Gender & Power in Video Games: Questions on Social Control

I. Abstract

Most people can relate to videogames, having been gamers themselves at some point of time, or just passive observers. However, the influential aspect of these videogames is often ignored by the individual and the society. This paper seeks to examine the social consequences of game play, and how they have the potential to advocate stereotyping. This paper will argue how not only women, but also men, are victims of social control.

II. Introduction

"Technology is permeating every single thing we do... And to the extent that we can better expose our young people to all the different ways that technology can be used, not just for video games or toys, we're planning for the future." - Marc Morial

Thirty years on, videogames have swiftly become one of the most prevalent, profitable, and major-league forms of entertainment across the world.In the recent times, scholars have taken great interest to analyze the effects of videogames on the players: whether they are motivational or educational in any way, whereas others intently asses the rampage, aggression, or social isolation that such games foster (Provenzo 1991). However, it is surprising that there has been minimal research to examine the stereotypical content in video games.

It is a common misconception that only "kids play videogames"; 49% of American adults play video games, out of which nearly 50% of men and 48% of women report ever playing them.Since there is such a large assemblage of men, women and children alike who engage in gaming, it is quite obvious that their social interactions will be shaped by what they see on screen. Inevitably, ideas of gender roles, stereotypes, prejudices, violence, etc. are instilled in the minds of the people which causes them to behave as they would in a virtual world.

III. Rationale

The Oxford Dictionary describes a videogame as "a game played by electronically manipulating images produced by a computer program on a monitor or other display" whereas social control has been described by the same as "control of a person or group by wider society in order to enforce social norms, through socialization, policing, laws, or similar measures."

The element that connects videogames and social control is the very idea of man being a social animal, which means that the whole network of human beings works on their daily interactions and cooperation with one another. Man has the tendency to form opinions and prejudices based on others' interests, while simultaneously trying to fit in and be accepted by the society on the basis of one's own set of beliefs. The society at large is adept in forming quick judgements and labelling its members, hence compelling them to behave in a manner which an individual would not have otherwise behaved. This can be damaging and problematic in the long run.

The rationale behind this paper is to focus on the impact videogames have on a person's mind, and how these enhance social control.

IV. Research Questions

This paper on gender and power in video games will be dealing with the following questions:

Q1. Do popular videogames reproduce situations and stereotypes as it exists in the world today? Do they incorporate further such ideas?

Q2. Are female characters underrepresented in videogames?

Q3. Do men face taunts and unnecessary pressure to behave in the same way as male characters are portrayed in videogames?

V. Portrayal of Women in VideoGames

Dietz's (1998) study was one of the first to examine stereotypical portrayal in videogames. The study showed that female characters were lacking in 41% of the game samples; only 15% portrayed women as heroes or as action characters, while 21% depicted women as weaklings and victims.

Women have been objectified, giving no value to the sentimental aspects of their being. Explicit portrayal of such situations in video games only acts as an approving authority to accept such negative interpretations as being absolutely normal and a way of life.

A study by Downs and Smith (2005) shows that female characters are notably more likely to be shown in a way which suggests them to be more hypersexual as compared to male characters: semi-nude with unrealistic bodies,wearing sexually revealing and inappropriate clothes.A similar study byHaninger and Thompson (2004) reveals that there are much more male playable characters than female playable characters in most videogames.

It is only in recent times that women have been given the role of mainstream protagonists, as seen in Tomb Raider, The Longest Journey, Beyond Good & Evil, etc. Female characters had been restricted to the role of sidekicks and supporting characters until now. Another leap from the past is the viewing of the female character as antagonists, as depicted in Battletoads, Sonic and the Dark Knight, etc.

It is this portrayal of women as "damsels in distress" or "bikini babes" which shows them as mere sex goddesses and nothing more. They have no prominent role in the videogames rather than to 'beautify' it with their bizarre features. 

VI. Portrayal of Men in Video games

In 1997, a company called Rockstar Games created an open world action-adventure videogame series, which went on to become incredibly popular, called Grand Theft Auto. The game quickly ran into controversies, be it for the blatant sexism and violence, or for giving a heroic stance to wrongs such as drunken driving, involvement in the business of drug smuggling, prostitution and killing military personnel. This game series has always had a hefty male protagonist, apparently wronged in some way or the other, trying to avenge himself , and in the process getting to be a part of gang warfare, mass killings or performing unreal stunts in motor vehicles.

A study"Acting like a Tough Guy: Violent-Sexist Video Games, Identification with Game Characters, Masculine Beliefs, & Empathy for Female Violence Victims" carried outat the Ohio State University,reads:

"This reduction in empathy partly occurs because video games such as GTA increase masculine ideals, such as the belief that "real men" are tough, dominant, and aggressive. Our effects were especially pronounced among male participants who strongly identified with the misogynistic game characters. [Author] Daniel Pink was correct in noting that empathy makes the world a better place. Unfortunately, it appears that GTA might make the world a worse place for females."

Men are shown as big and muscular fighting machines and expected to behave tough and be emotionless. Hypermasculinity is favoured. This unjust prejudice is evident in the phrase "boys don't cry". If men act in any other way less macho, they are teased and taunted for it.

VI. Effect of Video games on the Gamer

Being such a popular mode of entertainment, people turn to it time and again. Ultimately, the player can have all the power he wants in the virtual world, and one projects one's persona onto the character one plays, adopting its traits unconsciously.  This character slowly becomes a part of the person's identity, without the person actually realising it, and it projects out in the society and the world beyond. This leads to issues about self-esteem, paranoia and bullying, to name a few.

VII. A Word about Social Control

According to George Herbert Mead (1925), "...social control depends, then, upon the degree to which individuals in society are able to assume attitudes of others who are involved with them in common endeavours.”

Increase in aggression and videogame addiction has an important bearing on social control. In societies with a large number of violent crimes among young populations, this is an important factor and it needs to be correlated with the increase in violent video game playing among the young populations there.

Video game addiction can lead to lower school performance and this, in turn, will result in the development of sub-optimal human resource development for that society. This has been shown in research paper by Chan & Rabinowitz (2006). This will have a bearing on social control as large populations will be under qualified in the changing scenario of the economy.

VIII. Conclusion

Gaming today is slowly, but surely, becoming less of a gendered activity, and more inclusive than it ever was. Bullying in the online community is now kept in check by server operators, and in many cases, the players themselves. Gaming has long been afflicted by sexism and gender stereotyping. Sensing the new gamer’s beliefs and needs, developers have changed the way the industry thinks, if only to keep their consumers happy, and the cash flowing. A vast majority of female gamers are both accepted and respected by their male counterparts. Many e-sports leagues are now hiring female gamers, not just in the interests of diversity for diversity’s sake, but in recognition of their skills.

Sexism is a fact of life so far as the entertainment industry goes, and it will surely persist for many more years before its attrition is complete. In reaction to changing attitudes to both men and women in society, games, too, have changed, becoming more sensitive to gender issues, more inclusive of women, and far less eager to enforce stereotypes than they once were.

By: Navin Kumar Jaggi & Sarahna Ekka

 

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