Last February, Miranda Pakozdi, a professional video-gamer, was sexually harassed by her fellow teammates and coach at the Cross Assault video game tournament. Following the incident, Pakozdi withdrew from the tournament, and the video of the harassment went viral online, eliciting national critique of sexist culture in the video-gaming community.
Such a story is not uncommon in the video-gaming community, where the sexualization of female video game characters contributes to a larger culture of misogyny, said Mayze Teitler ’14, a 2013-2014 Brace Student Fellow. Teitler presented her research about women and the gaming industry in her presentation “Princesses, Soldiers and Prostitutes: Gender Stereotypes in Video Gaming” this past Monday.
Teitler was first intrigued by the subject because of her roommate’s obsession with the video game “League of Legends” (2009) last winter.
“All the women were wearing bikinis or basically nothing, and all the male characters were muscular guys with axes, and I was like ‘Whoa! What is going on?’ This attuned me to the issue that I wasn’t really aware of before, which was how disparate the two presentations of male and female characters were in video games,” said Teitler in an interview with The Phillipian.
Delving into her research over the summer, Teitler analyzed depictions of female characters in video games. She divided female characters into two distinct categories, which she labeled the “damsel in distress” and the “seductress.”
Teitler defined the “damsel in distress” as a female character who is unable to free herself and requires a male hero to rescue her. This persona is the crux of popular games like “Donkey Kong,” which was first released in 1981.
“The [Damsel in Distress character] created the idea in the gaming culture that women are primarily passive objects to be acted upon while men are subjects to carry out the actions,” said Teitler in her presentation.
The character of the “seductress” is an evil, powerful, female character who threatens the male lead.
“The prevalence of this character trope counterbalanced by the damsel trope creates a scenario where the good women are a prize for the male character, while the bad women are competition and usually dealt with violently,” said Teitler.
Teitler also referred to a movement in the late 90’s to create more female-friendly games, which would later be categorized as either “pink” or “purple” games. “Pink” refers to games that express traditional ideas of femininity, while “purple” games focus on interpersonal relationships and womens’ issues.
“Although these games were popular with female players, they led again to the reaffirmation of patriarchal gender roles. And it was found that repeated exposure to these roles strengthened preexisting gender differences and typecasts,” said Teitler.
Teitler praised video games which did not involve gender stereotyping, specifically Crystal Dynamic’s “Tomb Raider” (2013), which successfully employs a female protagonist who avoids the typical “damsel in distress” situation and is self-sufficient in fending for herself in adverse situations.
“If people speak out and combat injustice to create an environment more inclusive of all players who will open up the world of gaming and coding to kids who are interested, both male and female, it’ll make gaming more fun to all players,” said Teitler.