Here is an essay I wrote in relation to video games. This was for a Gaming Ethics course taken at Depaul University in Chicago. Enjoy.
Ethical Analysis: Video Games
Racial and gender stereotyping have both always been very apparent in pop culture and entertainment, even if they haven't always been incredibly obvious. While movies have always been guilty of stereotyping, other types of entertainment media have also been doing this. Video games are growing more and more popular with each passing year, and it is growing more apparent that these games also tend to follow a common trend of stereotyping both race and gender. Games are played by a huge spectrum of consumers. Young kids may play educational video games, while teens and adults play a heavy load of action oriented games. More and more young gamers are beginning to gravitate towards the big budget first person shooters. Games reach such a huge amount of people each year, and I really feel like stereotypes are being engrained into the minds of many growing gamers. If kids who grow up playing these games continue to have these stereotypes in their minds as they enter adulthood, I could see a big problem arising. If that happens, people will have a harder time not being prejudiced against a race or gender that they encounter in their lifetime. Using my Best Plan theory, which heavily relies on Act-based Utilitarianism, Virtue Theory and Kant's theory, I will provide a possible solution to this issue.
Gender stereotyping has been very apparent in video games. In 1998, a study on gender stereotyping was done at the University of Central Florida, which analyzed the portrayal of female characters in video games (Dietz, 1998.) The sample that was used in the study was 33 of the most popular Nintendo and Sega video games at the time. The female characters were split into four categories; heroes, sex objects, victims and feminine roles. Right at the very get-go, the study showed that 41% of the games had no female characters whatsoever, so there were no feminine roles. The study also concluded that 15% of the games showed females as heroes, 21% as victims and 28% as sex objects. So women were basically portrayed as weak victims, sexual prizes and not so much as the heroic action heroes that male characters usually have the honor of being.
Another study, this time conducted by Beasley and Standley (2002) focused more on the appearance of the female characters in video games, and have found alarming results. The clothing the characters wore was divided into three categories; sleeves, neckline and lower body. They also took into consideration the size of the character's breasts. Out of the 82 female characters that they reviewed, the female characters definitely showed more skin than the male characters. They had more low-cut clothing and showed a lot more skin than the standard male character. Showing skin also includes shorter sleeves and booty shorts. About 41% of these females had larger than average breasts, and there seemed to be no correlation between these characters and the ratings of the games. This means that since E-rated, T-rated and M-rated games all basically showed the same kinds of images, young children could potentially be exposed to these stereotypes really early in life.
In more recent games, a recent trend of Lara Phenomenon has arisen. Lara refers to Lara Croft, the Tomb Raider. This phenomenon sees that women are more often being depicted as strong action heroes, and while this is a growing trend, these women are still depicted as incredibly sexy, with gigantic breasts, tiny waists and revealing clothing. While this is a step in the right direction, this is still gender stereotyping. Would people still play Lara Croft: Tomb Raider if she wore a rain coat, turtleneck sweater or a clown suit?
Racial stereotyping in video games is just as bad, if not worse, than gender stereotyping. While not many studies have been done regarding racial stereotypes in games, it is still disgustingly apparent in this medium. Not only is it offensive and embarrassing, but I also feel like it's the writers of the games that get really lazy. Instead of fully fleshing out a character, they slap a race on them to fill in the gaps and force the players into judging the characters before they even have any part in the game. Looking at the big picture, minority groups such as Latinos and African Americans just don't appear as often in video games. A recent study on the content of games (Brand, Knight, Majewski, 2003) took 133 different video games from all the major gaming platforms of the previous generation. This platforms included the Playstation 2, the original X-Box, GameCube, PC and GameBoy Advance. They examined the game boxes, the handbooks, the introduction videos along with the first ten minutes of actual gameplay. They also analyzed the lead characters, and most characters were white. About 71% of the characters were male. Another study found more stereotypical results (Dill, Gentile, Richter, & Dill, 2005.) The results were gathered from 20 of the best selling computer games of 1999. They found that only 10% of the characters in these games were females. Around 68% of the main characters and 72% of the supporting characters were white. The rest of the characters were Black (21%), Asian (7%) and Hispanic (3%.)
In a lot of the games that I've played, I usually play as a white guy killing a lot of darker guys. If not darker guys, I have to defeat foreign guys (mainly Russian.) Showing a guy with dark features and having him speak in a Russian accent definitely means they're the bad guy. I have never actually played as a Russian character who was portrayed as the hero of a story. Of course, there are exceptions. In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, players take control of an African American character named CJ, who lives in the ghetto of the fictional city of Los Santos. Players take him from rags to riches and progress through the story as this complex, emotional, multi-layered and believable character. It made for a very interesting premise for a story, mainly because those areas have never really been explored in video games. Until that point, I've only seen both perspectives like that done in Cinema. I wish more games would explore these kinds of areas because it make for a more unique experience. Gender and Racial stereotyping makes for such a boring and overused premise. These stereotypes are an issue and I feel like they must be kept to a minimum in the future. Not only do these stereotypes create assumptions about different races and genders, but they can also be used to validate the position of the dominant gender or race in power. They just create prejudiced opinions and set standards for people who we have not met yet.
Since these stereotypes are a problem, there must be a logical way to solve or at least reduce them. My Best Plan Theory combined aspects from Act-Based Utilitarianism, Virtue Theory and Kant's Theory. Using my best plan, I will propose a few things that could potentially reduce the issue. My best plan enforces the concept of doing whatever benefits the biggest amount of people. In this instance, I think everyone would be happier if stereotypes were at least kept at a minimum. No one likes to be categorized or prejudiced against. If I could change anything about the current rating system, I would add stereotyping to the list of offensive contents listed in the warning box. If I were to write a rating box for a game like Saint's Row, I would write Rated M for violence, depictions of sex and drug use, and major stereotyping. This way, people could avoid the product if they really wanted to. If I were a parent of a minority group that is constantly being stereotyped, I wouldn't want my children exposed to such things. I would like the avoid it all together, and having it written in the rating box would make it so much easier to avoid. I would also be saving my child from the mediocrity of an overused, tired and formulaic product. My parents always bought me games and I never had any restrictions when choosing games, however I don't think my parents always knew exactly what they were buying me. I'm not sure my mom knew that in Grand Theft Auto you could have sex with hookers, sell drugs, and slaughter armies of innocent civilians. Even if she did, I'm sure she had no idea that the game would delve deep into such topics as race, existentialism and hate. If I were in charge Stereotyping should definitely be listed in the rating box.
My Best Plan also enforces the concept of love and care, which would be easy to apply into a video game. When I eventually take up a job as a game designer, my love and care for all people will shine through when I create my game. I think that games that promote hate and war are not always bad, but I do think that games should have more positive messages than they do. Sure it's realistic to make a war game in which every single main characters dies, but what kind of message does that give off? It shows the players the true nature of war; the brutality and the hopelessness. Would it be just as realistic if all the main characters survived? When designing my games in the future, I'd like to experiment with a lot of different things just to break through the mold. Wouldn't it be cool if instead of playing as the stereotypical white male action hero, we got to play as an elderly Vietnamese woman in the same role instead? My reaction to a game like that would be oh I HAVE to play this. I just think we should have more games based around positive things like art, exploration or education.
The gaming industry has already done a lot in terms of giving parents the power the choose which games their kids are playing, but I think more can be done. A good idea would be to put an M-rated game blocker on specific consoles. So, for instance, your kid isn't allowed to buy or play Call of Duty, so instead he borrows it from a friend and brings it home. When he inserts the game, the console simply won't play the game and he'd get a notification that the mature content of the game was blocked by the console and the parents would have a password on it to keep it blocked. That would be a win-win for everyone, mainly because I think young kids tend to ruin online games. Their constant screaming, high pitched voices and excessive swearing just makes a lot of gamers really angry and ruins the atmosphere of a game lobby. While my 16-year old self definitely wouldn't appreciate the password block, my current self doesn't think I was ready for the harsh world of online gaming communities before that age. Kant's theory enforces the concept of knowing something is morally right or wrong, depending on whether or not one would want that to become a universal law for everyone to abide by. If one stereotypes gender and race, is it okay for everyone to do so? Of course not. Especially when it's done through a medium that affects so many people all around the world; people that can and do interact with each other.
Another way to reduce the issue of stereotyping in video games is for gaming companies to have to present their games to groups of the minorities in question and have the groups decide whether the content within the games is offensive or not. That would really put the company in the spotlight, and I'm sure if they knew in advance that they would have to present their game to such an audience, they would be way more respectful towards every gender and race. I'm sure if the game developers had to present the game Dead or Alive: X-treme Beach Volleyball to a group of women, they would get boo'ed off the stage and it would save society the embarrassment of having such a stereotyping and worthless product.
In conclusion, while video games are quite guilty of having racial and gender stereotypes, there are way of getting around and reducing their impact on society. Warnings of stereotyping on the outside of the box would warn people about the game in question and would help people avoid products that offend them. Mature rated content blockers on specific consoles would keep underage kids off of M-rated games and would also in turn help satisfy the mature audience on those M-rated games. Last but not least, having game developers have to present their games to the groups of people who would be most affected by these games would help put it into perspective for the game studies, and they would be more respectful of other cultures and would maybe create products that are less biased and stereotypical. My Best Plan Theory really helps tie all these concepts together and would hopefully reduce the amount of gender and race stereotypes in video games
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J. C. (2005). Violence, sex, and age in popular
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