Temple women open up about sexist video game characters

The sexualization of female characters in video games has real-world consequences for women.


Kirtney Metz, a senior communications major, started playing video games when she was seven years old after her dad bought her a gaming computer and has been playing games, like The Legend of Zelda and Call of Duty, ever since, she said. 

Despite the range of games she played growing up, there weren’t many female characters, and even fewer playable female characters, Metz added.

Women at Temple who play video games feel that the over-sexualized portrayal of female characters in video games is sexist and damaging to their own self image. They hope to see fewer sexualized designs and more authentic female representation in the future. 

“You have like, the side female characters but I don’t think I really got to experience like, women as protagonists in most of my video games growing up,” Metz said.

Metz noticed that the games she played, like League of Legends, tended to sexualize the female characters, she added. 

Video game design teams often sexualize female characters to make them look appealing to men rather than giving the female characters a more practical design, said Adrienne Shaw, an associate media studies and production professor who specializes in media and game studies.

Sexualizing female characters fosters sexist attitudes in both men and women and leads to increased sexual harassment, according to a 2019 study from Agressive Behavior, a journal with research on aggressive behavior patterns.

The camera in video games often lingers over women’s bodies and frames them in ways that draw attention to their butts and breasts, Shaw added. 

Tropes vs Women, a video series on YouTube hosted by Anita Sarkeesian, showcased the differences in the way men’s and women’s bodies were presented in video games in 2016, Shaw said. 

Many games, like Gears of War 3, use camera angles to keep the focus off male characters’ butts while other games, like the Batman: Arkham Asylum series, use a cape to preserve Batman’s modesty, Sarkeesian said in the video. 

Women’s bodies are not given that same courtesy and are often put on display for a male audience, with cameras focusing on the women’s butts, as is the case with Lara Croft in multiple Tomb Raider games, Sarkeesian said in the video. 

Amy Richards grew up in Indonesia playing bootleg versions of popular video games, like Pokémon, on her Game Boy Advance, she said. The few human characters that existed in these games were buff men.

“I never really looked for anyone, for any, like, female main character games, because I just kind of assumed that there wasn’t,” said Richards, a junior business management major. 

Growing up, these depictions led Richards to believe that she could not be feminine and cool, that it had to be one or the other.

“It made me look down on femininity,” Richards said. “I was very much a pink is gross, I don’t like wearing skirts, I don’t like wearing makeup,”

Now she has the option to play as a female character in League of Legends but despite the increased variety of characters, most of the women are still made to appeal to men by having large breasts and wearing tight and revealing outfits, Richards added. 

Some games, like Overwatch, are trying to provide better representation of women by having female characters from various countries and who have disabilities, but the developers do not always live up to their ideals, Metz said. 

Because many male gamers want to see attractive women in video games, the female characters are designed for sex appeal, leading men to view real women as sex objects instead of people, Shaw said. 

Activision Blizzard, the company that created Overwatch, was sued for sexual harassment by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing in July and employees staged a walkout in response to the company’s behavior, the Guardian reported

“[Overwatch] is a very inclusive game, it’s got openly autistic characters, it’s got women portrayed non-sexually, some women portrayed sexually, it’s pretty balanced,” Metz said. “But then they just got hit with a really bad sexual assault lawsuit.”

Learning about the lawsuit had Metz feeling torn, she said. She had spent hours playing Ovewatch and met friends through the game, but now she can’t play without feeling like she is endorsing the sexist behavior at Activision Blizzard.  

Sexual abuse and discrimination have been a common problem in the video game industry and the way women are depicted is a manifestation of that, Shaw said. 

There have been multiple allegations of sexual harassment and gender discrimination against companies, like Ubisoft and Atari, and specific creators, like Chris Avellone who is known for his work on various Star Wars games, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Metz wants to see more women hired at every level of the video game industry, from development to marketing. With a greater number of women in the workforce, their influence will grow and gradually lead to change, Metz said. 

“If you ever want proper female character design and representation in these games, you have to allow women to enter these spaces and it’s just not happening right now,” Metz said. 

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