Final Paper

Anya Pearson

Objectification of Women in the Videogame Industry


Videogames, A method of play that was once thought to be specifically sought out by adolescent males. Something that was once considered a waste of time. Video games are now an extremely popular form of media, one that involves the player and causes them to partake in the media. A large portion of many videogames, not all, is the over sexualization and objectification of women. As videogames have become more commonplace and popular, women have become a growing demographic of the gaming populous, with 40% of all gamers in the United States identifying as women as early as 2009.[1]

It is interesting to see how games continue to use women as not the protagonist, but a sexual object to be used and abused in many games. Why not create more games that do no portray women as overly sexualized and victimized background characters? Games that allow female Non-playable characters to be more than objects, or allow you to play the game from a female perspective rather than a heterosexual male perspective? The effects of the overly sexualized female background character on society are damaging, they re-enforce ideas that female sexuality is an object of male pleasure, sensationalize violence against women. They take away female agency. The gender inequality and depiction of women in videogames is creating a gamer culture which re-enforces stereotypes of women and creates greater cultural issues surrounding them.

The Damsel in Distress is a common role for female videogame characters, and one that does not seem to be going away any time soon. Female characters such as Princess Peach in the Mario games franchise are continually playing the role of the kidnapped female victim, needing the male protagonist to come save her.[2] There is even a case of a game in the Star Fox Adventure series that was originally meant to follow a female protagonist, Krystal in her adventures. It was never released and turned into the Star Fox Adventure series, placing the male ‘Star Fox’ as the protagonist and moving Krystal into the position of ‘Damsel in Distress”.[3] It is a shame to see a strong female lead placed once again into the background role of victim, but it is not unexpected. In games where you are able to play as a female character the female characters are portrayed as overly feminine, having characteristics and powers that are undesirable compared to those of the male characters.[4]

Overly feminized characters are given lesser abilities than males, ones that directly correspond to their ‘girliness’. The qualities that are specific to female characters limit those character’s abilities. They are too dainty or delicate creating disadvantages for them and making them disadvantageous to play with. Therefore, even when female players are placed in the foreground, their stories are skills are still less than those of male characters, effectively placing them in categories of side stories, not the focus.[5] The roles of female characters in games where they are given agency and ability to be the protagonist of the game is overshadowed by the fact that they are still lesser to male characters in ability, forcing them to the outside and placing male characters in a more favorable light.

The inequality of abilities between female and male characters in videogames is a large issue of female portrayal, it strengthens the idea that men have more worth and strength than women. As noted above, videogames are an ever-growing media form that directly influences almost everyone in today’s society. Even if you are not playing, you see the advertisements for games in other media sources. Even if you do not think that media portrayals of gender are affecting you, you are most likely wrong. Gender ideals are directly influenced by what we see around us, especially in media.[6]

In the case of media, videogames are active engagement versus traditional passive engagement like television or radio, where you are simply listening or watching information being given to you. In the right hands, this form of active media engagement can be educational or informative. In the wrong hands, it can re-enforce stereotypes and sensationalize acts like violence against women. With this active engagement, the player does not simply see the act of violence or sexualization of women happening, they actually take part in it. They are encouraged to play their character through the story of objectifying women and performing aggression against them.[7]

Even in advertisement we see the over sexualization of women, long before anyone partakes in the game. In gaming expositions or releases, videogame manufacturers will have scantily clad women standing by the product in order to use sex appeal to sell the game.[8] In certain game advertisements like Hitman: Blood Money the overly sexualized bodies of women that have been murdered are used as a tactic to draw players in. While there are two different types of advertisement used, both male and female, the male characters are not splayed out in sexual positions in death as the women are.[9] So even outside the game, women are still used for their sexuality to sell the game.



Hitman: Blood Money 2006 Advertisements. The advertisement featuring a woman is overly sexualized while the ad featuring a man is just for shock value, he is not displayed in a sexual way.





In some games where women are not in the foreground of the game as protagonist players, they are merely background additions to maintain the aesthetic of the game. They are unplayable characters, or non-playable characters as they are referred to in the gaming world, which are used as objects as means to get ahead in the game. While there are both male and female non-playable characters in games, men are not sexualized and objectified the way female characters are. Female background characters are sex objects in games like Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption, their only programmed stories being to dispense sex and play victim.[10]

Videogames that use these sexually subservient tropes for women enforce the idea that women are sexual objects to men. Games like Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption and Saint’s Row even give points or achievements for sexually objectifying or performing acts of violence against women. In Grand Theft Auto, the player has the opportunity to sleep with female prostitutes to gain more achievements in the game; you then have the ability to murder the prostitute afterwards in order to gain back currency. In Red Dead Redemption there is a special achievement ‘Dastardly’ in which the player takes a woman captive and hog-ties her, leaving her on the train tracks to be run over. After watching the female non-playable character be decimated by the train, the achievement is unlocked.[11]

The fact that the game designers create achievements and awards for these acts against women is incredible. Even more the fact that there is little to no reprimand for the player when they are caught for performing the act, if they are even caught that is.[12]

The portrayal of women in videogames is very important. The agency-free background character whose sexuality is her only trait is a detrimental role for women to be playing in games. The treatment of women in these games and their over sexualization re-enforces gender stereotypes in those who ingest this form of media. This creates a negative view of women and leads to lower self-esteem in some women. Conversely, games with strong female leads that had agency and were not portrayed as overly sexual objects can lead to positive gender ideas.[13] And it is not just gender roles that take a hit from female portrayal in video games, but women in the gaming industry are increasingly discriminated against for coding and creating games.[14]

Not all video games are horrible forms of media that re-enforce gender discrimination and sensationalize the objectification of women. Many games are educational, informative and insightful forms of play that allow a player to grow and learn. Many games feature female characters who have agency and purpose, even appropriate attire. As the video game industry grows, so does the demographic that supports it. Women have become an increasingly large group that plays and supports the industry. It is important that the gaming industry can find a way to end this practice of objectification and sexualization of women in games, before there is too much damage done by absorbing the harmful messages they send to players.

[1] Belhm-Morawitz, Elizabeth and Dana Mastro. “Effects of Sexualization of Female Videogame Characters on Gender Stereotyping and Female Self-Concept.” August 1, 2009. Accessed April 25th, 2015.

[2] Sarkeesian, Anita. “Damsel in Distress: Part 1- Tropes vs. Women in Videogames.” Feminist Frequency. March 7, 2013. Video.

[3] “Damsel in Distress: Part 1- Tropes vs. Women in Videogames.”, Sarkeesian.

[4] De Ayala, Eugenia Zobel. “Damsels in Distress: Female Representation in Videogames.” March 6, 2014.

[5] “Damsels in Distress: Female Representation in Videogames.” De Ayala.

[6] “Effects of Sexualization of Female Videogame Characters on Gender Stereotyping and Female Self-Concept.” Behlm-Morawitz, Mastro.

[7] “Women as Background Decoration: Part 1- Tropes vs Women in Videogames.” Sarkeesian, Anita.

[8] Women as Background Decoration: Part 1- Tropes vs Women in Videogames.” Sarkeesian, Anita.

[9]Sarkeesian, Anita. “Women as Background Decoration: Part 2- Tropes vs Women in Videogames.” August 25, 2014. Video.

[10] Sarkeesian, Anita. “Women as Background Decoration: Part 1- Tropes vs Women in Videogames.” June 16, 2014. Video.

[11] Women as Background Decoration: Part 1- Tropes vs Women in Videogames.” Sarkeesian, Anita.

[12] Women as Background Decoration: Part 2- Tropes vs Women in Videogames.” Sarkeesian, Anita.

[13] “Effects of Sexualization of Female Videogame Characters on Gender Stereotyping and Female Self-Concept.” Behlm-Morawitz, Mastro.

[14] “Female Representation in Video Games: A Real Controversy in a Virtual World” Author unknown. 2014.

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