When one imagines the level 100 armor of a male video game avatar, the image of shiny steel plates and elaborate helmets often comes to mind. When imagining the same level of armor of their female counterparts, a very different and far more sexualized variant tends to appear. Sexism is an issue that continues to plague the media, but video games specifically are notorious for their exaggerated and offensive portrayals of woman, and so often overlooked in favour of issues in advertising and the mainstream media. In an industry which employs 78% men (O’Brien), the designers of these games must pay special attention to their treatment of women and make every effort to reduce sexism in video games due to the alienation of women, creation of sexist environments and tolerance towards sexual harassment and violence that sexist games have been shown to cause. Arguments for free speech and wrongful assignment of blame can be made in favour of developers who are guilty of making sexist games, but these arguments are overruled under virtue and deontological ethics.
The hyper sexualization and rarity of female video game characters alienates females and discourages them from playing. In recent years, estimates place the ratio of female characters in video games around 14%, while male characters represent around 86% (Downs 729). This lack of female characters in video games has the potential to make women think that video games are not made for them and that they should pursue other, more traditionally feminine hobbies over gaming, a greatly outdated idea. Furthermore, when women are portrayed in video games, they tend to be treated as sexual objects more than actual characters. An analysis of character portrayals in video games revealed that female characters are designed in sexually revealing clothing 41% of the time, and partially or completely nude 43% of the time, compared to 11% and 4% for male characters (Downs 729). Female characters also tend to portray unrealistic body images including slim waists and enlarged busts. These portrayals can cause both female and male players to have impossible standards for the female body, leading to lower self-esteem and potentially harmful practices. (Downs 729). It can be argued that video game producers are only catering to the demands of the game market, composed mainly of men (a false claim), by creating mostly male characters and fantasy-inducing female characters. This would however indicate that these companies are acting on the vice of greed, thus making these actions immoral under virtue ethics. It is clear that the lack of and inappropriate portrayals of women in video games leads to the alienation and potential harm of female players.
The sexist nature of some video games fosters the creation of sexist online gaming communities, that can potentially lead to the harm of female players. Online gaming has allowed people from all over the world to come together and share a passion, but in doing so has given a platform for people to voice their sexist beliefs anonymously and often without consequences. Polls show that 63% of female gamers have been called cunt, bitch, slut, or whore while gaming online (Rodie). Game developers often do nothing to hinder the spread of sexual harassment, and the sexist content in these games only encourages this type of behaviour. Of course, it can be reasoned that the responsibility of policing online gaming servers does not lie solely with game developers, who likely don’t have the resources to monitor all players of the game, but the reality is that hardly any initiative is taken by video games developers to target sexual harassers, leading to female gamers feeling uncomfortable and even unsafe in online gaming servers. Overall, developers must do more to ensure that the online communities they create are an equally safe and accepting place for both female and male players.
The abundance of sexist content in video games leads to an increased tolerance for sexual harassment and violence. Studies show a correlation between long term exposure to sexist video games and sexist attitudes towards women (Stermer 52). It is not difficult to imagine that someone who regularly plays video games containing excessively sexist content will carry some of their in-game actions into real life. Take for example Grand Theft Auto, which allows players to purchase sex acts from prostitutes and, following a graphic demonstration of these acts, run over or otherwise execute said prostitute (Rockstar North). It is true that video games cannot be entirely blamed for sex crimes in the real world, but the implication of the player, who consciously chooses to carry out these crimes in game, makes for a strong argument that sexism in video games has real life consequences, far more than television or film. The encouragement of sexual violence certainly does not pass Kant’s categorical imperative which deems that one should only act in accordance with rules that they believe should be universally accepted (Britannica). The fact that sexist video games have been shown to encourage sexual violence makes them immoral under Kant’s ethical rationalism, therefore supporting the claim that sexism in video games must be reduced.
In conclusion, it is necessary that sexist content be removed from future video games, due to the estrangement of women, the harmful environments created and the insensitivity towards sexual harassment that sexist games have been proven to cause. The arguments that developers are simply catering to their target demographic or don’t have the resources to prevent sexism in their games, or that video games cannot be held liable for the real-life actions of their players do not make the disturbing content found in some games morally justified. It is important that video game developers consider the effects of the sexist content they put in their games, as sexism towards women is already an epidemic in the real world. Extending this problem to the virtual world only makes it worse for women who simply want to escape from the persecution they experience daily. As gaming occupies a larger and larger portion of the entertainment market, the need for digital equality will only get increasingly pertinent.
Bègue, Laurent et al. “Video Games Exposure and Sexism in a Representative Sample of Adolescents.” Frontiers in psychology vol. 8 466. 31 Mar. 2017, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00466
Downs, Edward, and Smith, Stacy. “Keeping Abreast of Hypersexuality: A Video Game Character Content Analysis.” Sex Roles, vol. 62, no. 11–12, June 2010, pp. 721–733. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s11199-009-9637-1.
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Categorical Imperative.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 27 Dec. 2017, https://www.britannica.com/topic/categorical-imperative.
O'Brien, Lucy. “Women in Video Game Development in 2017: A Snapshot.” IGN, IGN, 22 Dec. 2017, https://ca.ign.com/articles/2017/12/20/women-in-video-game-development-in-2017-a-snapshot.
Rockstar North. Grand Theft Auto V. Windows PC version, Rockstar Games 2015.
Rodie, Cat. “Sexism Within The World Of Video Games.” Marie Claire, 20 Nov. 2018, https://www.marieclaire.com.au/sexism-and-video-games.
Stermer, S.Paul, and Melissa Burkley. “SeX-Box: Exposure to Sexist Video Games Predicts Benevolent Sexism.” Psychology of Popular Media Culture, vol. 4, no. 1, Jan. 2015, pp. 47–55. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1037/a0028397.