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games research

Research 8: A Quick Check on Google

I am wholly unacquainted with the depiction of male and female characters in video games so while my research project has interested me, I was not totally connected to it.  Every research article I’ve read (I’m up to about 8 or 9) has said the same thing about female characters – they are hypersexualized and underrepresented (compared with the significant percentage of gamers that are women).  If there were major female characters in a game they had large (often unnaturally so) breasts, thin waists, and tiny legs and arms, or the ‘ideal’ body.

Last night I quizzed my boyfriend on his experience with video games asking if he has played a female character, which games have required it, and if he had the choice between playing a male and a female, which would he choose.  He pulled out a few Final Fantasy games to show me the women and there was one which required you to play a female.  Other than that, he said that the (COD) Zombie maps have a female playable character but you never know who you’re going to play.  So while nearly half of the gaming population are women, only 1/4 of the characters in Zombies are women.  Even when looking at the FF game brochure-story-pamphlet things, I noticed a trend in the female characters.  They were beautiful and definitely hypersexualized.  The one character had orange thong strings sitting over her incredibly short skirt.  I cannot imagine that outfit would be practical for just about any physical activity and I am very familiar with never dressing practically.  

Today I did a super quick Google image search for “female video game characters” and “male video game characters”.  I don’t know who is who or what game their from but there is an undeniable trend.  All the females were hypersexualized, whether in their dress or the extreme shape of their body.  On the other hand, all the males had very nicely rendered muscular bodies.  Surprisingly, some were rather scantily clad.  It is this lack of variety that is intriguing me and keeps pushing me back to the same idea: video games are the perfect experimenting ground for notions of identity (gender, race, sexual orientation, appearance, etc.)  There are designers creating fantastic, realistic, immense, and awe-inspiring environments but placing in those environments about zero varieties of being.  Why do designers feel comfortable creating previously unimaginable settings but not with creating different representations of human beings?  

During my research I am constantly drawn to this question but have not yet formulated a solid thesis.  I’ve got the facts down, but that’s about it.  Any ideas? 



One thought on “Research 8: A Quick Check on Google

  1. Here are a couple hypotheses.

    1. As commercial products, characters are designed to appeal to the market, so perhaps these images reflect market analysis of what consumers want.
    2. Games are designed to be fantastical rather than realistic.

    In these respects though, games probably aren’t that different from other images of beauty from photoshopped high fashion models to the plastic surgery, body doubles, and special effects of Hollywood stars.

    What might be interesting to examine are games that allow players to choose whether to be male or female and/or give players some customization options in terms of their avatar’s appearance. When you look at something like Second Life, which is more platform than game but allows for extensive avatar customization, pretty much everyone looks idealized/fantastical. You’ll see very few short, obese avatars. The same is the case with World of Warcraft characters.

    So, when we can, do we choose to create characters that look like us? like some idealized version of ourselves? like someone we find attractive? What informs these choices?

    Posted by Alex Reid | June 25, 2013, 11:48 am

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