While gamers have long called for more female characters in video games, another topic of debate is the actual representation of these characters. A common complaint about the representation is that women in games are often hyper-sexualised, with some characters being impossibly busty while others are dressed in incredibly revealing outfits.
A new study out of Indiana University has compiled data about this sexualisation, suggesting that while the representation of female characters in video games has definitely improved over the last few decades, characters are still overly sexualised. Find out more after the break.
Video Games Over-Sexualise Female Characters – Study
For the study, titled Sexy, Strong, and Secondary: A Content Analysis of Female Characters in Video Games across 31 Years, lead author Teresa Lynch (a media communications researcher at Indiana University) and the team looked at 571 female video game characters in games from between 1989 and 2014.
The study notes that hyper-sexualisation, which may include over-enlarged breasts/hips, nudity and narrow waists that are unrealistic, is most common in fighting games such as Mortal Kombat and in games rated Teen or above. The study says that this sort of representation has declined since 1995 though female characters continue to be objectified more than male characters and are often seen as ‘secondary’ characters too.
The report also singles out the Tomb Raider franchise as an example of how representation has improved over time. Although Lara Croft wore short shorts and a tank top in her 1996 debut, the character as we see her in (2015 release) Rise of the Tomb Raider wears trousers and outfits more appropriate for exploring the wilderness.
Moreover, the study states that just 3% of video game developers in 1989 were women and that 30% of the women in the industry’s workforce were in low-ranking positions. It also suggests that with 47% of gamers today being women, the fact that the video game industry still has problems with the representation of female characters could mean that developers and publishers are losing money by alienating such a significant section of their audience.
Lynch also tells PBS that “there is a dominant masculine preference and there has been toxic encounters that are gendered in nature. But the game industry has been very receptive in trying to involve more women. It’s having more open conversations [about sexism] than ever before.”
Blizzard’s decision to remove a sexualised victory pose from Overwatch perhaps reflects this change, while prominent members of the industry such as (Rise of the Tomb Raider writer) Rhianna Pratchett have also called for more ‘diversity’ in how characters are presented, with female characters not just being presented as ‘strong,’ with women also being antiheroes and antagonists.