Here is a research paper I wrote for school on Sexism in Video Games:
Over the last few decades, the human species have done some incredible things. We reached the moon, we created the modern computer, and one of the most prominent forms of entertainment today: the video game. We have evolved over the years and created such a glorious entertainment. As well as evolve technologically, we have evolved away from horrid gender stereotypes. Women used to be viewed as the housekeeper, while the men were the breadwinners. Likewise in video games, gender stereotypes and roles in the industry such as protagonists and even jobs or appealing games have changed. Women are becoming accepted to be in higher job roles and even taking on more masculine characteristics. With video games, women are usually found being the damsel in distress, the voice-over sidekick, or the sex object. Throughout the past four decades, gender stereotypes as well as the cultural norms have changed through video games, and there is also a parallel trend from how our culture has come to accept the overall different types of people, in which as time goes by, we have culturally gone away from gender stereotypes and sexism.
Women in video games overall were uncommon in any strong position pre-21st century. One of the first time the lead character of a video game was a woman, but the catch was that it was revealed upon completing, and that was only if the game was completed in under five hours. That game was called Metroid. In the game, the playable character was a space bounty hunter named Samus Aron who fought against the Mother Brain and a bunch of space pirates, her weapon was, and still is, a gun. Back when this was made, in 1986, there wasnt another female protagonist, and if there was, they certainly wouldnt be shooting anyone. But at the end of the game, Samus took of her suit and revealed her true sex. The response to this revelation was complete shock in the audience. But the audience came to accept her through the entire game, thinking that she was a guy, even though she wasnt. There are mixed conclusions one could make, as the developing team didnt even think to include this until after the game was finished, but the series creator Sakamoto, even stated in 2004 that they didnt want the bounty hunter to become nothing more than a sexual object. (Sorice) Back then, women were only viewed as sex objects, and intentional or not, Samus was wearing a bikini. So as the start of women in video games were emerging, there were still problems, but at least Samus was not intended to be a sex object. Most other women who were in video games, were damsels in distress. One of the first and most famous video games was Donkey Kong. The hero is jump-man which we know today as Mario. Mario traverses the traps that Donkey Kong set up to try and save the damsel in distress, which in this case, is Princess Peach. She is completely helpless as she waves her arms around like a fish out of water, and outbursts cries of help because she needs a man to save her. Once you complete the third level, Donkey Kong falls to his dismay and there is a heart that appears between the two. Later on in the industry, when they began to star females in games, one female lead stood out from the rest: Lara Croft from Tomb Raider. She was in countless games where she is a treasure hunter. She gets dirty and kills anyone that stands in her way. The one problem with having a female doing this, was that she was highly sexualized. The industry still wasnt used to having a strong female lead, and many men wouldnt want to play this game unless they could look at her butt the entire game. Most images that you see of her from her first games, are her abnormally large breasts, her tight tank-tops, and her extremely short shorts. A writer at IGN says about the men who played Tomb Raider, But for others, as the series declined prior to Crystal Dynamics Tomb Raider: Legend, Lara Croft became symbolic of the video games prevailing failure to offer up real characters rather than cardboard cut-outs with huge guns/muscles/breasts. (MacDonald). The women she says viewed her as an iconic heroine, but the factor of how she was sexualized outweighs the factor of that she is a woman. So with the sexualization of women, and the damsel in distress helplessly flailing her arms away, women didnt have an easy time in the industry. Men in videogames had a lot easier time in the industry, with no one even questioning their position.
Men had much more of a common and easier time in the industry, such as being the lead role without any big fuss, but also were described as the one in power, with hyper masculine traits. The male in general was typically the guy who provided for the women and got dirty when he had to. Margaret Fuller describes in her essay The Great Lawsuit, The wife praises her husband as good provider, the husband in return compliments her as a capital housekeeper, (Fuller 22). The women in our society accept the men in charge. In games such as Max Payne, Halo: Combat Evolved, and the original Resident Evil, the male protagonists each had a female sidekick. The job of the female would be not to kill the people that stand in their way, but to give them information behind a desk, or just run around helplessly. In a game like Mario, it would be the males job to save the princess, similar to that in the Legend of Zelda. In most games pre 21st century, the male would save the female. The men in video games were typically described as muscular and overly strong. If you look at a game like Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter, the men in that game have their shirts off to the point where you can see the over-the-top muscles. Take Ryu for example, the most well-known street fighter. Every picture of him is him with a tough looking face, with a karate suit on, and either flexing or in a fighting stance. Every guy in that game on the character select screen has a tough looking face. Similar to what expert and educator Jackson Katz says in the documentary, Tough Guise. Jackson Katz says in his argument The front that many men put up thats based on an extreme notion of masculinity that emphasizes toughness and physical strength and gaining the respect and admiration of others through violence or the implicit threat of it, (Katz). That accurately represents how all of the male Street Fighters and Kombat warriors are portrayed. Although the street fighters are still disguised as this masculine pose, and women are still sometimes the sidekick, there has been several positive changes since the new millenium hit.
When the 21st century hit, there have been numerous changes to the bias that video games had in regards to gender and sex. Females are more common to be the lead characters and getting more dirty. Games like Uncharted, Final Fantasy, Gravity Rush, Assassins Creed: Liberation, all star females who arent afraid to get dirty and do things that are described as masculine, except the opposite sex is taking on these roles. Take Gravity Rush for example, the main character, Kat, has to defend the city from the Nevi, an unknown terror that rose up from the ground. Typically you would see a man saving the world from an alien attack, but in this case, its a women taking on the attack. She uses her gravity shifting powers to kill the Nevi. She kills, fights, and saves people. Countless times, she saves the rookie cop from trouble. Another lead female is one I have already talked about, that is Lara Croft from Tomb Raider. Square Enix is rebooting the series with a whole new look at Lara Croft, she is no longer a sex object that has men drooling over her when people cosplay. The first images released of the new Lara Croft were of a dirty female in jeans and a shirt. Ron Rosenberg, the executive producer was in an interview talking about the changes, where he said, Gone are her ridiculous proportions and skimpy clothing. This Lara feels more human, more real, thats intentional, (Schreier). This is a sign that people are changing. If some company who intentionally made Lara Croft into a sexy protagonist, into an actual and realistic human, there is so much other companies and we as a society can accomplish, and we can change. The change in who plays video games is a surprise. Typically the ones who would play the NES, or Genesis, would be the brother in the family. But starting in the mid 1990s, games were having more appeal. The Sims was a huge success among women and men. Kristina Benson says, even studies from the early and mid 1990s suggest that a large percentage of females play computer games for approximately 1-2 hours a week, (Benson). The console that were released in 1995 was the original Gameboy. Due to the complete lack of solid graphics, the blood and gore were merely pixel dust. Nintendo was releasing games that could attract both genders, like the Game and Watch Gallery. Today, women are seeing a lot more play time than 1-2 hours a week. The Electronic Software Association explores the growth of women gaming, as they say based on studies and statistics, Forty-seven percent of all players are women, and women over the age of 18 are the industrys fastest growing demographics, (ESA). While this might not have to do with the roles of women being the lead character, it does have to do with the variety of games. Mario has shifted away from just saving the damsel in distress, to games like Mario Party, Super Paper Mario, the sports games, and Mario Kart, all are games that you can play as Princess Peach and are genres that attract everyone. Not only are those games fun and violence free, but they are also games that encourage you to find a partner to join in. The guy in the relationship can now play a nice, friendly game with his partner. The changes in the industry have had a positive influence, as there is less controversy like in Custers Revenge, where the goal is to rape a Native American girl, and we are shifting more towards a less offensive and family game. Culturally, we are making huge steps in the right direction.
Gender problems through video games and through culture are growing out of pathetic stereotypes. Our culture has been shifting around a little bit, and there is a parallel trend from how video games are changing and how gender stereotypes are changing. For video games, when the games go from women being the helpless, screaming hostage, to a female described masculine hero, it provides hope that stereotypes dont need to exist anymore. When women are becoming the dominant sex in education, as more women are graduating, we can stop viewing them as just a sex object who lives under the stove. The industry is making games also more appealing to feminine characteristics, which leads for more opportunities for them to play, similar to how in the job world there are opportunities for both sexes. If we would take these trends and put them on a graph, the x-axis would be time, and the y-axis would be progress towards eliminating gender stereotypes, both lines would have the same slope going positive. For the future, this could mean a lot of things. We may see new series with female protagonists, we could see men being the sidekick, we could even see more women saving men as they are in the damsel in distress position. There is a vast open-world that we can take anywhere, and in a few years, the changes may even double.
Benson, Kristina. "Five Myths about Female Gamers Debunked." LA Weekly. LA Weekly, n.d. Web. 1 Feb.
"Game Player Data." The ESA. Electronic Software Association, n.d. Web. 1 Feb. 2013.
MacDonald, Keza. "Rewriting Lara Croft." IGN. IGN Entertainment, n.d. Web. 1 Feb. 2013.
Shrieier, Jason. "You'll Want to Protect the New, Less Curvy Lara Croft." Kotaku. Kotaku, n.d. Web.
1 Feb. 2013.
Sorice, Adam. "Samus Aaron, the Woman Within." Nintendo Dojo. Nintendo Dojo, n.d. Web. 1 Feb. 2013.
Tough Guise. Screenplay by Jackson Katz. Media Education Foundation. Film.