JThe video game industry is booming, with global revenues expected to reach $260 billion by 2025. But as more games flood the market and big names like Google, Meta and As Apple prepares to enter the industry, gender stereotyping and the hyper-sexualization of female characters remains a significant issue that frustrates gamers.
Earlier this year, Sony Corp. released a game called Horizon Forbidden West, the sequel to its 2017 hit Zero Dawn. The games feature female protagonist Aloy who uses her skills and wits to navigate a post-apocalyptic world. Zero Dawn has sold over 10 million units, and Horizon Forbidden West is hailed as one of the best games of 2022. This proves that video games with a female central character who is not hyper-sexualized appeal to gamers.
So why do these games, despite their success, remain aberrant?
The guys get the best roles; girls have short skirts
According to research I conducted with Hager Jemel-Fornetty and Laura Lacombe, colleagues from EDHEC Business School, most video games on the market continue to diminish the role of women in society by creating scenarios that give the male characters the best roles, the most telling lines and the most exciting scenes. Meanwhile, female characters are stuck playing secondary and background roles and have less dialogue.
We also found that most video games continue to portray female characters as objects of the “male gaze” or the object of male characters’ sexual attention. Indeed, many female video game characters wear short skirts, torn or skimpy blouses, and have large breasts or buttocks.
For our study, my colleagues and I focused on two games: Assassin’s Creed and The Witcher. In Assassin’s Creed, 87.1% of characters are male, and male characters perform 90.2% of lines. The Witcher showed similar results: 83.3% of characters are male, and male characters perform 65.4% of lines. We also looked at the types of roles played by female characters in these games, and these were mostly stereotypical female roles such as nurse, cook, mother, babysitter, etc.
A precise vision of history? Company?
More interestingly, the video game players we surveyed told us that they accepted these stereotypical female characters because they believed video game plots represented a factual retelling of history. For example, suppose a video game is about the Vikings. In this case, players accept that there are fewer female heroes because they believe this is an accurate depiction of life in the 9th-11th centuries.
Of course, we know that’s not true. Women have played a crucial role in politics, culture and science for centuries. Even so, video game developers should not feel bound by historical facts. Video games are fictional and don’t reflect reality, so why do female characters continue to be overlooked? The answer might be that most video game designers and their bosses are male. Although more and more women are entering the field, the industry is under pressure to act quickly to create diverse teams.
Also read: Spain takes action to end gender stereotypes in toy ads
The players are fed up
The players we interviewed lamented the lack of interesting female characters. They admitted that they often select male characters to have better role-playing options and more fun to play. Players we spoke to said they preferred to play strong, aggressive, and heroic male characters rather than female characters portrayed as handsome, seductive, and weak.
More heroines, please!
We know from recent media coverage that there is a lot of disruption in the video game industry and that some of the biggest names are rethinking their hiring practices and storylines to bring in a more balanced representation of men and women. women in video games. Hopefully soon we will have more Aloys in the gaming world so that gamers and our society can take a more realistic view of women and their abilities.
Guergana Guintcheva is Professor of Marketing and Director of the MSc in Marketing Management program at EDHEC Business School. His research and his personal passion revolve around the marketing of entertainment (cinema, museums and video games).
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