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emmajani

emmajani has written 25 posts for ENG 380: New Media

Research Paper: “Video Games: Worlds of Limitless Environments and Limited Humans”

Emma Janicki
ENG 380
Doctor Alex Reid
28 June 2013

Video Games: Worlds of Limitless Environments and Limited Humans

Video games exist in the realm of the impossible: from the immense world of the Halo games, to the undead attacks of zombies in Call of Duty, to the God-stance of Spore. Players are immersed in heavily designed worlds that emphasize the boundaries of reality, such as the limited interaction one can have with one’s environment – we are barred from entering “Authorized Only” areas or intruding into other people’s homes. Within the diverse worlds of video games a major limitation of the dominant cultural ideology is emphasized through the depiction of hypersexual and passive females and hypermasculine, dominant males. It is troubling that while video games challenge the limitations of reality through playful and imaginative environments, they rigidly repeat traditional gender stereotypes and roles. More largely this suggests mass cultural ideology is inescapable because even when creating unlimited and fantastic environments, video games are limited to singular types of gender representation.

The reinforcement of the traditional ideals of female beauty occurs regularly in mass media and video games are no exception. Many studies of such portrayals of women in video games re-iterate the point that video games have “disproportionately thin characters with exaggerated female characteristics” (Jansz and Martis 147). Another article states that “Females were more often supplemental characters, more attractive, sexy, and innocent, and also wore more revealing clothing” (Miller and Summers 733). Finally, in “Big Breasts and Bad Guys: Depictions of Gender and Race in Video Games” the authors more explicitly state that “The physical representation of gender in the vast majority of video games is a close adherent to societal expectations of beauty. Women are most commonly depicted as having very large breasts, tiny waists, and full, pouting lips” (Dickerman, Christensen, and Kerl-McClain 23). If female characters are present and important in a game they are regularly shown as the ‘ideal’ woman – large breasts and little clothing. Jansz and Martis found when studying the portrayal of race and gender in video games that “Most female characters had large breasts (seven of nine; 77%) […] Buttocks also were difficult to ignore. They were particularly emphasized among female characters (seven of nine; 77%)” (Jansz and Martis 146). With all studies finding these depictions of women common, it seems that video games adhere to a single standard of beauty.

The repeated exposures to particular ideals of feminine beauty are internalized by players and are then manifested through increased negative feelings about oneself. Monica K. Miller and Alicia Summers write:
Video game characters have the potential to shape players’ perceptions of gender roles. Through social comparison processes, players learn societal expectations of appearances, behaviors and roles. […] other forms of media have been shown to influence self-esteem and body perception (Miller and Summers 733).
Unlike other forms of media however, video games are inherently more interactive. Players not only see female beauty as created by the media but play at it. Jeroen Jansz and Raynel G. Martis state that “Many video games enable their players to enact identities in the most literal sense of the word. Gamers can actually ‘be’ their characters in a playful virtual reality” (Jansz and Martis 142). Video games compound the problem of limiting depictions of female beauty as players both interact with and visualize ideals of beauty. When one views ideals of beauty in media, they internalize such representations and these become naturalized as the ideal body. Such naturalization creates, in the player, a specific set of standards by which one can judge oneself and others. Christopher P. Bartlett and Richard J. Harris conducted a study to determine how video games which “emphasized the body would increase negative body image” (Bartlett and Harris 586). They define negative body image as “a way of thinking and feeling about one’s body that negatively influences the person’s self-esteem, body esteem, and body satisfaction” (Bartlett and Harris 587). As ideology is internalized and manifested in negative body image, negative body image is then manifested in “psychological disorders, such as feelings of depression […] and anxiety […] excessively exercising […] dieting […] and having a higher probability of using steroids” (Bartlett and Harris 587). It may seem that simply playing a game cannot have such a negative impact, but because of the repeated exposure to cultural ideals, one cannot avoid internalizing them. Very few people fit the ideal, hypersexual female body insisted upon in video games and more largely in all of mass media, but nearly all desire it – albeit unknowingly. Indicative of this, Bartlett and Harris found, rather simply put, “that women participants, after playing a video game that emphasized the female body, felt significantly worse about their bodies” (Bartlett and Harris 597). Such pervasive and consistent representation negatively influences the gaming population by reinforcing rigid traditional gender stereotypes, rather than embracing the incredible diversity of human beings that exist and play video games.

Popular video games not only represent women as hypersexual beings but perpetuate traditional gender roles by the significant imbalance of male and female characters. Video games suggest that women are less important and less powerful than men simply by not showing an equal amount of characters of each sex. Williams et al. argue that “groups who appear more often in the media are more ‘vital’ and enjoy more status and power in daily life […] Therefore, measuring the imbalances that exist on the screen can tell us what imbalances exist in social identity formation, social power and policy formation in daily life” (Williams et al. 819). Williams et al. reference social identity theory, and although they do so regarding the underrepresentation of Latinos in video games, the theory applies directly to the underrepresentation of women: “According to social identity theory (Tajfel, 1978), this lack of appearance is a direct signal to Latinos that they are relatively unimportant and powerless compared to more heavily present groups” (Williams et al. 828). By not giving female characters an equal amount of appearance as male characters, video games are directly signaling to players that females are not equal to or as important as men – a stereotypical gender role. So, just how extreme are these imbalances? A study by Braun and Giroux in 1989 found that male characters were featured in 60% of arcade games, compared to only 2% for female characters. In 1991 Provenzo studied Nintendo games and found that 97% of the characters on the covers of 47 games were male, with only 8% being female. Dietz found in 1998 that out of 33 Nintendo and Genesis games, 30% did not have a female in a lead or secondary role, and if the game did have a female character, 21% of the time she was “in a submissive, stereotypical position”. Furthermore, Dietz found that “The other female characters were princesses or wise old women, typically in a position to be released by the leading male character” (Jansz and Martis 143). 67% of females identify themselves as game users but out of 49 games analyzed by Miller and Summers there were 282 male human characters and only 53 female human characters (Miller and Summers 737). Through both underrepresentation and submissiveness, female characters are outweighed by their male counterparts thereby perpetuating traditional gender stereotypes of the woman as weak and unimportant.

However, there are female characters with power. Jansz and Martis found that “Women and men were distributed equally in the class of leading characters (six women and six men) and women occupied a dominant position as often as men did” (Jansz and Martis 147). This is a much more optimistic finding than most research which confirms the trends of older studies. Although Jansz and Martis were able to find equality in video games it is not all positive. They state that “quite a few women became leaders in the games, but they continue to be presented in a sexualized way. As a result, these powerful women are depicted as sex objects as much as their powerless predecessors were” (Jansz and Martis 147). This push and pull between sexiness and power seems to replicate the modern confusion about women, following the feminist movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s. There is a tension between the traditional views of women as sex objects and the modern notion of the working woman. Video games seem unable to surrender to the state of the modern woman as a powerful bread winner. Certainly powerful women should not be denied their sexuality because of their power, but by portraying all powerful women as hypersexualized, video games suggest that all women and all powerful women are hypersexual.

Perhaps one of the most surprising and disturbing effects of the prevalence of female stereotypes in video games is the increased negative views of women male gamers have. It has already been shown that body emphasizing video games negatively impact women’s body image, just as other forms of media do, but such games also affect how male players view women in the real world. The first troubling finding of Stermer and Burkley was that video games often use sexualized content as a reward, such as Metroid which rewards players with a chance to see the female character (recall Jansz and Martis’ findings) in a bikini or Resident Evil 5 in which players can earn points to unlock a special, sexy outfit for a female character (Stermer and Burkley 527). Basically, this sexualized reward structure tells players that the male gaze is a reward for work done well. The objectified woman is given to any player who ‘earns’ it. Secondly, Stermer and Burkley found that when men played sexualized games, they reacted more quickly to sexual words and “were more likely to perceive women as sex objects” (Stermer and Burkley 528). They also found that men who played sexist games were more likely to believe that women are weaker, “were more likely to judge a woman’s cognitive abilities […] as inferior, and were more likely to evaluate a “rape victim more harshly” (Stermer and Burkley 528-530). Interestingly, like men, women who played a sexualized female character were more likely to judge a woman’s cognitive abilities as inferior (Stermer and Burkley 529). Finally, Beck et al. found that “sexual objectification of women and violence against women in video games do increase rape myths in male participants” (Beck et al. 3025). Rape myths are “prejudicial, stereotyped, or false beliefs about rape, rape victims, or rapists” (Beck et al. 3018). All of these findings epitomize what it means to perpetuate gender stereotypes – men see women as sex objects, as inferior, and as less sympathetic victims. Women are also inundated with these ideas, manifested in their beliefs about women and increased negative body image. The combination of the sexualization and underrepresentation of female characters perpetuate gender stereotypes as shown through the negative influence video games have on both male and female players.

Although the ‘real world’ seems left behind as one turns on their Xbox console, upon beginning a game, one is thrust into stereotypical depictions of men and women. Even in games in which cultural expectations are abandoned or perverted through situational violence or fully-developed imaginative environments, players are instructed that there are particular ways men and women are through character appearance and actions. Like female gamers are to female characters, male gamers are affected by the exposure to the depiction of males in video games. Just as all studies found female characters to be hypersexualized in appearance, male characters were depicted as hypermasculine. Similarly to the findings which showed women to have increased negative body image after watching body emphasizing video games, “male players may feel inferior after comparing themselves to unrealistically muscular and powerful male characters” (Miller and Summers 740). Barlett and Harris state that “Research has shown that media which emphasizes large muscles negatively affects males […] males and females of all ages are impacted by body-emphasizing mass media” (Barlett and Harris 586). Furthermore, “positive attitudes toward muscularity and drive for muscularity are both related to pressure from the mass media to change one’s body” (Barlett and Harris 587). Women are not isolated in the stereotypical depictions of gender in video games as males are just as stereotyped. Video games regularly depict males as violent, muscular heroes. Male players then internalize this ideal and if they do not fit that in the real world, they feel worse about themselves – just as women do about their own gender stereotype. Perpetuating gender stereotypes may not seem to be a ‘real world’ problem but because of the number of affects such stereotypes have on players, video games are quite literally pushing players into psychological disorders.

Whereas female gender roles are reinforced by non-action, male gender roles are reinforced through narrative structure. Sharon Sherman argues that “The games are captivating to males primarily because players compete with each other and with the machine to ‘save the princess’. They know this narrative well from multiple sources and are eager to actually become the hero in the tale” (Sherman 245). When video games call on players to save a female character, “traditional attitudes are reinforced” (Sherman 255). Sherman argues that the narrative structure of a journey to save a princess, kingdom, etc. recalls ‘narrating sessions’ which, through “traditional content elements and structures”, reinforce the idea that this perilous journey leads one into adulthood (Sherman 256). This recalls the sexual reward structure Stermer and Burkley described since upon ‘getting’ the woman, by saving her, the male character is rewarded with becoming an adult. In either case, such reward is disturbing. In the sexuality reward structure, the woman is his reward and in the latter, the woman is more of a stepping stone to a large reward. Either way, such narrative reward structures indicate to male players that their ‘journey’ is one of reward and female subjugation.

Interestingly, World of Warcraft seems to depart the most significantly from traditional gender roles and representations through the variety of humanlike avatars to choose from and the flexibility of gendered actions one can undertake while playing. What differentiates World of Warcraft from other video games may be the reason for this flexibility of gender: WoW is an enormous, seemingly infinite, world. No other game, whether it is a first-person shooter game, a PC game, or a puzzle game, allows players such freedom of action and identity. WoW is a massively multi-player online role playing game, or MMORPG, allowing players to immerse themselves in this literal world of war craft as any gender, appearance, or job they choose. Bonnie A. Nardi writes that:
Through the design of certain of the female characteristics, WoW provided a resource to reproduce a standard gender dynamic, the male gaze […] However, visually things were pretty tame. While the male gaze was sustained in WoW, in particular through the design of the Human, Night Elf, and Blood Elf racials, as well as some of the NPCs, and a few items of “kombat lingerie” […] for the most part, female characters were relatively modest. Other video games contain far more egregious body and costume designs […] And though males tended to like Blood Elves and Night Elves, WoW offered a range of female character types of varying attractiveness, again unlike many games (Nardi 159).
In terms of appearance, WoW creates an environment where representations of females depart from stereotypical depictions of women as having tiny waists, large breasts, and very little clothing. Furthermore, WoW allows for flexibility of traditional gendered actions. Nardi writes:
In ordinary life, many of these activities are associated primarily with one gender, such as cooking (female) or blacksmithing (male). In WoW, both genders engaged in them […] WoW offered players the chance to play at these gendered activities, allowing them to move back and forth across boundaries of male and female. Players chose activities because they made sense for the development of their characters […] This motivation obscured and downplayed, but did not remove, gender attributions (Nardi 171).
WoW is not perfect in breaking down the gender wall as there is, according to Nardi, a large presence of sexually degrading comments made between male players to female players and guilds which maintain strict anti-female player rules (Nardi 152-175). What makes WoW interesting is that, while players suggest the dominance of traditional gender roles in chatting, gender flexibility and a variety of human representation is present. Players of WoW are not limited to the rigid definitions of human being other games are invested in but are free, not only to interact with their fantastic environment, but engage in activities and roles not normally accepted. The male gaze may still be present in WoW but far less so than most other popular video games as both players and characters are able to exhibit their abilities in gameplay, almost genderless.

Upon reading such studies, one must ask why these representations of gender are present in video games. One article argues that “Although the majority of both males and females play games […], game manufacturers target a dominantly male audience […] Thus, games often emphasize violence and the attractiveness and sexuality of females” (Miller and Summers 736). Is this player-driven reason the true reason for gender depictions? Williams et al. suggest that “games feature more males and so attract more young males to play. Those males grow up and are more likely to become gamemakers than women, perpetuating the role of males in game creation” (Williams et al. 829). Perhaps these player-driven and developer-driven reasons are the reasons behind gender representation in video games. It is possible that male developers make what they think male players want to see. However, I am more inclined to agree with Christine Ward Gailey’s argument that:
Games played in a society embody the values of the dominant culture; they are ways of reinforcing through play the behaviors and models of order rewarded or punished in the society […] Play may invert the social order, or challenge the rules within a game format without fundamentally endangering the status quo (Gailey 81).
Such inversion of the social order occurs in the play environment of games as they depart from what is possible in the real world, for example through rapid transit, revival after death, extra-human abilities, and fantastic landscapes. However, the narrative structure of ‘hero’ games and gender stereotypes are modeled after the ‘status quo’.

Male and female characters are subjected to traditional gender stereotypes in video games through character appearance and representation. Female characters are regularly depicted as hypersexual beings with little power, especially because of their underrepresentation. Male characters are hypermasculine and often abide by a traditional narrative structure which rewards them with women and adulthood. It is easy to disregard such representations as unimportant in the ‘real world’ but they have real world implications. Both men and women, upon seeing these representations have increased negative body image and troubling views towards women. What is especially perplexing about the prevalence of such depictions in video games is that these depictions take place in other-worldly environments. The worlds in video games are imaginative and real-world-impossible environments. One level of Techno Kitty Adventure is called “Meat Pack” and allows the player to control his kitty through a world of meat while in Castle Crashers, gameplay takes place in a medieval setting. Despite having such a large variety of environments, massively popular video games rely on traditional gender stereotypes. Ultimately these representations of female beauty, male muscularity, feminine weakness, and male dominance affect players and suggest that abandoning cultural ideology of old, once internalized by game developers and players, is impossible.

Works Cited
Barlett, Christopher P. and Harris, Richard J. “The Impact of Body Emphasizing Video Games
on Body Image Concerns in Men and Women.” Sex Roles 59 (2008): 586-601. Web. 20 June 2013.

Christensen, Jeff; Dickerman, Charles; Kerl-McClain Stella Beatriz. “Big Breasts and Bad
Guys: Depictions of Gender and Race in Video Games.” Journal of Creativity in Mental Health 3.1 (2008): 20-29. Web. 19 June 2013.

Consalvo, Mia; Ivory, James D.; Martins, Nicole; and Williams, Dimitri. “The Virtual Census:
Representations of Gender, Race and Age in Video Games.” New Media & Society 11.5 (2009): 815-834. Web. 19 June 2013.

Gailey, Christine Ward. “Mediated Messages: Gender, Class, and Cosmos in Home Video
Games.” Journal of Popular Culture 27.1 (1993): 81-97. Web. 19 June 2013.

Jansz, Jeroen and Martis, Raynl G. “The Lara Phenomenon: Powerful Female Characters in
Video Games.” Sex Roles 56 (2007): 141-148. Web. 18 June 2013.

Miller, Monica K. and Summers, Alicia. “Gender Differences in Video Game Characters’ Roles,
Appearances, and Attire as Portrayed in Video Game Magazines.” Sex Roles 57.3 (2007): 733-742. 18 June 2013.

Nardi, Bonnie. My Life as a Night Elf Priest: An Anthropological Account of World of Warcraft.
Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2010.

Sherman, Sharon. “Perils of the Princess: Gender and Genre in Video Games.” Western
Folklore 56.3/4 (1997): 243-258. 18 June 2013.

Stermer, S. Paul and Burkley, Melissa. “Xbox or SeXbox? An Examination of Sexualized
Content in Video Games.” Social and Personality Psychology Compass 6/7 (2012): 525-535. Web. 19 June 2013.

Research 10: An Intro Idea….

I believe I have finished up with my research and am working on formulating my argument. I quickly wrote up this introduction to help get my head on straight and figure out what I want to say. Here you go:

Video games exist in the realm of the impossible, from the immense and fantastic of World of Warcraft, to the undead attacks of zombies in Call of Duty, to the director-of-evolution God-stance of Spore. Players are immersed in heavily designed worlds that emphasize the limitations of reality (will probably throw in a quote from McGonigal). For example, players have the ability to interact with practically limitless freedom with their environment, something one cannot do in reality (we are barred from entering “Authorized Only” areas or intruding into other people’s homes). While the worlds of video games are diverse, video games emphasize one of the most important limitations of realities: the narrow ideas that prevail in the dominant cultural ideology. American cultural ideology idealizes and video games depict hypersexual and passive females and hypermasculine, dominant males. Video games merely repeat the ideology of the dominant culture but in light of the beautiful, imaginative, and impossible play environments and situations which create a new reality, this is troubling. By only emphasizing and not presenting novelty, video games perpetuate the belief in traditional gender roles. In unlimited environments the lack of variety in the representation of humans suggests the inability of those acculturated in the dominant ideology to fully separate from it.

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.

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? 

Aech’s Identity – Gender, Race, and Sexual Orientation

Throughout the novel it seems pretty clear cut that Aech is a white male.

Then, we discover he’s an African-American young women, traveling in an old RV after being kicked out of her mother’s house for being a lesbian.  Huge surprise, of course.  Aech and Wade had bonded so well and to me, the language Aech used as rather ‘masculine’.  Now Wade had a triple-shock: his best friend was not only a woman, but an African-American woman, and a lesbian.   

However, here is a quick excerpt from the novel (I’ve picked out the most intriguing parts of it) as Wade finally meets Aech:

“A heavyset African American girl sat in the RV’s driver seat, clutching the wheel tightly and staring ahead.  She was about my age, with short, kinky hair and chocolate-colored skin that appeared iridescent in the soft glow of the dashboard indicators […] the numbers [of her Rush 2112 shirt] were warped around her large bosom.” (Cline 318)

 

“A wave of emotion washed over me.  Shock gave way to a sense of betrayal.  How could he – she – deceive me all these years?” (Cline 318)

 

“I let go of her and stepped back.  ‘Christ, Aech,’ I said smiling, ‘I knew you were hiding something.  But I never imagined…”

‘What?’ she said, a bit defensively.  ‘You never imagined what?’

‘That the famous Aech, renowned gunter and the most feared and ruthless arena combatant in the entire OASIS, was, in reality, a….’

‘A fat black chick?’

[…] ‘There’s a reason I never told you, you know.’

‘And I’m sure it’s a good one […] But it really doesn’t matter.'” (Cline 319)

I found this dialogue and Wade’s reaction to be very unsettling.  His description of her sounds like a rather ignorant description that would come out of the mouth of a poetic ethnocentric child.  He then goes on to tell her that “it really doesn’t matter”, but what is he referring to?  Her reason doesn’t matter or that her concealing her identity doesn’t matter?  Either way, both are problematic. 

Wade recounts Aech’s story saying “In Marie’s [Aech’s mom] opinion, the OASIS was the best thing that ever happened to both women and people of color.  From the very start, Marie had used a white male avatar to conduct all of her online business, because of the marked difference it made in how she was treated and the opportunities she was given” (Cline 320).  Wade then goes on to say that “We’d connected on a purely mental level.  I understood her, trusted her, and loved her as a dear friend.  None of that had changed, or could be changed by anything as inconsequential as her gender, or skin color, or sexual orientation” (Cline 321).

It was certainly very noble of Wade to decide to not be affected by Aech’s identity but that does not excuse the problems of these passages.  Marie suggests that OASIS helps women and people of color but it helps by allowing them to assume the identity of a more socially acceptable identity.  OASIS does nothing to help further the causes of social minorities; it only masks the problem. 

Then in a very pointedly noble move, Cline refers to aspects of one’s social identity to be ‘inconsequential’.  It would certainly be nice if they were!  However it is clear that for Wade and for the OASIS society, identity was highly important – despite the fact that nobody’s identity on OASIS could be pure.  People created their avatars and even in attempting to make them look like themselves, they are all only representations.  There are varying degrees of identity change in the virtual world, but Wade felt especially betrayed by Aech upon first meeting her because of how drastic her identity change was.  There was no hint of him feeling betrayed by Art3mis upon finding out she had a large birthmark on her face that she did not put on her avatar.  Cline and Wade make it perfectly clear that gender, race, and sexual orientation are not as inconsequential as an absent birthmark. 

It seems that Cline sought to make a positive comment on race, gender, and sexual orientation but the language of the above passages subvert all of his attempts.  I found this entire section to be disturbing and to be rather thoughtless in its message.  I am not suggesting Wade should not have been surprised to find out Aech’s identity, but he did not have nearly the same reaction to Art3mis’ birthmark or Daisho not being brothers.  None of this would be as problematic if Cline had not attempted to dissuade the problems by recounting Marie’s story about OASIS as savior of minorities or Wade’s sudden notion of the inconsequence of identity.  

Research 7: What happens to our self-esteem when we create an avatar?

Barlett, Christopher P. and Harris, Richard J.  “The Impact of Body Emphasizing Video Games on Body Image Concerns in Men and Women.”  Sex Roles 59 (2008): 586-601.  Web.  20 June 2013.

It should not be surprising that media affects self-image, often negatively.  Upon viewing ‘ideal’ bodies (for men, that means muscularity and for women, thinness) people feel less impressed with themselves and with long-term exposure their self-assessments are negative and can even lead to dangerous disorders such as anorexia or excessive exercise.  These results have been shown across all media outlets but the arena of video games has been left somewhat untouched.  In this article the researchers sought to find out if “playing a video game that emphasized the body would increase negative body-image” (Barlett and Harris 586).  While other media has shown to do this, video games seem to be more problematic as “video games (unlike television or magazines) offer an active role for players to become and control their video game characters.  This allows players to become more immersed, or become a part of, the virtual world” (Barlett and Harris 586).  Not surprisingly, both genders felt more negative about their body-image after playing video games, for only 15 minutes, which emphasized the ‘ideal’ body (a WWE wrestling game for men and a volleyball game for women).  Body image is comprised of self-esteem, body esteem, and body satisfaction.  All three of these are affected by the other two and can be affected easily by mass media.  People internalize notions of the ideal they are exposed to and then project their knowledge of their difference from that onto themselves through, often, harmful manners.  Like all other media, video games can have a negative impact on how people view themselves.

I am not entirely sure if this article will fit into my research.  But once again, I am still not exactly sure what my hypothesis is.  I am trying to limit it but it seems that the wealth of quantitative data is mixing me up.  It has been well hashed out that white men dominate the game industry in every way, from developers, to gamers, to characters.  Games tend to emphasize particular notions of masculinity (muscularity, heroism, and whiteness) and femininity (beautiful, weak, ‘bodacious’, hypersexual, and white).  Were I encountering a book that held such rigid standards of beauty and social identity I would probably be very perturbed – it would almost be like entering 1950’s pop culture again.  Why does it seem that those who play video games are not that concerned about this?  Could this perhaps be an attempt (unconscious of course) to enter video games into the mainstream?  It takes a hell of a long time for media to infiltrate conservative culture with ‘subversive’ messages (homosexuality and racial diversity to name a few).  Video games are a relatively new media so perhaps upon getting ground as a legitimate, meaningful media they can change their very traditional depictions of masculinity and femininity.

Research 6: Process Problems

So far I have done the assigned duty of writing five blogs about studies that I have read.  So far I do not feel I am entirely close to figuring out exactly what my thesis is.  It is still revolving slowly around the implications (maybe?) or reasons for (maybe?) the underrepresentation of female characters in video games.  It is also moving towards the underrepresentation of race.  Or perhaps I should go more into the consequences of and/or reasons for the overrepresentation of white males in video games.  I often feel that notions of masculinity are not a heavily researched topic, but I find it interesting.  While media is often targeted for projecting unrealistic ideals to young, vulnerable females, gender-types portrayed for men really are not dealt with to the extent they should be.  I recently saw a commercial for some shaving product for men and it explicitly told the men to look and feel the way women wanted them to.  Can you imagine if a female product’s commercial was so overtly encouraging molding oneself to the preferences and ideals of another?  (Of course they still do it, just not as directive.)

The articles I have read have given sooooo much statistical information about over and underrepresentation in video games but none have given much theoretical discussion or conclusions; most have simply stated that more research needs to be done to see what the implications are.  I think I may need to look into other media, such as television and advertisement, to get a better understanding of exactly what such representation leads to.  I find it particularly intriguing that two studies I read suggested player affected representation, the developers put in the types of characters players want to see.  Players both affect and are effected by characters in games.  Since young males are the main demographic of players, this makes sense.  Why do they want to see (primarily) heroic, white males?  That could be a highly interesting topic. 

Research 5: Big Breasts and Bad Guys

Christensen, Jeff; Dickerman, Charles; Kerl-McClain Stella Beatriz.  “Big Breasts and Bad Guys: Depictions of Gender and Race in Video Games.”  Journal of Creativity in Mental Health 3.1 (2008): 20-29.  Web.  19 June 2013.

Overall, this article touched on gender and race without delving very deeply into either.  After reading other articles this seems to simply re-iterate that which I have stated many times: everyone except white males are underrepresented in video games and this is bad.  However, for a moment the authors discuss the difference between gender depictions in video games and gender depiction in video game advertisements.  The other articles I have read used magazine articles and other advertisements to code video game characters and then analyze gender, race, age, etc. prevalence in games.  This raises the question of “How different is gender in video games from gender in advertisements?”  Video games are meant to be played while advertisements are meant to encourage purchases.  Perhaps games which seem, through advertisements, to have a low number of females who are scantily clad and weak actually do not, but only do so to encourage adolescent boys to buy the game.  Perhaps characters are almost made into caricatures of themselves because that drives sales.  I think this is a highly interesting question: What does the medium of the advertisement do to the medium of the video game?  Then of course we can speculate on the problem that scantily clad women in advertisements sell better than more conservative women, but that’s just a whole other devil to deal with.

Research 4: Consensus of Gender – Reasons and Implications

Consalvo, Mia; Ivory, James D.; Martins, Nicole; and Williams, Dimitri.  “The Virtual Census: Representations of Gender, Race and Age in Video Games.”  New Media & Society 11.5 (2009): 815-834.  Web.  19 June 2013.

In this very large-scale content analysis of the appearance of video game characters, the authors discovered that which has been supported by the other articles I have read so far: male characters, players, and game developers far outweigh female characters, players and developers.  Even further, this study analyzed the appearance of different races and ages to discover that racial minorities and the elderly and children were seriously underrepresented in video games.  Again, white male characters, players, and developers outnumbered their other gender, racial, and older/younger counterparts.  While this was nothing new to me by this point, these authors address the reasons and implications of this outweighing of one particular demographic than other research I have read.  They attribute the overrepresentation of white males in video games to both developers and players – developers make what the players want to buy.  Most authors seem only concerned with the effects of having so many white male characters but this article is also concerned with why such games are made.  Of course, they do heavily address the possibly implications of such representation stating that “measuring the imbalances that exist on the screen can tell us what imbalances exist in the social identity formation, social power and policy formation in daily life” (Williams et. al 819).  Furthermore, they argue that “Demographic groups of people who are not represented are slowly rendered invisible by virtue of their relative inaccessibility in the knowledge store” (Williams et. al 821).  Basically, this article suggests that it is important to develop more diversity in games, or at least further understand why there is not diversity in characters, because it directly impacts social identity formation and social power among current minorities (pretty much everyone that isn’t a white, young male).

I have primarily been focusing on gender in my research but in addition to the last article I read, this one posits some interesting information about the underrepresentation of racial minorities.  I often feel that gender has been a really hacked out scholarly topic, but interest in racial identity falls by the wayside (for the most part).  Obviously we have African-American Studies just as we have Women’s Studies, but feminism seems to be a much more colloquial thing than concern about racial identity.  At least in my opinion, anyways.  Perhaps my paper will be more involved with race than I had planned, but it seems interesting, albeit not much of the articles I have read so far have done more than give quantitative analyses of video game characters.  I need some more theory stuff! 

Research 3: Gender as Portrayed in Video Game Magazines

Miller, Monica K. and Summers, Alicia.  “Gender Differences in Video Game Characters’ Roles, Appearances, and Attire as Portrayed in Video Game Magazines.”  Sex Roles 57.3 (2007): 733-742.  18 June 2013.

Whereas the past two articles I have read focused on character portrayal in video games themselves, Miller and Summers address gender, appearance, and roles as depicted in the video game magazines for Playstation, Nintendo, and XBOX.  Interestingly, they acknowledge very infrequently the complications researching video games via another medium, the magazine, creates.  Towards the end they do acknowledge that the editors and authors act as filters for the games since there is no way possible for the entirety of a game and its characters to be discussed in an article.  Their research focuses on the appearance (physical appearance and equipment) and roles of gendered characters.  Overall, they found that males were more likely to be the main, heroic character while females were secondary characters.  Males had more weapons and abilities and were more muscular and powerful.  Females were portrayed as “attractive, sexy, helpless and innocent”, as they were scantily clad, weaker, and had less power and equipment.  Finally, the authors state that more research needs to be done to see how such portrayals affect children and adolescents, especially since video games are a highly interactive form a media, and less interactive ones, such as television and advertisements, play an important role in a child’s self-assessment.

Like the past two articles I have blogged about, I think this one will be useful in learning how gender is portrayed in video games.  Unlike the other articles, Miller and Summers are concerned about the effects of video games in the future, rather than how players interact with them.  Again, they recognize that stereotypes are highly prevalent in video games and seem to be disturbed by this (as I am!).