Summer Gaming: Sexism in Video Games

Sexism within the video game industry and gaming culture continues to be an issue. Although individual gamers and the gaming community as a whole may be positive and inclusive (like any other social group), a small and loud number of people are dangerous to women, as seen by GamerGate. Those fighting against this threat have voiced concerns that include challenges getting hired or promoted for jobs in this male-dominated field, sexual harassment in the workplace, offensive behavior at conferences or conventions, violent threats online, encounters with sexist portrayals of characters and plot lines, and many others.

Some researchers (like Karen Dill, published in Psychology Today, and Jesse Fox, published in Computers in Human Behavior) have studied the impact of sexism in video games on gamers themselves, proving the negative influence they can have for both men and women. The Times even reports that “a government-funded innovation agency in Sweden is considering creating special labels for video games based on whether or not the games’ portrayals of women are sexist,” displaying the concern other countries also have for these issues (http://time.com/3587853/sweden-video-games/).

However, other researchers have shown there is little to no negative impact, such as Bruer, et al in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, & Social Networking and Stermer & Burkley’s article, “SeX-box: Exposure to Sexist Video Games Predicts Benevolent Sexism”. As with any study and the interpretation of it there may be various flaws. What may be as equally important as this debate is how video games mirror views perpetuated in the media, TV/film industry, and other outlets in contemporary society.

Thankfully, many have come forward to steer gaming, and society, in the right direction. Anita Sarkeesian, founder of the non-profit Feminist Frequency (http://feministfrequency.com), is one of the more prominent voices who has been working to raise awareness of sexism while also praising progress. She has been named one of Time’s 100 most influential people (2015), received the 2014 Game Developers Choice Ambassador Award, and is frequently asked to speak at various conference panels or events. Her videos are not only entertaining, but they contain links to various research (studies, articles, etc.) and educational resources.

Some of the issues she has covered include the popularity of tropes such as damsels in distress, Ms. Male, Smurfette Principle, women as background decoration, as well as violence within games and discussions about her personal and horrific experiences with online harassment (including GamerGate). In addition to focusing on these problematic areas, she has also started a video series called Positive Female Characters on her site. So far, her series praises the Scythian from Sword & Sworcery (“it asserts that women can fill the role of the mythic hero as effectively as men can”) and Jade from Beyond Good & Evil (“a relatable protagonist who is defined by her professional talents, her altruistic convictions, and her bonds with friends”).

Fortunately, Sarkeesian is not the only one trying to help. In an article by Ian Sherr from CNET, Mike Morhaime (head of Blizzard Entertainment) stated that “a small group of people . . . [are] tarnishing our reputation as gamers. It’s not right [and we must] redouble our efforts to be respectful”

(http://www.cnet.com/news/blizzard-on-online-harassment-its-tarnishing-our-reputation-as-gamers/). Although this seems like a standard reaction from a prominent leader trying not to lose customers, the article states that many other companies have been silent, seeming to ignore rather than help solve the problem. Perhaps the influence of Sarkeesian and Morhaime can encourage others to support efforts to reduce sexism in the gaming industry.

Learning about this information over the summer has made me more mindful of some aspects of gaming culture and the prevalence of sexism within video games, which has led to one of my favorite game discoveries. Asking my husband to help me search out games we could play together (with capable female leads and an absence of objectifying appearances) quickly led us to Never Alone. This game is inspiring to me because it features a young, female protagonist and was developed respectfully and appropriately with “the traditional lore of the Iñupiat people” (http://neveralonegame.com/our-team/). Playing as an indigenous girl or her fox/spirit companion within the beautiful world of these Alaskan Native stories is educational, good for all ages, not to mention widely praised by Eurogamer, Wired, PC Gamer, and declared “Best Debut” at the British Academy Games Awards.

I am not a big gamer myself, but I have friends and family members who have fun being a part of this culture. And as my summer evenings playing games with my husband ends and the school year begins in earnest, I have continued to think about my buying choices and efforts people like Sarkeesian are making to end sexism in this industry as well as society. Because at the end of the day, everyone deserves to enjoy gaming safely.

By: Sarah C

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About Margaret Sloss Women's Center - ISU

The Margaret Sloss Women's Center promotes equity on the Iowa State University campus. Through a feminist lens, the center advocates for individuals and groups; provides support, referrals, community and programming; and maintains a safe space in the Sloss House.

Posted on September 10, 2015, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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