On Friday, February 27th, the Center for Gender Equity hosted a Gender Equity Friday and held a discussion on sex and video games. There was free pizza and stimulating discussion in abundance.
The event began with some guided discussion: “What video games have you played? What were the characters like? What was the plot like?” People listed their favorite video games, discussing what role sex and gender played in the game. After that, a clip was shown of a Grand Theft Auto player soliciting a prostitute while utilizing first person point of view. At the end of the video he ran her over, shot her, and blew her up. Then, there was more guided discussion: “how did it make you feel?” The most common answer was: “Uncomfortable.”
A major concern of all people in attendance was the idea that video games either shape or reflect society. If young boys play this game, will they learn that women are worthless, easy, and disposable? Will young girls playing this game fail to recognize their own value? The most common solution discussed was parental guidance. Parents should know what games their children are playing. The general consensus was that they should be having an open discussion with their children about all the media their children consume.
Finally the guest speaker, Cronn Chavez, discussed some facts and figures about video games and representation. Cronn Chavez is a Sociology major studying video games and gender. He started with some facts about gamers themselves: 55% of gamers are male, and 45% are female. Women in the 18 and older group make up a higher percentage of the overall gaming population at 30% than boys 17 or younger, which make up just 19%. 54% males and 46% female were responsible for actually buying the video games. Females had an average of 13 years of gaming experience, while men had been playing 17 years on average. These statistics bring up some interesting points. Young men are generally shown as making up a great majority of the gaming population, and this is often used as justification for the non-inclusive and discriminatory nature of many games.
Cronn went on to describe the suggestive nature of the portrayal of women in games. Suggestive was defined by how few clothes they had, and how sexualized their pose was. In the 4th edition of Dungeons and Dragons, a tabletop roleplaying game, 44% of female and only 11% of men were depicted in a suggestive light. In MMO’s (Massive Multiplayer Online) games 76% of women appeared suggestive, and women were more often depicted as mages or rogue than as fighters. All of four card sets of Magic the Gathering featured more men than women, and all but one featured more women than men dressed and posed suggestively. He capped it off discussing the different reasons people gender swapped, played a different gender of character, in games. Men primarily did it to take advantage of other male characters, while women primarily sought to avoid harassment from male players. Before sitting down, Cronn confessed that he himself had been guilty of harassing female players in his Dungeons and Dragons campaign, and vowed to make a change.
When open discussion began, many women discussed their own experiences with harassment and bullying while gaming. Most women admitted that they had, regardless of talent and experience, been treated as beginners. Most people had either experienced, or knew of someone who experienced sexual harassment while gaming. It seems that not only are fictional women often treated poorly within video games, but real women are treated poorly while gaming.
The stereotype of the sniveling, basement dwelling boy as the archetype of a gamer is harmful to both women and men. It creates a world of games that alienate almost half of their audience by demeaning and overly sexualizing them. It uses women as props and backdrops, when they should be creating dynamic and interesting female characters. It also creates an atmosphere where men are treated as sexually repressed, socially inept, monsters with no understanding of human interaction.