Thursday, May 7, 2015

Sexism in Video Games: A Culture War No One Notices

Most people believe that men are the primary or only game consumers in the world, but studies show that 48-50% of video game consumers are women, but this was not always true. When video games were first invented in 1952, they were mostly targeted to men. The advertisements during the time used action sequences and over-sexualized women to attract the young male consumers. When playing the video game, the disempowerment of the female character gave empowerment to the player, but the sexism didn’t stop there. Some of the most sexist stereotypes for women used in video games included Ms.Male characters (turning the protagonist into a women), damsels in distress, and over sexualized women. Today videos games are even more popular then back then. This new generation of video games has almost grown out of the original sexist ways, but improvements are still needed.   

The first significant game using stereotypes appeared in 1981 called Donkey Kong. This game featured the first damsel in distress in video games (that we commonly know of) named The Lady (later changed to Pauline). She became the template for an even more commonly known character named Princess Peach. Peach has appeared in 14 core Mario games, but is only playable in Super Mario Bros 2. This was because the Mario characters were written over another game named Doki Doki Panic that had four playable characters (Sarkessian). In 2006 Peach stars in her own game called Super Princess Peach, but her powers are stereotypical female emotions. In the game Peach can drown her enemies in tears, burn enemies with her rage, float with joy, and restore her health with calm. A similar character from about the same time was from the Legend of Zelda series. Her name was Zelda, but other than the game being named after her, she doesn’t get much game time. What sets her apart from Peach is that in at least two games Zelda is able to help the protagonist dressed as a boy, but is often captured once she changes back into a girl.

A Ms. Male Character is essentially a female version of the already created male protagonist. She is often differentiated from the male protagonist with stereotypical female items such as lipstick, high heels, jewelry, and makeup. Ms. Male characters first appeared in 1982 in the Pacman franchise. To increase their consumers, Midway added lipstick, a large bow, and a beauty mark (or mole) to the Pacman character design (Sarkeesian). The colors pink and purple are also often used to make a character female such as Boulder’s Girlfriend (Giant Boulder of Death), Amy Rose (Sonic the Hedgehog), and Candy Kong (Donkey Kong Country).

The last and I would argue the most sexist portrayal used in video games is the sex item were the female character is dressed in skimpy outfits and is over sexualized. This stereotype was created to attract the young male consumers. One early example of this is Princess Daphne from Dragons Lair (1983). When you enter the last room in the game you find Daphne locked in what looks like a big crystal ball. While telling you where the key to free her is located, she constantly makes poses and bats her eyelashes. Her outfit is a leotard with a v-neck cut down to her belly button (Video Clip). Though the gaming industry today has gotten better at adding better portrayals of women, history is still repeating itself today.

They most commonly used portrayal of women used by game developers today is the over sexualization of women. Games like Dragons Crown (2013) use large boobs and skimpy outfits to add a provocative aspect of the game often for the male gamers. I would argue this issue has gotten worse in recent years then in the 20th Century. Many gamers notice that their female character’s “chest seems to get larger with each new installment of the game while her clothing shrinks”(Tassi). This is often because game developers had less pixels to work with in video games' early days and today about 76% of game developers are male (Forbes). I do not believe that male's (and game developers) are always prone to sexism, but there have been recent incidents in the gaming community involving what some would call misogyny. Ubisoft, creators of the game Assassins Creed, were ready to release their 8th Assassins' Creed game in 2014 and told audiences that the game would most likely have a female version of the main character in multiplayer mode (Johnson). When the game was about to be released they decided against having a female player which caused a lot of backlash. Ubisoft replied to the hate saying: “It would have doubled the work on [animation and costumes]. And I mean it’s something the team really wanted, but we had to make a decision. … It’s unfortunate, but it’s a reality of game development.” Soon after their statement was released a former Ubisoft animator told people over Twitter "I would estimate [the animation] to be a day or two's work." (Johnson). Once Ubisoft saw the tweet they "retracted" their answer and replied: "playable women would mess up the story" (Johnson).
#womenaretoohardtoanimate? Thats ok #Ubisoft, women are hard to animate when you've never seen one. #MaskingMisogyny
— Cole M. Sprouse (@colesprouse) June 11, 2014

A less used stereotype/ portrayal used today is the damsel in distress and Ms. Male characters, but we do see it in games like Super Mario Bros, that continue to use their original plot design. Just like in Super Mario Bros 2 the new remake of the game for the Wii has 4 characters in story mode, but Princess Peach has been replaced by another version of the character Toad and is put back into the damsel role (Sarkissian). From other game developers, we see games like BioShock Infinite (2013) that do put women in the damsel role but gives her powers and abilities to help the protagonist, which is an improvment from its video game ancestors. The game developing community has shown further development from the old ways in the reboots of the Lara Croft series. In the new series Lara Croft is given real emotions like pain and worry, less skimpy outfits, smaller breasts, dialogue with women talking about anything else but men, and character development.

Videos games are often known to portray women in stereotypical roles, and though we have made progress over the years, we still have a while to go before men and women will be equal in the video game world, but that doesn't look that will come anytime soon. Anita Sarkeesian (the woman I got a lot of information from) came out with a whole series of videos talking about the sexist roles women are put in to in video games, and though it was backed up by lots of research, lots of people began making hate videos and articles about Anita's series and even threatening Anita's life. Despite these things Anita continues her tour talking about the problems in the video game world and was given an ambassadors award at the game developers choice awards, but game developers still have these "tropes" as Anita calls them in their games. This is most likely because people believe that video games are male dominated and there is no need for strong female characters, but I believe with enough support, sooner rather than later we will make a change in the gaming world.


---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Conclusion (updated May 27th, 2015)

My project, though it pertained to video games, was related to our digital citizenship class and life  because it discussed the topic of gender equality. I chose this topic because I feel like this sexism goes unnoticed do to the vast amount of online medias in the world today.  I felt I discussed my topic very well, giving lots of history and recent reports. I also added lots of imagery and videos to show examples of the inequality in the video game world that not only proved my opinion, but also kept the reader entertained. I believe I spent a long period of time searching vast amounts of media to collect research about my topic, but there was one article that the comments brought to my attention that I had never seen. It had some very good insight on game developers. Most/all of the comments agreed with my opinion but they also exposed me to how violence is associated with video games. My opinion did slightly change over the course of researching the topic. At first I believed that today’s video games were as sexist as the past, but I have learned that only a few parts of the gaming world today are as sexist as before, but this did not come from the comment section. It was mostly came from my research. I truly enjoyed the blogging experience. Being able to write in a more casual style allowed me to interact with the reader, which I believe really allows authors to get the reader more interested and “involved” with the topic. I also enjoyed adding/ finding videos that pertained to this topic and searching for all of the images.
In conclusion I think that my topic was really entertaining but relevant to today’s culture and I hope will/have impacted people’s outlook on gender equality in video games and in general media.


  1. Hey Josephine, that was a really interesting post. I agree with all of your posts and I found it very interesting that with all the criticism going to the game developers, they still continue to oversexualize women and do not allow them to be the main characters. I agree with you that it is time for change in the video game community and that women characters need to play a bigger part in these games. In addition, Time Magazine wrote an article about how sexualized women in video games is psychologically damaging and it increases the chances of women believing in the “rape myth”. How do you think this could change video developers minds about creating oversexualized women in their games? Thanks for posting- T. Flinderson

    1. Hey Toby! Thanks for reading my post! I really enjoyed the article too. I never thought to put the effects of the over sexualization of women in my blog and i'm glad you brought it up. As for your question, I'm not sure there is any way to change game developers minds, but things we can do to improve the future is:
      1. educate future game developers about equality for women and men
      2. Hire more women game developers
      3. Have everyone stop buying games that objectify women
      Thanks again - Josephine

  2. Great post Josephine! I really enjoyed reading about the sexism that occurs in video games. I thought that the videos you put in your post helped to support your argument and I enjoyed watching them. That first Zelda commercial was terrible! I agree with you that game developers should find a way to integrate female protagonists into their games. This article talks about if it really is difficult to animate women and it also goes over many of your other points in more depth. I don't play very many video games but I have noticed throughout the years that the fighting games do tend to have women with very skimpy clothing. I have also witnessed the damsel in distress character in video games. Thanks for informing us on this issue and great job!

    1. Thanks so much Mrs. Beanz! I am really glad you enjoyed and I am so glad that you watched the Zelda commercial. I really wanted people to see a concrete piece of evidence of the sexism in video games. Your article was very interesting to read. I really thought that quote by Joe Ubisoft was awful. I am also still curious why the game developers at Ubisoft suddenly were against animating a female protagonist. Thanks again - Josephine

  3. This is a very good article! The videos are a great supporting piece to your topic and I also think that video games are sexist and need to work on not sexualizing women and turning them into the sexually objectified version of girls and women we see in video games and even in normal social media. I don't think that it is right to not incorporate females into video games in a way that isn't unrealistic and sexualized.

    1. Thanks for reading Elle! I enjoyed reading your view and I totally agree! But I wonder, do you think sexism is worse in the media today or video games? I would argue it is worse in video games because of the stereotype that men play video games and women don't, which gives an excuse for game developers to objectify women in their games. Plus almost all men are game developers. Here is an article that supports this. Thanks again - Josephine

  4. Hi Josephine! First off, great job on your post. The quotes and videos you used really added to your blog and supported your position very well. I definitely agree with you about the sexism that goes on in the video game world. I do not play video games at all, but just judging from the advertisements for games that I see, it is very clear that sexism is a huge part of video games. I think you might want to look at this article on sexism in video games . I think it really supports your argument and is worth reading. Again, great job and thank you for posting. -Yasmine

    1. Hey Yasmine! Thanks for reading! I really liked your article, because it used lots of facts and quotes which really supported the author's opinion. Though I play video games sometimes, I don't often see ads for games. Is there any examples that come to mind when you think of sexist video game ads? Thanks again- Josephine

  5. Hi Josephine! I really like how you added extra things such as quotes, pictures and video it really made your article fun to read. I also really like this article because I have played a fair amount of video games to actually have a personal experience with this topic, so it made the article not just a very interesting topic but more of something that is personal and easy to relate. I am also curious to ask how many video game companies actually might be changing so they aren't so sexist? Great Job!

  6. Hi, Josephine! Thank you for a lively and informative discussion of women in video games who are portrayed as 1) over sexualized and 2) damsels in distress. I think you could easily add to these limitations to the roles of women with Sarkeesian's talk on feminist frequency about women as victims of violence--in many cases truly gruesome violence. This is seen as a logical consequence of over-sexualization and objectification, which continue even after death, as the victims are frequently posed in sexualized positions, something not normally seen in men's deaths. Are you optimistic about the decline in these portrayals of women as victims? Is there any data that shows a change? Thanks for reminding readers of the biases against women in this type of media.--Ms. Riches


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