Gender in Video Games

Through the many decades of the existence of video games, multiple genres have often portrayed women in a way that women should not be represented. Although the majority of gaming audiences are women who play games through their mobile device, the video game industry is considered male dominant and therefore targets the male audience. In most games, women are often considered delicate and extremely feminine, which often leads to becoming the perfect target to represent the role of the damsel and distressed. In other games, women are represented as sex symbols. In games such as Super Mario Bros, Mario constantly saves the princess of the Mushroom Kingdom, Princess Peach. Similarly, in the first Crash Bandicoot series game,Crash’s girlfriend Tawna, is kept as a hostage to lure crash closer to the enemy. In both games, the woman is considered a prize possession rather than contributing to the plot of the storyline. The male roles of these games are characterized as brave heroes in their attempt to rescue the fragile female character. Corresponding to the roles of women in video games, the game developers of the twine games such as Deador Alive Xtreme 3: Fortune Volleyball Game, used female characters playing volleyball to target the male audience by designing the women to wear very little clothing, have small waists, and attractive features. Not only were their features meant to attract the attention of men, but also their body language was very seductive. In twine games such as Depression Quest, although the main character is male and the one who is on an emotional rollercoaster, his girlfriend comes off as persistent when it comes to their relationship. She becomes outcasted by her boyfriend (the main character), just like how women are usually outcasted in a video game narrative. Overall, the common role that women play in games are boy crazy, seductive, delicate, seen as a prized possession, or unimportant.

Although women are sometimes created to become the main protagonist of a game, they are still created to have sex appeal in order to grab the gamers attention. For instance, the video game Tomb Raider, despite Laura Croft’s ability to fight her own battles and become the hero, she wears clothing that embrace her curves. In the cover for the game, she is wearing shorts and a tight top that shows her stomach. Realistically, a woman would not wear such an outfit when fighting battle. In video games, the masculinity in men are exaggerated as well. The male characters are often created to be strong, powerful, intelligent, and with a built feature. In the mythology action-adventure based video game series, God of War, Kratos is a male-dominant character who lacks emotion and seeks vengeance. In the game, his egotistic male dominance led to death of his wife and daughter. In Assassin’s Creed Unity, Arno Dorian also seeks revenge due to the death of his father and adoptive father. Arno Dorian was created to also be strong and skillful during combat. He has the ability to climb walls and jump off building, demonstrating the exaggerated masculine characteristics that are often represented in video games.

Despite the similar role women have played since video games were created, games have become a little more censored than games that were created in the 80’s. Custer’sRevenge was an unpleasant video game released in 1982 and created byMystique for the Atari 2600. The game was based on the American Civil War and shows the general raping an innocent Native-American for points in the game. Custer’sRevenge displays rape, racism, and pornography. Another similar game, Beat‘Em and Eat ‘Em, displayed pornography and was also created by Mystique in1982 for the Atari 2600. In the 80’s and 90’s the majority of men were gamers which is why game developers created games that target men. Today, the majority of women are gamers. Games that are currently being developed consider the gamers to be either male or female. The presence of women always existed in video games but were frequently outcasted in a narrative or hidden by the gaming community. New games such as Mirror’sEdge, Tomb Raider, and The Last of Us are led by a female protagonist which shows that the video game industry has progressed the roles of women. In older games, a female protagonist would not have been considered.

Gender in Video Games

Indie games and AAA games have many differences such as production costs, audience, and many more. They even differ in how they typically portray the different genders. Masculinity in AAA titles, for instance, tends to have an “in your face” approach where the protagonist tends to exert all forms of physical and emotional manliness. In AAA titles the men tend to be the strongest man in the world in all aspects. For example, Snake from Metal Gear Solidwhose big, strong, ripped, and has the overused gruff “manly” voice. In more indie titles, the creators are not as hesitant in going against traditional masculine values. For example, Unmanned, in which the main character who, although admittedly has the traditional masculine physique, battles with his own emotions and struggles with PTSD. In this game, the producers take a break from the idea that men must always be strong both mentally and physically and bring awareness to the fact that men are humans and have emotions. Women and femininity are also portrayed differently in AAA titles and indie titles.

In AAA titles women typically have their place as the “damsel in distress.” This can be seen early on in video games, like Super Mario Bros. where Mario, an Italian plumber, has to fight a big, masculine, turtle-dragon hybrid to save a princess and get her love. When women aren’t a “damsel in distress” in AAA games they are either hypersexualized or given typically masculine traits. A perfect example of this is Lara Croft from tomb raider who has all the traits of the classic male video game character but is instead a woman, this part of her character is highly emphasized through her exaggerated chest. In indie titles, production teams do not need to follow these typical qualities of women that AAA audiences expect, rather they can make their characters how they see fit. In The Uncle Who Works for Nintendo, for example, it’s hard to even tell the character is a girl until you reach dialogue where she feels weird about liking video games, which is usually viewed as something for boys. Some indie games make female characters actual people rather than a “damsel in distress” or a typical male character with a female skin.

Things are getting better for women in games. A good example is the Life is Strange where Maxine Caulfield, a female high school student, finds that she has powers to rewind time. Maxine’s character is believable as a female. Not that she is weak or feeble in anyway, the opposite in fact, rather she has characteristics and mannerisms often associated with female characters. This is not the only game that is showing progress for women. Going back to Lara Croft example, in more recent games, her exaggerated body has been altered into something more realistic. Lara Croft now is portrayed as a strong woman who does not have to be hypersexualized to be appreciated and respected by the player. One final example of women’s role in video games improving is in Grand Theft Auto Online. In Grand Theft Auto Online, the player can create a female character who is not hypersexualized and not constrained to typical masculine traits. Although the women characters still commit the millions of crimes that can be committed in Grand Theft Auto Online, crimes in which are often associated with men, there is no form of stress on the character’s gender. Although there are some improvements, the video game industry still has a long way to go in order to create good female characters who are both strong, but not given typical male traits.

Gender in video games

Women in video games are most commonly portrayed to entice male gamers.  To appease the male gamers, women are either sexualized or adapt masculine traits in the games. In arcade games such as “Mortal Kombat” the female characters are sexualized  with their large breasts and revealing outfits. This trend of sexualizing women is scene in other games such as “Marvel Vs Capcom”, “Tomb Raider” and many more.  Although there are still current examples of women being sexualized in games, over the course of time women’s appearances in some games have changed. Women are not always  sexualized in video games. In both AAA games “Horizon Zero Dawn” and “Assassins creed Syndicate” both female lead characters are not sexualized. One can make the argument that the women characters are visually attractive, but their conservative outfits show a diversion from the previous sexualization of female characters in games.  However, the female characters previously mentioned are still molded to appease the male gamers.  These female characters show masculine characteristics that overpower feminine traits. Just because  video game creators put a woman as the lead role does not mean that they are showing the female gender equal treatment. The creators of the game are just putting a female mask onto a male character.

At a glance, one can see that the treatment of women has progressed in video games since over the course of time. Games such as “clusters revenge” are no longer being produced. However, just because women are no longer the victims of violent acts such as rape in video games today, foes not mean that their roles in games have progressed. Women that do not take on a masculine characteristics are still portrayed as inferiors that need to be rescued, similarly to Princess Peach in Donkey Kong.  Regardless of the gender identity of the main character, the storyline of masculinity rescuing feminine characters is predominate in almost every game. An example of this can be seen in Horizon Zero Dawn. Although the main character is a female, she is raised by a rugged male character that trains her into the masculine character that she is. Her separation from her feminine traits, allows her to be the hero and save the everyone.  Just because there are more female characters does not mean that women are being treated better in video games.


Gender in Video Games

In twine games, female protagonists seem to be portrayed in a normal fashion and as characters who have agency of control like male characters in text-based games—such as in The Uncle Who Works for Nintendo or the cat-petting simulator—but can also play secondary roles in other twine games like Her Pound of Flesh, which objectifies an absent female through the heartbreak memory of a male. Likewise, Depression Quest considers only the emotional consequences of the male protagonist but not the female characters involved. However, women are also objectified in more subtle manners than the case becomes for the preceding 80s and 90s arcade, console, AAA, and PC games. Negative portrayals of women in text-based games only allow for imagination of an individual but some of the explicit graphics and sex appeal in the 80s and 90s titles paved way for a more intense objectification of women in video games. For example, the game company Mystique was one of the few video game companies that implemented sex appeal for lucrative measures during the 80s with Atari 2600 titles like Custer’s Revenge and Beat Em and Eat Em. In addition to being affiliated with an American pornographic studio that thrived during the 15-year Golden Age of Porn period (around 1969–1984), this correlation of national and international influence may partly explain why there was a rise in writing games that essentially dehumanized women in sexual manners since the 70s but failing with the 1983 crash of the video game industry. In the modern sense, there are traces of this influence through games like the 2003 Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball title (having sexually appealing female characters compete) and the 2005-10 God of War series (utilizing sex with women as a means of gaining experience points).

A similar case can also be made with the popularized otome games in Japan during the 90s, which were intended to function as love romance simulations for young male and females; however, even though women are the targeted audience, the goal of winning the desired partner also seems to objectify women as prizes to win in a game.

Moreover, women in video games commonly fall into tropes of a “Damsel in Distress” as proven throughout gaming history and  various franchises. For example, the role of the Nintendo female character Princess Peach epitomizes this trope; starting since the 1981 Donkey Kong game and the seceding Super Mario Bros. franchise, Peach is kidnapped and rescued by Mario in 13 of the 14 appearances in the Nintendo series. This video game trope may have been influenced by the popularized use of the “Damsel in Distress” plot device at the turn of 20th century media and literature—such as in the 1933 King Kong film, Edgar Rice Burroughs novel of Tarzan and the Apes, or the show Popeye. The plot device is referring to women who are in captive or dangerous situations and are rescued by capable male characters. In turn, the growing influence of these tropes may also reflect a shared opinion among the predominantly male-led video game companies of the late half of the century; this shared view may see virtual women as ideally subservient, objects of sex, or non-autonomous individuals that need to be saved by men.

As it relates to masculinity, developers seemed to be more inclined to implementing male heroes and masculine characteristics during the 80s and 90s; some male game developers of AAA titles for Nintendo, like Starfox’s Shigeru Miyamoto (the same creator of Donkey Kong), would intentionally re-write and re-design a game originally made with a female protagonist to a male-led narrative—this was the case for the unreleased Dinosaur Planet around the late 90s to early 2000s. The intent would become more obvious over the years when most video game titles leaned towards the typical male protagonist. Although female roles are primarily portrayed as secondary in most early and modern console games, there are also exceptions of female heroine protagonists that defy the gender roles in AAA titles like Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft and Horizon Zero Dawn‘s Aloy, whose capabilities parallel some characteristics that are typical of a male video game hero–such as being a solo but strong survivor or fighter.

Given the historical context of females in video games throughout the years, there has been slight progress with the use of dominant female protagonists becoming more visible not only through AAA titles such as Tomb Raider or Horizon Zero Dawn, but also through indie games like Life is Strange or Transistor. At the same time, however, there are still traces of female objectification through AAA titles like God of War or The Witcher 3. Given that women makeup the majority of videogame users today, the market could be more inclined towards non-dehumanizing portrayals of females in AAA, indie, or app games that appeal to their consumers; perhaps because doing otherwise could contribute to a financial disadvantage as it did in the 1980s. So, given that more video game companies have female protagonist-led and less secondary roles of focus, the times now reflect a much different portrayal of women than earlier “pixilated” versions.

Gender and Video Games

The female protagonists in the twine games featured on beachboard are largely lacking in proper representation of the female gender. Games such as “Slit Mouth Woman” show how little consideration is put into these simple-premise games as the process of ‘choose your path’ games tends to lend to short variation in story arcs for women. The trend is an appeal to sex, horror, or as a side character. AAA titles seem to hit the mark much better in this regard, but they still fall short. In recent video game history, the most notable character in popular culture  many would recognize is Lara Croft of the Tomb Raider series. She is portrayed as an attractive, but capable hero who can manage any scenario in her unorthodox profession. She challenges character norms about women in games as she is never reliant on others to complete a task in-game. Other characters such as Yuna from the Final Fantasy series prove that narratives that focus on single and multiple female protagonists do not lack in representation. Yuna is portrayed as powerful and the most valuable team leader in the series. The three titular characters who include Yuna and two women team members revitalized the series at this time and showed that as much heart can be displayed in a story led by women.

It is clear that there is a culture of hegemonic masculinity in the history of male led video games. The culture which purposefully distributes these ideas across different games and platforms lacks the ability to recognize they do so in an attempt to replace their diminished or lack of existing masculinity.  Men tend to be portrayed as having some positive ability whether it be intelligence, strength, sexual appeal, or some other advantageous character trait. They are perfect or in the process of being perfected as the role of the video game player is to make that character as successful in-game to the degree which they themselves believe to be successful in their own life. The video game serves the role of replacing the inadequacies that these players feel in relation to the characters they command in the games that they play.

Again, the women in most twine games are never more than a sexual object, a crazed woman, or a side character who does not have a longing affect on the main protagonist. The difference seen in AAA titles is that the title character is capable of being a woman who is driven and worthy of the protagonist title or the complete opposite in the worst manageable way that strays from the progress seen over the years. One reason why this might be is because these women exist simply to push forward the narrative and nothing more. Women definitely have a presence that cannot be denied and in their representation over time there seems to be a more inclusive community wanting to change the culture that would continue to place women in roles which are stereotypical in nature.

Gender and games

Female protagonists are created by mostly male developers to suit the needs of men, so they typically embody stereotypes in games like Leisure Suit Larry to the original tomb raider to dead or alive. Females are usually portrayed around their sexuality and shown by their looks. The time period of the 80s and 90s games were made to attract men to put in quarters at arcades or to buy a game for their Atari to their PlayStation. Women were portrayed in a way that men would ideally like, so the games would sell. Women in AAA titles occasionally get a little more attention. It depends on the women though in the new tomb raider Laura Croft is no longer a woman with an unrealistic body however she is still portrayed with many masculine features she can use guns to take out large amounts of opponents. Games generally are improving due to a larger female player base and females in the development process. Female heroin characters are more commonplace however they still display more masculine attributes in most games which over time may change. It may just be hard for developers to create a game with a female lead which doesn’t put them in a masculine role which can also be fun with a lot of playability. It may, however, come in the form of a strong story-based game. Some games like BioShock Infinite to the last of us portray little girls in a more feminine role however the main character must protect them.

Gender in Games:Ryan McGuirk

The female protagonists are portrayed primarily through their sexual value in both twine games and women in AAA titles. In twine games the sexuality is not as obvious or pervasive as the depiction in games like Leisure Suit Larry or Cum Guzzlers. Twine depiction on women is layered and not so in your face sexually. Their value is really determined by how they look and what they can offer sexually to the male protagonist or cater to the fantasies of the target male game player audience. There is a lot go irony in this given that women make up a large part of the gaming community and the commodification of sex is just tailored towards men and not women. This theme ties into the fact that the depiction of male protagonists in games is nowhere near as sexist as the depiction of women.
In both twine and AAA titles men are depicted as the strong, brave, and valiant leader. The man is constantly pursuing his next conquest, land, power, and in some cases women. The sexualization of male characters is a lot more subtle than women in these titles, the male sexualization is considered a natural occurrence and something that is expected rather than manufactured. The expectation is that men are gonna have sex and women will be attracted to them because of what they are doing rather than how they look. The women in these games are solely a manufactured fantasy of the “ideal,” woman.
The game players and creators feel these themes of masculinity are normal occurrences in male life, rather than examining the hypocrisy of the matter. On both sides, games create men and women as fantasies, women in Dead or Alive Xtreme, are portrayed as having tiny waists, big breasts and perfectly shaped bottoms. Men in games such as Call of Duty or the Fallout series are depicted as being in tip top shape, large men who are skilled in hand to hand combat, this is contrary to actual reality. Servicemen, or other members of law enforcement in large part do not fit into these categories, many are average build 5’9-5’11 180-220 LBS. While yes they are fit and skilled at their jobs, they aren’t these big men or in fire fights everyday. A friend of mine who was serving overseas in the middle east said it took him until his second tour to be involved in an actual firefight. Furthermore this feeds into the fact that these games are fantasy and a manufactured reality.
Women are often used as a foil/vehicle for sexual tension with the male protagonist. In many cases their role isn’t specifically defined, but they are used as mechanisms of trust and sign of stability for the male characters. In games like Call of Duty, there are missions which basically are sleigh the dragon and rescue the princess from the castle. Women aren’t given agency in games and their agency in large part is bestowed to them by their male counterparts. The power is bestowed upon men because of their superiority and how the “hero,” complex is depicted solely through them. The only outlier with this notion is Lara Croft and Tomb-Raider, had to be mentioned for the sake of the argument.
The era of the 80s-90s is reflective through the Arcade and PC games because of their pop culture backdrop. During this time Arnold Schwarzenegger was staring in the Terminator series, Jean Claude Van Damme was starring in the kick boxer series, Steven Seagal was in Under Siege, and Sylvester Stallone was starring in the Rocky series as well as the Rambo series. Here are 4 figures who provided young men from ages 12-25 their idea of the ideal man, someone who wasn’t afraid to put himself in danger, kick butt and walk away with the beautiful woman at the end of the movie. The development of these games provided these men the ability to pay homage to their fantasy and heroes growing up. Since the focus was on the male protagonists the female protagonists were underdeveloped and in many cases were depicted as the women in these movies. They were the attractive, damsel in distress who after getting rescued has sex with and rides off into the sunset with the hero.
For women in games it has gotten worse since their role is primarily sexual and there aren’t heroines with agency for change. The role of women has also stayed constant, it is expected that they are sexual beings rather than change agents. In large part this is up for interpretation, from my perspective this idea of women as sexual beings has translated into society today with the entitlement and ownership that men feel over women. They are expected to be sexualized and this fuels the ongoing struggle with rape culture today, a game like cum guzzlers depicts women as nymphomaniacs and some men get angry when women do not adhere to that ideal. If women were depicted as powerful beings, the societal interpretation of them would be different. They would be seen as having value greater than their sexual attributes, societally this is an issue that needs to be addressed. Scientifically games have shown to be effective tools in teaching, they should be tools that teach respect and valuing women, not degrading them.
– Ryan McGuirk