Images of Men
For starters, female characters constitute a very small percentage of characters in video games. Of the 1716 popular video game characters analyzed by Children Now, only 283, or 17%, were female. Even fewer of the player-controlled characters, the most important characters in games, were female - only 12%. And while male game characters are frequently portrayed as competitors (47% of male characters), at least half of female characters in video games are given much marginal significance as they often fill the roles of prop (32% of female characters) or bystander (18% of female characters).
Looking beyond numerical discrepancies and the types of roles they fill in video games, male and female characters also behave differently. Male characters are more likely than female characters to engage in physical aggression. However, female characters are more likely than male characters to exhibit verbal forms of aggression. In fact, when compared to their male counterparts, female game characters are three times as likely to scream, twice as likely to share help, and four times as likely to be nurturing, all stereotypical female characteristics.
Gender and sexuality tend to be exaggerated in both male and female video game characters. For instance, the bodies of characters are often unattainable in real life. Many female characters are represented with voluptuous, very thin, or extremely disproportionate bodies. At the same time, more than one third of male characters have extremely muscular bodies. Female characters wear less clothing than male characters, and female sexuality is highlighted by the showing of skin. Children Now found that of the female characters it studied, 21% had exposed breasts, 13% had exposed buttocks, and 20% had exposed midriffs.
The focus on female nudity, sexuality, and body design in games designed for males has been a major theme in recent years. Lara Croft, the hero from Tomb Raider with extremely large breasts and a wardrobe composed of short-shorts and skin-tight shirts, made the cover of Playboy in 1999. And in related news, 2002 brought the achievement of realistic digital breasts to the gaming world. According to reports on this "revolution" - which is clearly indicative of where priorities lie in game design today - required an enormous amount of modeling, programming, math, and physics. The celebrated technology of digital breasts was included in BMX XXX, a game that received acclaim for having the first topless stunt bikers in history, and Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, in which female characters brawl in barely-there bikinis (Baker).
Representations of males and females in video games can send harmful messages to both boys and girls. Girls may try to achieve a sexy feminine ideal that is presented in the games, and their self-esteem is affected when that ideal cannot be attained. Furthermore, women are taught that sex appeal is valued above all else given the rampant objectification of female game characters. Boys, on the other hand, develop unattainable expectations for women and learn that it is acceptable to treat women as sex objects. At the same time, boys learn to associate violence and muscles with what it means to be male.