Essay by PaperNerd ContributorCollege, Undergraduate November 2001

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Representations of females in computer games Gender representation in computer games can be broken down into two distinct categories: how females are portrayed as characters and the options females are offered as players. Female characters are few in traditional video games. Although recently more games have been incorporating female characters, the females are portrayed using aesthetic stereotypes or sexist and sexual images. The depictions of women and roles characters play include damsels in distress needing to be rescued, women as prizes (for successful completion of a game level), and women as victims. More so than not, women are portrayed as existing for male pleasure, as sexual objects, sexualized and objectified. These are unattainable images of sexuality in which female players cannot relate.

Characters continued to be constructed according to a fairly traditional set of gender stereotypes, including the portrayal of good but passive princesses as objects which motivate the action, and bad, eroticized women as competitors who must be beaten back by the protagonist (Cassell).

Few video games have women depicted in positive roles. Some fighting games have a token female opponent to try to appease the female game players. In general, the "games reaffirmed or reinscribed dominant and patriarchal conceptions of gender roles (Cassell)." One of the most prominent examples of females in video games today is Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. She is a hypersexualized female character, with measurements 36-24-36. Lara Croft possesses agency in the game, but the female empowerment is assuredly not what made the game so popular and profitable that the industry decided to make a movie out of it. This depiction of a female with a small, tiny waist, and large breasts and lips was marketed toward the young male consumer, not towards females. Tomb Raider's success has been linked to the exaggeration of Lara Croft's feminine characteristics.

Several areas need to be examined in relation to gender and computer games. Questions need to be asked regarding the roles females play in games as characters, and the roles of the female game players. Do female characters play passive roles or are they capable of making decisions that affect the game play, displaying their own agency? Are there any visible female characters in the game? Are the depictions of females real/accurate? Are these characters in which female players can identify with? Who is the target audience of the game? Is the plot or story told from a female perspective? What do we intend to teach the players, if anything at all? Does this game qualify as a "girl game"? It is important to ask these questions and more when designing and evaluating any game, particularly if the game is marketed as gender-neutral, gender-inclusive, or targeted directly towards females. This will help begin the process of "promoting the active examination of video games as cultural texts (Buchanan)."

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