The Representation of Women in Video Games and Construction of Identity

The Representation of Women in Video games and Construction of Identity

The theme addresses the representation of women in games, as consumers / players of electronic games (computer games and video games, such as Xbox, etc.), or, as gamers. The theme is centered specifically on women’s profile and role in games (through game characters) and the role women play in them. Other topics addressed were gender issues and diversity related to social minorities (LGBT, blacks, Latinos, etc.) in the gaming industry and the impact of gaming on identity building. The primary research focus of the paper is to understand how women playing these games feel about women performing character roles that are made as sexual, secondary, supportive, and stereotyped objects – that is, the sentiment of women in response to the roles female characters have in electronic games.

The research also seeks to characterize the roles of female characters in electronic games, describe the profile of women playing games, identify female characters in electronic games and understand how to construct identity in this environment from there. There is also the observation of experiential factors such as the male favoring behavior of game developers, the sexist, stereotyped, and sexualized construction of female characters, abusive episodes of online experiences in electronic games involving discrimination, which correlate with existing theoretical and socio-cultural  approaches to the theme.

The theory behind:

Gender, feminism, identity, roles, stereotypes and social psychology.

The theoretical approach utilized is presented in a conceptual form as the topics of feminism and gender, and social roles and identity in their relation to the market and the gaming industry with consumers and the identification of these consumers with games. However, still within the same set of topics, the socio-cultural context is the one that is most present, taking much of the attention in the present theme. The research is divided between different categories of analysis, based on the speech of the characters in correspondence to the theoretical reference. First, the identification of these women is analyzed, the second category of analysis addresses gender issues while the latter deals with the games themselves.

The issue of identity was addressed by the way players identify with the characters in games, identifying which may or may not occur, but is the main factor in players choosing characters to play most of the time. Interviewees generally play with female characters because they identify as women because they prefer characters that are supportive or who attack from a distance (such as wizards and archers) and these characters are usually female, among others. According to the data from the interviewees, there is a preference for female characters when they can choose or create their characters.

Games use several elements that provide an identification of the player with the game itself, with the characters and the goals of the game. The aesthetic elements in a game do not present, in a “given” and immediate manner, the problems and challenges that will be experienced. This is determined by the player, who from there elaborates strategies to reach a solution. As much as the developers of electronic games create diverse possibilities, plots and personages, it is the player who decides what to do with them. Thus, an inference is made as to the choice of characters by the players, which occurs from an identification and demonstrates that the choice of the characters counts on them and demonstrates how they deal with the space of the game, exposing their subjectivities.

Based on the research, it can be seen that according to the interviews, all female players play more frequently with characters that do not enter the conflict (as supports), attack from afar (as marksman/casters), or that become invisible (as assassins/rogues). According to the interviewees, they prefer characters that do not attract attention, that stay away from the conflict and go unnoticed. In addition, female players also affirmed a preference for female characters whenever they can choose  gender and they show a predilection for the possibility of creating their own character, this being a female, because it is how they identify themselves – the only exception being when the only option is to create stereotyped female characters, which sometimes appears as an obstacle to choosing a character. Another important factor in the selection of female characters, besides identification, is that most of the support characters in games are female (which also reinforces a stereotype).

The issue of gender stereotypes was a common topic in the interviews. Without need of indagation, the interviewees initiated the subject themselves and made comments about the stereotyping of women as soon as they were inquired about their preference of gender for their characters. These female characters in games are observed by these players as represented in a standardized and unrealistic way, which correlate with the female stereotype in real life and that makes it impossible to identify with the characters and, for many players, have a negative and unpleasant impact.

In the interview, gender issues appear as the way respondents perceive female characters in games, experiences with female characters, and experience with other players (experiences ranging from bullying and other forms of discrimination to flirtation and treatment). Also by the preferences of characters and idealization of these. Reports on the sexualization and stereotyping of women.

The sexualization of women and female characters in games was perceived in all reports as present and conspicuous, some of them associated this fact with a reflection of reality that is justified by machismo, was also associated with the motivation of industry, capitalism and the fact the games are part of a “male universe”. For the interviewees, the sexualization of women is present in the physical composition and appearance in general, in the voicing and language (speech) of the characters, way of moving and sometimes in the personality of the female characters.

It can be inferred that such sexualization of the woman is a form of discrimination and oppression. The forms of oppression in games constitute forms of violence, in that it can be said that the form of violence in games against women are not physical, but symbolic. In order for the female identity to succumb to male subordination, they see them as objects and not as subjects, which also qualifies a form of abuse.

The way the women describe these characters is almost exactly the opposite of the way they see themselves, and this idealized view of women generates criticisms by the women about themselves (such as weight, height, skin color, personality). From this the strong influence that games have on the reality of these women and on the way in which they impose themselves as subjects, intrinsic in their subjectivities and in the construction of their identities, can be seen.

When regarding the processes of identification and how these women put themselves in the world as subjects, one can not fail to emphasize the characters that they choose. All of them affirm preference for support characters, stating that they like characters that nobody notices, or realizes the importance of, that always stay out of the conflict and away from combat. Characters of supposed “feminine” roles, which are characterized by the reception, care, fragility and male dependence. Roles which are also described as secondary and excluded from the field of vision, as rogues and invisible characters, recognized by them as “characters no one notices.” This way of placing oneself in the game environment, linked to the feminine preference, can be correlated with the way that women are led to behave in the game world (always hiding as a woman behind characters that will not be noticed, but always female).


Women Representation

The characterization of female characters was described and reaffirmed by the interviewees as previously predicted by the researchers of this project, in a manner consistent with the theoretical reference presented. According to the interviews, female gamers perceive the female characters as stereotyped, recognized by them as “typical women”, and sexualized, described as “totally out of reality”, where the female sexual characteristics are emphasized exaggeratedly, the use of sexual attributes of characters such as how they move and their voice, producing sexual sound effects, and the assignment of vulnerable roles (supports) and secondary roles to the female characters. These are factors that show that there is a deep exploitation of female sexuality by the developers of electronic games and also by the public player, affirmation that was confirmed by the interviews. The women in gaming environments are identified by such attributes and condemned to such an identity.

Finally, they stated that they did not feel represented and identified with the female characters, and discarded negative influences from this aspect, stating that they did not perceive necessity for, and even that they should not feel represented as women and should not identify. In this statement they were not distancing themselves from the image promoted by games but discarding and devaluing the possibility of women being properly represented in the games and identifying with the characters who live up to the real woman as a subject and not as an object.

However, for the researchers, when affirming that women like themselves should not be represented in games they contradicted themselves, because in comparing this answer with others from the investigation, one can observe hidden desire to be represented in the game. This fact is implicit but can be perceived when the respondents respond that if they could create a female character, it would be a reflection of their image; or indirectly, when the ideal female character is a reflection of the descriptions about themselves (a question initially asked when the interviewees described themselves). In this way, the desire of the players to identify themselves with the characters and the need of the women to be properly represented in the games is evident. In addition, these same women claim to have self-esteem problems and dislike themselves, especially regarding their appearance, which, to the researchers of the project, this negative feeling about themselves occurs as a result of the impact of games in the life of the players and the stereotyped and sexualized form that women are represented with in games.

The way they describe the characters is almost exactly the opposite of the way they see themselves, and this idealized view of women composes criticisms about themselves-not only in matters of appearance, but also about their personalities. From this can be seen the strong influence that games have on the reality of these women and on the way in which they impose themselves as subjects, intrinsic in their subjectivities and in the construction of their identities.

Construction of Identity:

Regarding the processes of identification and how these women put themselves in the world as subjects, one can not fail to emphasize the characters that are chosen by them. This way of placing oneself in the game environment, linked to the feminine preference for characters, can be connected with the way that the woman is led to behave in the game world (always hiding as a woman behind other characters, playing as characters that will not be noticed, but always female gender – which demonstrates the need for identification). The reserved form that women manifest in games with can be observed with the fact that although women make up about half of the consumer base of electronic games, they are hardly perceived in this environment (most consumers of these games believe women to be a small minority in their community).

In addition to the feeling about the way female characters are represented and the roles assigned to them, it was also possible to draw a profile of women gamers, how they present themselves as subjects in the real world and in the virtual world, in correlation with the real world. This also occurred with cultural interpellation, making possible the insertion of new analytical factors in the research, such as the distinction and recognition of different ways of being a woman in the world.

The analytical and in-depth view on the subject and the development of this research project can bring significant contributions to the academic community and society about the subject in the form of changing the reality to which women are submitted in the virtual world and consequently in the real world . The theme is important for lines psychology because the subject immersed in this environment has the game as a great influencer in the processes of identity construction as subjects.

Due to the accelerated and comprehensive spread of games, especially because they often are played and shared on the Internet, games generate new meanings and cultural, social and personal influences. Thus, like any cultural form and product of consumption, the game as art manifests itself from a political ideology that is often influenced by aesthetic and commercial interests, which are often influenced by capitalism and consumerism as vehicles for sexist, racist and discriminatory propaganda in general, and can be described as a form of symbolic violence.

Cultural aspects: The factor of the language

It was a factor of great importance, in addition to cultural factors, the linguistic differences among the interviewees, which was an observed factor with the Portuguese and English language during the analysis of the data about bullying and discrimination. This discrepancy is noticed when some of the interviewees, who live in English speaking countries, who when questioned about the treatment received when men discover in the games that she is a woman, have stated that throughout their experience as gamers they were never easily identified as women until the moment they started playing in voice chats. This fact was found to be common among the interviewed speakers of the English language and opposed to speakers of Latin languages, such as Portuguese. It is believed that this fact occurs because the English language is neutral while the Portuguese language has gender in articles, adjectives and nouns, etc., which act as indicators of the gender of the speaker, as they are changed.

Amanda Gontijo

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