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Depiction of women in video games

University of Toronto, Scarborough MDSA01: Introduction to Media Studies Assignment 2
by

Rafay Khan

on 5 December 2012

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Transcript of Depiction of women in video games

By: Rafay K. Depiction of women in videogames University of Toronto, Scarborough MDSA01: Media Studies "You start to root for her in a way that you might not root for a male character." - Ron Rosenberg In the past, parents, journalists, and researchers have raised concerns pertaining to violence in videogames. This led to the establishment of a rating system for videogames, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). However nowadays, along with violence, sexualisation of women has become an integral part of videogames. In this essay, using psychoanalytic analysis, I will argue that depiction of women in videogames leads players to believe that it is acceptable to sexually objectify women. So how are women depicted in video games? Several studies have examined portrayal of women in videogames and discovered that sexualisation of women is not limited to games with age restrictions, such as those rated “T” (for teens- 13 and up) and “M” (for mature-17 and up); in fact it also expands to games with “E” ratings (everyone). In 2010, a study by Edward P. Downs and Stacy L. Smith examined 60 top-rated games on Nintendo GameCube, Sony PlayStation 2, and Microsoft Xbox consoles with T, M, and E ratings. Their findings were as follows: It is evident from the table that even the games with E rating sexually objectified women through their clothing and body proportions. In fact, games with E ratings, at 44%, had the highest percentage of unrealistic body proportion. This goes to show that players of all ages are exposed to sexually objectification of women through videogames. The answer to this question lies in the composition of gaming industry. Gaming industry is highly influenced by men, and even though women are employed, they tend to occupy administrative positions. According to the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), positions like writing and marketing, public relations, and sales displayed relatively balanced representation of females and males. However, a balanced proportion is not seen with decision making and content creation roles such as art, design, audio and programming where men tend to form the majority. (Bogg, and Julie 6) So why are women sexualised in games? Not only is gaming industry run by men, but it is also used mostly by men. According to the entrainment software association (ESA), men represent 53% of total players in 2012. Gaming industry, therefore, is “by men and for men”; men that drive pleasure by looking at female characters’ voluptuous breast, partially or totally nude attire, and disproportional body size. To appeal to male gamer’s desires; women in videogames are sexualised and hence become a victim of male gaze. In 1975, Laura Milvey proposed the concept of male gaze in her landmark piece, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. In her theory, Mulvey claims that heterosexual male characters are active subjects who view female characters as passive objects. (Mark and Brain 162-165) For example, consider “Prince of Persia: Warrior within” game. Here the camera zooms in and maintain its focus on Shahdee bare buttocks as she makes her first appearance in the game. Few seconds later the camera centres her body on the screen to direct players’ attention towards her partially nude body, especially her breast. Shahdee in this scene is positioned as an object to be watched by the male players. Direction of the camera in this scene was a conscious choice game developer made to introduce the female antagonist. Shahdee in this scene is not introduced as a frightening antagonist; instead she is depicted as a sexy warrior who came to fulfil players’ sexual desires. The heterosexual male players take pleasure from this scene as they watch Shahdee’s partially nude body climb the stairs as a catwalk model. Also logically, it does not make sense for a warrior to even dress in revealing and unprotected clothes. Not only will it be difficult to fight but, their chance of surviving the fight will be significantly reduced. To illustrate how tight and revealing clothing will affect women’s fighting performance; consider a re-creation of a fight scene by Rooster Teeth Production . From the video it is apparent that it was really difficult for the fighters to do much damage to their opponent; they spend most of their time shielding their naked body with their hands. This confirms that revealing and tight clothes Shahdee is portrayed in are not for her protection or to promote her power as a warrior or leader, instead are there to objectify her for male players. What about women as a main character? A misconception many have about female characters in videogames is that only supporting female characters are depicted as sexual objects. However, this is not the case with Lara Croft. Lara Croft is the main character in the Tomb Raider game franchise debuting in 1996. (Walker) Since she was coded, many fans argued that she is a strong female character able to overcome any obstacle with her boundless strength and power. There is no doubt that Lara is a tough, intelligent, and butt-kicking female character who is not afraid to conquer uncharted territories. However, Lara is still a subject of sexual objectification through male gaze and gender stereotypes. Lara’s unrealistically proportioned body and bust size, pouty lips, and athletic physique appeals to many male players, and to advocate her sensual physical characteristics, she is dressed in fitted tops and mini shorts. (Walker) Male players in Tomb Raider are offered to drive pleasure from Lara’s overly sexualised body constantly, as the game is a third person shooter game. In third person gameplay the camera is placed over the avatar’s head allowing players to see their avatar throughout the game. Thus, male players are constantly watching Lara’s body which only enhance the idea of Lara as a sex symbol. http://www.creativeuncut.com/gallery-05/tra-lara-croft2.html http://www.gameinformer.com/b/features/archive/2010/12/06/lara-croft_3a00_-the-evolution.aspx For some male players, sexualised Lara, as created by game developer, was not enough. As a result, her fans decided to create a patch called the Nude Raider patch. When applied, the Nude Raider patch allowed players to play Lara without any cloths for the entire game. (Walker) This proves that in the eyes of the male players Lara was only a sexual object designed to satisfy their visual desires and not a hero as the game claims. The new game in the Tomb Raider series, “Tomb Raider reboot” made significant effort to reduce Lara’s image as a sexy archeologist by changing her bust size, her ridiculous proportion, and skin-tight clothing. In effort to desexualise Lara Croft, game developer objectified her through female stereotypes. According to the executive producer Ron Rosenberg, “When people play Lara, they don't really project themselves into the character... They're more like 'I want to protect her.' There's this sort of dynamic of 'I'm going to this adventure with her and trying to protect her.” (SCHREIER) The notion of “protecting her” plays into the stereotypes of feminine passiveness and weakness. (Mark and Brain, 182-188) Game developers achieved this by portraying Lara as an emotionally unstable and helpless character who is faced with tremendous hardships to survive. Lara here is depicted as a vulnerable and weak female character unable to face the challenges she encounters, and “we”, the male players, are responsible for guiding and protecting her through her struggles. Such depiction of Lara disempowers her in the eyes of players because she is completely dependent on them to survive. This leaves players with a notion that the purpose of the game is to protect a “valuable item” named Lara Croft. Players feel distant from her as they are not able to relate to her and fail to understand her emotions. To them she is nothing more than an object which they have to transport from point A to point B. Objectification of Lara is even recognized in the game when a male character tries to rape her. The rape scene is shocking as it clearly enforce Lara as a sexual object and highlights her weakness and vulnerability. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lara_Croft http://www.thegamerschallenge.com/tgc/sexual-content-in-games-too-taboo-for-you-2/ There is no denial that videogames sexually objectify women, and with time and advancement in gaming technology, depiction of women seems to get worst. Yet, these games are sold in high volume which encourages and reinforces the developers to continue depicting women in such manner. This is a vicious cycle that will only deteriorate women’s image in the entertainment industry and make objectification of women a norm in gaming society. Unless, like violence, objectification of women is discouraged and/or restricted by the members of the society, repercussions of this in the real world will be unimaginable. “It’s not that male characters in games don’t have exaggerated features that make them more visually appealing – it’s that their exaggerations make them appear powerful instead of a sexual object.”
-ANDI ENNS Some may argue that Shahdee is not sexualised because she is depicted as a captain of the ship and exert power over her male crew. Indeed, Shahdee is a leader and in control of the ship, but even her male crew sexually objectify her. As Shahdee walks by her male subordinates, they stare at her exposed body fearlessly. Even when she places her sword on one of their throat, they continue to take pleasure by watching her. This instills in the players the concept that even at the brink of death, male characters are prioritizing female objectification over their lives. This shows that her crew is not afraid of her as she has no power over them. Thus, Shahdee’s power as a leader and warrior due to strength is stripped away and it is conveyed to the players that her authority lies in her physical features and that she is not to be taken as a powerful and fearing antagonist; rather as an object of visual pleasure. "Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry." Entertainment Software Association . 2012: 3-6. Web. 3 Dec. 2012.

"Lara Croft ." Wikipedia. Wikipedia, n.d. Web. 4 Dec 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lara_Croft>.

Bogg, Jan, and Prescott Julie. "International Journal of gender, Science and Technology." International Journal of gender, Science and Technology. Vol. 3.No. 1 (2012): 6. Print.

Brandon, Sheffield. "Opinion: Video games and Male Gaze - are we men or boys?." Gamasutra. Gamasutra, 29 2012. Web. 3 Dec 2012. <http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/173227/Opinion_Video_games_and_Male_Gaze__are_we_men_or_boys.php

Downs, Edward. Keeping Abreast of Hypersexuality: A Video Game Character Content Analysis. Diss. University of Minnesota, 2009. Duluth: Springer Science, 2009. Print.

Farmahini, Brandon , dir. Immersion : Fighting Girl Clothes. Prod. Burnie Burns. 2010. Web. 3 Dec 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwXdxRuk_Dg>.

Green, Gary. "Sexual content in games – Too taboo for you?." The gamers challenge. The gamers challenge, n.d. Web. 4 Dec 2012. <http://www.thegamerschallenge.com/tgc/sexual-content-in-games-too-taboo-for-you-2/>.

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Anniversary Art & Pictures. 2012. Creative UncutWeb. 3 Dec 2012. <http://www.creativeuncut.com/gallery-05/tra-lara-croft2.html>.

Mack, Robert, and Ott Brian. Critical Media Students An Introduction. 1st ed. West Sussex: John Wiley &amp; Sons Ltd, 2012. 1-72. Print.

Marie, Meagan. "Gameinformer." Lara Croft: The Evolution. Gamestop, 07 2010. Web. Web. 3 Dec. 2012.

SCHREIER, JASON. "You’ll ‘Want To Protect’ The New, Less Curvy Lara Croft." Kotaku. Kotaku, 11 2012. Web. 3 Dec 2012. <http://kotaku.com/5917400/youll-want-to-protect-the-new-less-curvy-lara-croft>.

Walker, Katherine. "Video Game." Portrayal of Women in the Media. Media Representation Group, n.d. Web. 3 Dec 2012. <http://mediarepresentation.wordpress.com/women-in-video-game-culture/>. Bibliography (Bogg, and Julie 6) (Immersion : Fighting Girl Clothes) Video Video
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