Representations of Men & Women

The potentially damaging depiction of gender in video games has been acknowledged by different scholars and institutes throughout the country, so extensive research has been done on the subject. Males are represented much more than women and almost always act as the hyper-muscular hero. Women are hyper-sexualized and usually play a supplemental role. Anyone who is familiar with video games knows that these results are not surprising. A survey done by Dr. Karen Dill, Director of Media Psychology at Fielding University, confirmed that “stereotypes of male characters as aggressive and female characters as sexually objectified physical specimens are held even by non- gamers” (Dill, 81). The main question lies in what effect these false gender portrayals have on children eight and under who are playing these video games.


Gender portrayals in video games as misrepresented as they are now didn't always exist. However, even in old arcade games, women were sexualized. For example, Ms. Pac-Man, an inanimate circle, was shown to be in a seductive pose on many machines. As technology advanced and video games evolved into more than arcade games, these games shaped into having notably masculine content. Sports and violence seem to dominate in terms of what games children are playing, even in children younger than eight (Strasburger, Wilson, & Jordan, 440). This labeling of “masculine” for these games begins the debate and questioning in terms of how these genderized generalizations are created. Video games were originally marketed towards boys, so this could be the potential reason that these games were seen as “masculine.” However, it probably roots much deeper than that, and the cause for the categorizing of “masculine” and “feminine” may never be known exactly.


In more recent years, these gender portrayals are starting to be challenged. Female protagonists in video games appear more frequently as time goes on, and “girls are moving closer to boys in their identification with heroic figures, adventurous achievement, and pretend aggression than previous data claimed” (Cassell & Jenkins, 109). However, just because women are being represented as the heroic figure, many of the same gender portrayals exist. For example, one of the most well known female protagonists throughout video games, Lara Croft, is still depicted in an unrealistic, over sexualized fashion. Throughout the different Tomb Raider games she has appeared in, she is scantily clad, and even her movements could be perceived as sexual. One more example to illustrate this point is the tag line that appears on one of the first Tomb Raider cases: “Sometimes a killer body just isn't enough.” Despite the clear presence of misleading gender portrayals, Anne-Marie Schleiner, a pronounced writer engaged in gaming and gender construction, looks at the arrival of female lead characters as the beginning of deconstructing some of these gender portrayals. She claims that, “the appearance of female heroines in computer games, albeit male constructions of femininity, can be seen as a first step…The second step would be for women and girls to begin to influence the construction of their virtual counterparts in computer games through greater participation in gaming culture and a higher level of involvement in the industry” (Schleiner, 1).



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Works Cited:

  • Cassell, Justine, and Henry Jenkins. From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games. MIT, 2000. Google Scholar. Web. 2 Dec. 2010.
  • Dill, Karen E., and Kathryn P. Thill. "Video Game Characters and the Socialization of Gender Roles: Young People’s Perceptions Mirror Sexist Media Depictions." Sex Roles: A Journal of Research 57 (2007): 851-64. Academic Search Premiere. Web. 2 Dec. 2010.
  • Strasburger, Victor C., Barbara J. Wilson, and Amy Beth Jordan. Children, Adolescents, and the Media. SAGE, 2009. Google Scholar. Web. 2 Dec. 2010.