Video games are a popular form of entertainment for millions of people around the world, but they are also a source of controversy and criticism for their portrayal of women. Many video games feature female characters that are sexualized, depicted with exaggerated physical features, revealing outfits, suggestive poses and behaviors that cater to the male gaze. This sexualization of female characters can have negative effects on women who play or watch video games, as well as on the gaming industry and society at large.
In this post, we discuss three reasons why female video game characters miss the mark with women gamers.
1. They reinforce harmful stereotypes and myths about women
Sexualized female characters in video games can reinforce harmful stereotypes and myths about women, such as that they are objects of male desire, that they are weak and submissive, that they are dependent on men, that they are irrational and emotional, that they are inferior to men, and that they deserve to be harassed or assaulted. These stereotypes and myths can affect how women perceive themselves and how they are perceived by others, leading to low self-esteem, body dissatisfaction, internalized sexism, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, sexual harassment and violence (Dill and Thill, 2007; Fox et al., 2013; Lynch et al., 2016).
2. They alienate and exclude women from the gaming community
Sexualized female characters in video games can alienate and exclude women from the gaming community, which is still dominated by men. Women who play or watch video games may feel unwelcome, uncomfortable or offended by the sexualization of female characters, which may not reflect their own preferences, experiences or identities. Women may also face discrimination, harassment or hostility from male gamers who view them as intruders, competitors or targets. These barriers can prevent women from enjoying video games, expressing their opinions, creating their own content or pursuing careers in the gaming industry (Burgess et al., 2007; Jenson and de Castell, 2010; Taylor et al., 2009).
3. They limit the diversity and creativity of video game design
Sexualized female characters in video games can limit the diversity and creativity of video game design, which can affect the quality and innovation of video games. These characters often follow a narrow and unrealistic standard of beauty, which can reduce the variety and representation of different types of women in video games. Also, sexualized female characters often play secondary or stereotypical roles in video games, such as damsels in distress, sidekicks or villains, which can reduce the complexity and agency of female characters in video games. These characters can distract from the gameplay, story or message of video games, which can reduce the immersion and engagement of video game players (Downs and Smith, 2010; Lynch et al., 2016).
Change is Coming
There is some hope for change. A recent study by Lynch et al. (2016) found that the sexualization of female characters in video games has declined over the past 31 years, especially in games rated for teen and mature audiences. The study also found that more female characters are appearing as primary protagonists in video games, which can increase their visibility and importance in video games. These trends suggest that the gaming industry is becoming more aware and responsive to the needs and preferences of female gamers, as well as more diverse and inclusive in general.
Sexualization of female characters in video games is a serious issue that affects women's well-being, participation and representation in the gaming world. It's time to challenge and change this practice, and to create more diverse, respectful and empowering female characters in video games. It's time to make video games appeal to women for their content, not their appearance.
Ultimately, it is all about balance. We should have sexy characters AND more realistic options.
Learn More About This Topic
If you're interested in learning more about the sexualization of female characters in video games, read the following articles:
- Dill KE and Thill KP (2007) Video game characters and the socialization of gender roles: Young people’s perceptions mirror sexist media depictions. Sex Roles 57:851–864.
- Fox J et al. (2013) The embodiment of sexualized virtual selves: The Proteus effect and experiences of self-objectification via avatars. Computers in Human Behavior 29:930–938.
- Lynch T et al. (2016) Sexy, strong, and secondary: A content analysis of female characters in video games across 31 years. Journal of Communication 66:564–584.
How do you feel about the current state of female video game characters? Let us know in the comments!