pinchefsky, 2012)
Female developers in the industry had been told by their male co-workers that they only got the position they were in because they ‘had nice tits’. Some women were scared of going to developer conventions because they had been sexually harassed or treated like assistants to their male counterparts. Often they admitted to feeling stupid around expos and conventions and end up not attending these excellent opportunities for networking and publicity simply because they’re sick and tired of being harassed.
David Gaider said that repelling women was a decision that people can just stop. The culture of sexism is deeply ingrained in the industry and the community but slowly, attitudes towards women are slowly changing. With more and more women coming out and speaking against their treatment and trying to encourage others to do the same, they’re being accepted for positions in developing houses, at gaming magazines and winning respect of their co-workers we won’t have to ask how to attract women to gaming.
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