Woman Blasts Down Video Game Stereotypes


UPDATE: Critic reviews say Horizon: Zero Dawn is a masterpiece for character development. Sony’s new game will release on February 28, 2017.

In the shadow of The Women’s March on Washington, one woman wants to bring attention to female stereotypes in the world of video games.

Woman playing a first person shooter video game at an event. Courtesy of Flickr.

“My wife doesn’t have the same interest in playing video games as I do. When she does play games, it’s more for the sake of hanging out,” says Professor John Weatherford of the Grady College New Media Institute.

Weatherford’s wife is an example of a casual player. But the stereotype that most women are non-gamers raises issues for the smaller percentile of women who do enjoy playing games.

Sierra Hubbard is one woman who breaks the stereotype, and she says, “It’s frustrating. It’s not fair to say most girls who play video games are casual gamers. Casual gamers are people, men or women, who just don’t play many video games.”

Poster art for Square Enix’s video game, Rise of the Tomb Raider, featuring Lara Croft, as showcased before its release in 2015. Courtesy of Flickr.

In a traditional online video game forum, it’s common-place to hear expletives being thrown back and forth amidst the sound of gunfire. Non-gamers would be outraged to hear the words that kids yell at each other and into their microphones. But the women who are largely outnumbered by men in massive online games are treated differently when their voice is heard.

“I’d keep my microphone off because people treat you differently if  you’re a chick,” says Hubbard. “If I talked in a chat while playing Halo, people would crack a joke and it’s like walking on eggshells. As long as I kept my mic off, I was treated like the rest of the male gamers because they didn’t know I was a woman.”

Hubbard says that female gamers are frequently objectified in online gaming forums, and numerous video games have depicted female characters in sexual ways.

Karen E. Dill and Kathryn P. Thill’s book, Sex Roles gives evidence that “female characters are more likely than male characters to be portrayed as sexualized, scantily clad, and as showing a mix of sex and aggression.”

Screen capture of Sony’s Horizon: Zero Dawn gameplay, featuring lead female character, Aloy. Courtesy of Flickr

“The gaming industry has gotten a lot better about how they depict women in video games,” says Hubbard. “They’re not created out of sex appeal as much now. It helps that new games like Rise of the Tomb Raider and Horizon: Zero Dawn feature female protagonists.”

Tomb Raider is a video game series that has been known for its over-objectification of the lead character, Lara Croft, but the latest installment to the franchise includes less eye-candy.

Paul Tassi, a journalist who specializes in reporting on video games, outlines the progressive steps made towards the neutralization of Lara Croft as a character.

Lara Croft character design as seen in Tomb Raider 2013. Courtesy of Flickr

According to Tassi “butt-focused camera shots” are a prime example of sexism in games, but are not as present in the latest Tomb Raider video game.

Butt-focused camera shots were present in the first Tomb Raider reboot game released in 2013. Upon climbing a ladder, the camera would angle itself under the female character (left), in clear view of her lower torso.

The long term effect of The Women’s March on the female video game stereotype is yet to be seen. Hubbard says, “The Women’s March might not have been enough of a social movement to make politics bleed into video games.”

While Hubbard says that women stereotypes are present in video games, game developers hold the responsibility of making less sexualized characters in the future.

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