We Need to Talk About: Gender and Sexual Diversity in Games
3 March 2023
As a millennial and Latina woman (as if it were not obvious), the topic for today is really important. Even more when it is viral to see women gamers make videos about the treatment that they receive from men in online games.
For that reason, when it comes to the representation of gender and sexual diversity in games, clichés and stereotypes are often prevalent. And here it is when, The Games im Unterricht project of the Landesanstalt für Kommunikation Baden-Württemberg (LFK) took a closer look at the topic. Because it also looks at the significance of gender representation in video games for the identity formation of adolescents.
Now, let’s talk about Games and identity formation
Media images and media experiences play a major role in the identity formation of children and young people, because they help to shape the way young people see the world. Media provide adolescents with orientation options for dealing with external developmental tasks. As an example, is the adoption of gender roles and role perceptions.
As those in computer games, offer identification potential and contribute to identity formation. This means that you can see and feel represented, but also, have to see how gender and sexuality are portrayed in digital games. Knowing that this has an impact on children’s and young people’s attitudes towards them.
Gender representation and sexual diversity in games
Nowadays, exist a lot of studies or articles about this kind of topics like it is the portrayal of gender and sexuality in games where it still relies on clichés, prejudices and stereotypes.
Because it was initially considered a leisure activity for men, the female characters featured were mostly princesses to be saved or women with a sexualized appearance. The players’ gaze is directed to external appearance features. This can impact the viewers’ expectations of female characters as well as expectations of their own bodies. In addition, When it comes to male characters, they are primarily portrayed in games as hypermasculine, muscular warriors and fighters.
Of course, as the years went by, we saw the appearance of new characters such as Samus Aran (Metroid, 1986), Chun-Li (Street Fighter II: The World Warrior, 1991) or the mythical Lara Croft (Tomb Raider, 1996), who were liked by both male and female gamers, who began to feel somewhat represented in a leisure activity that was also theirs. In that way, more and more games are relying on strong female heroines. These do not have a typical advance in the game’s plot through martial strength, but rather realistic characteristics such as courage, curiosity, and cleverness. And also externally, these characters tend to refrain from a strongly sexualized portrayal.
Although it seems incredible, the same applies to some male main characters in games. Where male characters appear as clumsy or aimless. It is not a great deal of strength, but humor, clever thinking and sometimes a bit of luck that turn these characters into game heroes.
It should be noted that there are not only two colors in this rainbow, since there are not only two genres, although historically so classified. There is an intermediate spectrum called the non-binary gender. The term designates those people who identify with both masculine and feminine aspects, so they cannot simply be pigeonholed into Male / Female. As you can imagine, there are no numerous non-binary characters in video games.
LBGTQ+ Community on Video Games
The representation of the LGBT+ community in video games has not always been the best. In fact, in games like Final Fight, Poison was a character who was thought to be trans because of a mistake in the voice recording in its western version.
Sometime later, in All About Capcom Head-to-Head Fighting Games, the company said that Poison was changed from a woman to a newhalf (derogatory term for trans people) because ‘it was more acceptable to hit trans people than to hit a woman’. And, it wasn’t until 2002 that Yoshinori Ono explicitly said he was a trans woman in the US version.
I know it is sad to read this, but I also know that it is necessary to know this in order to be aware that time is changing for the better and also not to replicate the bad. Looking at the more pleasant and friendly side between video games and the queer community, it is nice to see that there are titles that cover a wider range.
An example of this can be The Sims. In an interview with The New Yorker, Patrick J. Barrett III, programmer of the first Sims game, said that same-sex relationships and marriages were implemented in the game purely by accident. Even so, what made the difference was the decision to leave them in the game instead of eliminating them, something that guaranteed them a successful presentation and attracted a lot of attention at E3 1999.
The ingraining of different sexual orientations in games can contribute to the visibility of social diversity. Especially for young players, this creates opportunities for identification far away from clichés and stereotypes.