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games research

Research 9: Boyfriends and Female Characters

Burgess, Melinda C.R.; Burgess, Stephen R.; Stermer, Steven Paul. “Sex, Lies, and Video Games: The Portrayal of Male and Female Characters on Video Game Covers.” Sex Roles 57 (2009): 419-433. Web. 24 June 2013.

Again, this article pretty much re-stated the other research that I have read and summarized many times. One thing I would like to point out that I found particularly interesting was this line: “One can only imagine what kind of effect playing as (or watching a boyfriend play with) a ‘curvaceously thin’ female character can have on a young woman’s self-image” (Burgess et al. 429). Another article I read emphasized the impact of seeing a depiction of the ‘ideal’ body can have on both men and women but this is the first to suggest the problem of the added complexity of watching a boyfriend (or further, any significant other) play a hypersexualized women. Not only is the female (we’ll make this a very general, heterosexual discussion) onlooker seeing the ideal, hypersexual, and most likely sub-standard (relative to the powerful men in the game) female character but she is watching her boyfriend play and derive entertainment from the game. This phenomenon would be super interesting to find research on! My notion is that this kind of passive on-looking could be more detrimental to a woman’s self-image than playing the game herself because her boyfriend is at once using the woman for his own means (double entendre intended), deriving entertainment from the game, and most likely is attracted to the character all while she (the girlfriend) is exposed to the ideal image and stereotypical depictions of the female character as weak, passive, and less dominant than her male counterparts (Burgess et al. 428). Furthermore, the girlfriend herself is passive and less dominant in the situation between her and her boyfriend. She watches him play, she does not. He chooses the course of action, she does not. She is reduced to an onlooker while he plays the gallant hero. This is a whole other arena of complexity, and I hope I can find more about it.

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Discussion

5 thoughts on “Research 9: Boyfriends and Female Characters

  1. People have been dissatisfied with themselves and jealous of others since the beginning of mankind. Look at Cain and Abel. But maybe the hyper sexuality in video games is taking this phenomenon to a whole new level. Instead of just catching your boyfriend staring at the waitress, he is actually interacting with the person (virtual, but whatever) he is attracted to. But girlfriends can yell at their boyfriends for checking out the waitress. Yelling at him for playing a video game that features an attractive woman wouldn’t be as acceptable. Therefore the feeling of inadequacy almost turns to helplessness, which also means major minus points on the self esteem.

    Posted by sccrdude540 | June 25, 2013, 1:30 am
    • Exactly. Further, the boyfriend is just interacting with the character, he becomes/plays/is the character (which may create a more complex reading of this phenomenon, but let’s not take theory too far). The high level of player-character interaction in video games enhance the effect of games on the player, and the onlooker.

      Posted by emmajani | June 25, 2013, 6:28 pm
  2. To this, I raise several questions: how is this any different than action films? Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Kevin Spacey, Tom Hanks–all are among our generations finest, but nobody wants to see any of them kick a badguy through a brick wall. Not to say that they can’t be heroic or iconic–and look no further than perhaps the most recognizable face in gaming, Mario, to find an example of their equivalent in the videogame world. Mario is a chubby, mustachioed plumber! If your focus is strictly limited to female characters then sure, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an example anywhere near as well-known as Mario.

    Still, it’s hard to ignore common sense, here. Why wouldn’t creators make good-looking characters? How is this an affront to players of either sex? If a girl is envious of some polygons on a TV screen then that seems like it could be as much of a jealously issue with her as anything else. Major minus points on the self-esteem?! I can honestly say that if I had a girl that would post up next to me and whup ass as Kratos or Solid Snake–both hunks, as Dr. Steve Brule would say–I would be absolutely THRILLED. The absolute last thing on my mind would be, “Geez…Kratos’ body is incredible, I’m really jealous that she’s looking at it…I’m such a skinny bitch compared to him!” You have to be so far inside your own head to be having those kinds of thoughts–I can’t even imagine.

    I realize that the “put yourself in their shoes” exercise is pretty rudimentary, but for the focus of this little snippet of research I think it works quite well. Point being, if tpredisposed sentiments of self-consciousness are going to manifest themselves regardless, but there’s hardly an inherent issue in videogames in this regard that deserves to be corrected.

    Posted by bretth2 | June 25, 2013, 5:43 pm
    • The thing is though that this is not conscious jealousy entirely. Of course there’s got to be moments when both men and women look at characters of the same sex and literally think “Damn, I wish I looked like them”, but this is not the full story. In many of the articles I’ve read they’ve found that simply after looking at idealized and hypersexual or hypermasculine (depending on the gender) video game characters people of both genders had increased negative body image. It isn’t likely that all the people being studied consciously recognized that the characters were idealized, just as people watching movies or looking at advertisements don’t readily recognize exactly what type of person (or rather the idea of people and culture that person is representing) they are being shown.

      Obviously video game portrayals are (pretty much) no different from action films, Hollywood films, or models in magazines (kicking it very general here) but that does not make it okay. People internalize depictions and representations that they are exposed to in media and this influences them, often in a negative way. This is nothing knew – this has been shown true across all media outlets. So my question is, why do you assume people don’t want to see Philip Seymour Hoffman kick bad guys through walls? The answer is probably because you’re not acculturated to that. People are used to seeing Bruce Willis and Jackie Chan or whoever being hypermasculine, so notions of masculinity are of that ‘type’ of man. Just as women often find thin women more beautiful in America because of the dominance and idealization of them in the media, men are drawn towards muscularity. (I’m re-iterating a summary of pretty much everything I’ve found in my research, what I know from experience, and previous lectures I have heard.)

      This is not just a video game problem, this is an across the board problem. What we see affects us. If all we see are hypersexualized women and hypermasculin men, that is what we internalize. We become acculturated to single types of being and those that are not that ideal (such as people who are overweight, a racial minority, or a masculine female, etc.) are outcasts. So again, if video games are so invested in created fantastic environments, why are they not as invested in creating fantastic human beings?

      Posted by emmajani | June 25, 2013, 6:27 pm
      • This is good stuff, and backed up by research apparently. I can’t say that my opinions aren’t based on anything other than my personal sentiments. Extending the conversation to the other forms of media satisfies me, in part, because I was starting to feel like gaming was getting an unfair shake with all these accusations of hypersexualization.

        Perhaps we’ve come to a chicken-or-the-egg type impasse, here. I acknowledge your point that it’s likely that most of these feelings develop unwillingly beneath the surface (rather than the example I drew up), but that still doesn’t change what I told you about my opinion of having a cute girl that loves videogames. I would legitimately be hype about that. Obviously, you’ve stated that it’s a fact that there a lot of people that don’t feel that way. So, the question now is: are people struggling with their confidence because of the images they are bombarded with in the media, or do the images they see in the media bother them because they have for a long time been struggling with their confidence?

        The answer, unfortunately, is likely somewhere in between. I’m sure that the increasingly omnipresent figures of ideal male and female bodies has to be triggering psychological effects to the negative in plenty of people. On the flipside, back in 1900 before TV and all that I’m sure there were plenty of people that were very self-conscious, so it doesn’t make sense to give today’s media this huge portion of the blame.

        I misspoke. I should have said, “No one expects” to see those guys whupping all this ass physically (even though we still usually view them as awesome). I’d DEFINITELY want to see Phillip Seymour Hoffman kick someone through a wall.

        Posted by bretth2 | July 2, 2013, 4:40 pm

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