Female sexualization decreasing in video games but representation still lacking

Posted on July 24, 2016

Female sexualization in video games is a major concern.  Yes, a certain level of sex appeal can be empowering regardless of the gender depicted (some of us appreciate a bit of male sexualization), but overt female sexualization can and has lead to objectification, and that is something we are continually attempting to battle in society today.  It is hoped that most people, regardless of where they view levels of sexualization in video games being “acceptable”, will acknowledge that there are many instances in video games where makers have possibly (and quite certainly) gone too far, and at the very least there should be a balance to ensure that all gamers are accommodated.

It is also quite interesting to acknowledge at this point that at least half of all gamers are female, if not more than half.  In an ideal world we would wish that game developers reflect this to give gamers the choice, not only with gender, but also with how their character they wish to play as is depicted.

Researchers from Indiana University (United States) examined female sexualization and gender representation in video games from 1983 to 2014.  Examining 571 different games with playable female characters they found that although traits associated with the sexualization of female characters peaked and dipped over time (assumingly according to certain game releases), there has been an overall decreased trend of female sexualization in video games compared to the 1990s and 2000s.

This is good news.

Female Sexualization Index By Year [Credit: Teresa Lynch]
Female Sexualization Index By Year [Credit: Teresa Lynch]
However, the research also pointed out that the level of sexualization did not vary according to the age ratings of teen and mature, and importantly we have not seen more female playable characters since 1998.

This study adds to the mounting evidence that video game developers may not accurately be targeting female gamers, or more accurately, any gamer who may wish the choice to play as a particular female character.  One has to just look at the success of Lara Croft, who is celebrating her 20th anniversary of the Tomb Raider franchise to see the continuing success of a female protagonist.

The study was also careful to point out that they did not include any examination of the portrayal of non-player characters, and the published findings “Sexy, Strong, and Secondary: A Content Analysis of Female Characters in Video Games across 31 Years” by Teresa Lynch, Jessica E. Tompkins, Irene I. van Driel, and Niki Fritz has been published in the Journal of Communication.