My first vivid memories of playing video games are with my father and a game called “Sarge’s Heroes." We both played little green army men in various toy rooms and settings that were much larger than our tiny avatars. The graphics were blocky and unrealistic, but it was still a lot of fun to try to melt my dad’s little green avatar with a tiny flame thrower. It was a bonding experience and activity that allowed my father and I to grow closer. I will always remember those times I got to spend with him.
Since those days, games have changed a lot. Their graphics are much more realistic and the gaming community has been criticized for issues with aggression and hostility. As a female gamer, another issue has also stuck out to me, one that has a profound effect on many women.
The female characters we see in games are few and far between, but when we do see them they are often highly sexual and underdeveloped. For me, gaming has become a hobby to release stress and bond with friends, both new and old. It was only recently, as titles like GamerGate came to the forefront of pop culture, that I decided it was time to consider what impact seeing scantily clad (often submissive) female characters might have on me.
These images affect the minds of both sexes, young or old. These sorts of salacious portrayals have a negative effect on the self image of women, by making them not think they are as capable as other women. For men, these images do bolster their sense of body image. However, at the same time, games which portray violence against women could cause the men playing them to have a greater acceptance of both sexual harassment and rape myths.
Many of these games offer hours of entertainment, but at what cost to us as a society?
I admit, I play games containing glorified violence. Even those like the recent Tomb Raider - about a girl fighting for survival - are filled with shooting, hacking and killing. The character is not portrayed in a sexually suggestive way, which feels like a move in the right direction on some front.
Another recent study showed that alternating violent and non-violent content can be a great way to reverse the effects that video game violence has on the player. That is absolutely something I try to do in my gaming habits.
Sure, a lot of people don’t think Candy Crush is a “serious” game, but it has no aspects of violence and you can help friends along the way. Something as simple as Candy Crush could very likely help the player’s mind focus on pro social or helpful behavior.
This sort of change is absolutely needed right now. More and more women are starting to pick up video games and, as they do, they face a culture of exclusion and even worse, harassment. It may have been limited to dirty messages or inappropriate requests in the past, but with issues like GamerGate, it has gone as far as to threaten women’s safety and even their lives.
As consumers, we can impact what sells and what doesn’t. We can choose to buy games that are non-violent, and which portray female characters not only in a positive light, but also as full developed primary characters. Both men and women deserve to see the sort of representation that shows women in a positive, productive light.