Wilson explains negative portrayal, absence of females in video games

Emily Drinks April 1, 2015 0

Senior and Etownian webmaster Luke Wilson presented on the portrayal of women in video games, focusing on the underrepresentation and misrepresentation of many female characters as part of a computer science club tech talk last night.

Wilson used DotA 2 as an example of stereotypes in video games. DotA 2 features 110 playable characters. “It gives us enough characters to do some statistics,” Wilson said. Of the 110 characters, 86 are male, 18 are female and six are genderless.

“Gender representation isn’t just about the number of female characters,” Wilson said. DotA 2 divides characters into three categories: strength, agility and intelligence. Only one female character is a strength hero.

DotA 2 exemplifies a stereotype that many female characters in video games are portrayed as either not or powerful or have special training that makes them skilled or magical. Female characters are infrequently portrayed as characters with brute force.

Wilson differentiated between the roles of dominance masculinity and expertise masculinity. Dominance masculinity has the character’s power coming from brute force and size. Expertise masculinity relies on the character having skill or magic. Wilson said that female characters are “allowed to express expertise masculinity, but they have a great deal of difficulty giving them dominance masculinity.”

Women typically are portrayed as very feminine or sexualized. The damsel in distress trope, which occurs frequently in video games, features the female being in a position of weakness in order to put the male protagonist in a position of power. The trope began in Greek mythology with the myth of Percius. It became common in movies and cartoons, such as “Popeye the Sailor Man” and “King Kong.”

Nintendo began the trope in videos games with “Sheriff.” Donkey Kong, one of the more famous Nintendo video game franchises, increased the popularity, making this trope the standard for video games.

Characters such Princess Peach and Zelda commonly appear as side characters rather than playable characters. In only two of the main Mario Brothers franchise was Princess Peach featured as a playable character rather than the damsel in distress. Zelda, despite the game series being called The Legend of Zelda, often plays the damsel in distress or secondary character to Link.

Wilson added that masculine characters also play a major role in immersion games. “For better or for worse, people are into immersion right now,” Wilson explained. Immersion often occurs through male characters, such as Link in “The Legend of Zelda,” whereas females characters tend to be foils, plot devices or goals for the hero to save.

Even when some immersion games feature a female character as the protagonist, attention is still diverted from her. As in the case of the reboot of “Tomb Raider” games, the protagonist is a woman, Lara Croft; however, the gamer protects her from challenges she faces. “The audience is meant to feel like they’re protecting her from those,” Wilson said.

“There’s active pressure from publishers to continue this trend,” Wilson added. The game Remember Me received pressure to change gender of protagonist from a female to a male. Naughty Dog fought to have a female on the front of their video game box.

Some female protagonists do get a spotlight and have dominance masculinity. Samus Aran exemplifies this; however, she also has been changed due to pressure. “They also elected to give her heels in the new ‘Super Smash Brothers’ so that she’d be more sexualized,” Wilson said.

He concluded by stating that sexism in video games should not be a reason to not enjoy them, but people should be aware of the issue. “There’s a middle ground between completely ignoring them and acting like they’re not issues and stopping you from liking them,” Wilson said.


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