Just what are you exposed to when you switch on your games console? You may have heard about the link between violent video games and kids getting into trouble but you might not be aware of the effect it has on your perception of gender. Video games are a powerful medium. More so than film because they are interactive, which means that the vast majority of computer games available today cause players of all genders to perceive women as helpless, sexualised victims.
Take Princess Peach, the fairy tale princess with a pink dress and long flowing hair, locked away to be rescued by our hero, Super Mario. Just like Peach women have always been given secondary status in which they are helpless victims. In extreme cases, and depressingly there are many, women are brutally attacked and murdered in sexualised ways in order to sensationalise a plot. How else will you get your money back from that prostitute in GTA V?
Why not include more female protagonists? You may have heard the line: “Well, games with exclusively male protagonists sell better.” The reality is that there are simply not enough games with female protagonists to make this judgement. Only 4% of games on average have exclusively female protagonists and while more have options to play as women they are only portrayed as alternatives to the male. On top of that, these games are given on average only 40% of the marketing budget of games with male-only protagonists.
Ever noticed Lara Croft’s boobs jiggle unnaturally as she walks? Women are consistently sexualised so they can titillate the presumed straight male viewer. The game developers are clearly forgetting that 52% of gamers in the UK are female. Players of all genders are exposed to toxic images of unnaturally sexualised women and they internalise the idea that these roles are appropriate for women. You might think you’re different. But if you add up all the hours you spend gaming you’ll realise just how much of your time is spent unintentionally absorbing myths about women’s secondary role.
It’s common knowledge that there is a stigma attached to being a gamer but for women prejudice comes from another source as well: the gaming community itself. Women are regularly harassed online by their male peers simply because they are girls and “girls don’t play games.” Misogyny is deeply rooted in the gaming community to the point where feminist speakers in the gaming industry such as Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian receive rape threats and are forced out of their homes.
Until women feature substantially as playable characters and not simply as victims of kidnapping or violence, and poor Lara Croft is given a sports bra, it is hard to imagine a world where gamers are not internalising harmful ideas about women. But until then, we can only spread the word. The next time you switch on your console have a think about what video games are teaching us about women.