Thursday, September 24, 2015

Gender Construction in Video Games: A Discourse Analysis, Mass Communicator, International Journal of Communication Studies, Vol 8, Issue 1(Jan-March, 2014)

This study attempts to analyze gender construction and representation in video games and contribute to the literature on gender representation in video games. Research Design Sample This study will use the ten most popular games worldwide. This list has been drawn from the website which is an outfit of CBS Interactive (a division of the CBS Corporation, USA) - The rationale for this sampling was USA‟s position as the world‟s biggest video game industry at $18.58 billion in 2010 (NPD). The ten games selected as sample of this study are (1-10 in the ordinal sequence with 1 being the most popular( - 1. Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 2. Super Mario Galaxy 3. Super Mario Galaxy 2 4. Grand Theft Auto IV 5. Soul Calibur 6. Unchartered 2: Among Thieves 7. Metroid Prime 8. Tekken 3 9. Resident Evil 4 10. Mass Effect 2 Methodology This study will use the Textual Analysis and Discursive Analysis techniques to interpret gender constructions and representations in the selected sample of video games. The Textual Analysis technique will attempt to recognize the themes using the right focal point and patterns in the games‟ narrative. This method will entail producing a description of the nature of gender representations established in and through the video games selected in the sample as a text. The computer game text will be interpreted as an instance of a referent social activity that gives the text its meaning. Discursive Analysis will be focused on understanding social interactions between gamers on topics of gender construction and representation on gaming sites, blogs, and chat threads. Textual and Discourse Analysis 1. Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time - Majority of characters in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time are female, and most are multi-faceted and have deep purpose within the storyworld. The title character Zelda is the quintessential princess. Regal, poised, beautiful and submissive, she certainly is everything a princess rightfully “should” be by conventional standards. The second female character is Saria. Saria is a gentle, submissive, and innocent. Another female character introduced in the first half of the game is Princess Ruto. Ruto is stubborn, willful and even spiteful. She is the stereotypical high maintenance female character and embodies what might be referred to as a “diva-like” quality. The depiction of Princess Ruto in the game is possibly the most detrimental to women because she embodies many negative feminine stereotypes. Impa of Sheikah is portrayed very positively as a very noble character. She is a very good character to Zelda. Although she is clearly a female strong female character, she is also very masculine which could very well be the reason why she is presented so favorably. “The Great Fairy” reappear throughout the game are actually multiple fairies and are the most highly sexualized figures, depicted scantily clad with only strategically placed vines covering their bodies. Although they serve as good figures within the storyworld, they have minimal purpose and are the most overtly sexual figures in the game. As a blogger on the blog „A Video game Cannon‟ says that the only way Zelda gained any power was by becoming the manly Sheik. And the same goes for Impa, for the only way that she was able to seem strong enough to protect Zelda, was to be presented as a harsh, masculine being. As for most of the other women in the game, they were presented as just sitting there, waiting to be helped or rescued. “It seems that no matter how hard game creators try, women are always represented poorly, and never given the chance to be a good role model”. 2.& 3. Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Galaxy 2 - It is a testament to Mario‟s branding that Mario is now the most recognizable video game character in the world. The game stars a male protagonist widely known as Mario. The sole mission and purpose of said protagonist is to rescue Princess Peach. Princess Peach has been featured in every mainstream Mario game since and continually plays the same role. She portrays the lone woman in the entire story, functions only as a “damsel in distress,” promoting the idea that women are weaker than men, powerless in the face of adversity, and eternally grateful for being saved. It is similar to the chivalry of fairytales, where women are meek and men are brave. The text represents the woman in a state of submission, and the man in the state of control. As a blogger Kadie Rosier on the blog „Game Design as Cultural Practice‟ says, “It (Super Mario Galaxy) is characterized by an adolescent male sensibility that transcends physical age and embraces highly stylized physical violence, male fantasies of power and domination, hyper-sexualized, objectified depictions of women, and rampant racial stereotyping and discrimination”. 4. Grand Theft Auto IV – It is an action-adventure video game. “Grand Theft Auto IV” has been hyped by its producers as an X-rated wonderland. It shows double lap dances at the local strip club, and also the option to pay a hooker to talk dirty and service the player in the virtual world. As Cortlney blogs on, “I am angry about a 'game' called Grand Theft Auto IV. I am angry because this 'game' romanticizes, decontextualizes and glorifies male violence against women and against other men. It portrays women as the sex class (willing and available) and men as autonomous agents with full subjectivity (as long as they are hegemonicly masculine). I am angry because this is the result of living in a patriarchal, ethnocentric, xenophobic, homophobic and, yes I'll say it, woman hating culture. I cannot understand this 'game' as anything other than that”. 5. Soul Calibur – It is a weapons-based 3D fighting game. Rachael Hutchinson in the paper „Performing the Self Subverting the Binary in Combat Games‟ says games such as Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, and Soul Calibur are complex in terms of their construction of stereotyped identity and in the binary structure of combative play. Further, the significance of the genre lies in the performative aspects of gameplay, which problematize accepted models of identification and immersion. Once the player is introduced into the superficial binary structure of combat, then that player's choice and agency become the primary factors in gameplay, ultimately creating space for the inversion of stereotype, the subversion of gender roles and the possible transcendence of the binary system. As Paul Tassi (a blogger) says in Jan 2012 post along with the following graphic says, Image Source: “The graphic above shows how exactly the series has changed its female characters over the last fight installments using fighter Sophitia as a model. Over time her clothes have shrunk and her bust has grown…I‟m not opposed to sexy female video game characters, but there is a line that crosses into pure ridiculousness, and fighting games like Mortal Kombat, Dead or Alive and Soul Calibur regularly step over it”. 6. Unchartered 2: Among Thieves – It is an action-adventure video game. The plot revolves around the doomed voyage home of Marco Polo from China in 1292. Elen Fisher is the female character and the love interest of Nathan Drake the protagonist of the same. Commentators have mentioned how unusually strong and resilient Fisher is for a female character, and GamesRadar UK called her one of the strongest heroines in video gaming. 7. Metroid Prime – It is a 3D game with a science fiction setting. Samus, a female, is the central character of this game. As a strong and resilient character who is the main protagonist, she portrays little signs of stereotypical female behavior and image. No features of her body can be seen because she wears a suit of armor that covers everything. She does not reveal weak emotions through her lonely adventures and her actions in the game do not strongly portray feminine behavior. Even though Samus counters many stereotypes, there are certain times when she does not, such as, in Metroid Prime II, when she strips down to only a tank top and underwear, and takes her hair down. As a blogger „Linearity‟ writes on the website Metroid Metal, “Now we have Zero Suit Samus, who looks exactly like every other game heroine: a supermodel body in a skintight suit, a blond ponytail, and a handgun. The endings of the recent handheld games, which naturally show Samus without her suit, have been stock glamour shots like I would see in an underwear ad”. 8. Tekken 3: The story in each game in the main series documents the events of the fictional martial arts tournament, recurring male characters were allowed to age but all female characters were kept the same age or replaced by their daughters. Though the women are capable of defending themselves and often kick ass, but are still hyper-sexualized versions of real women (see image below). Source: A very interesting discourse of gender is evident in the portrayal of a character named Leo in the game. As Wikipedia throws light on trivia like there were rumours before the game officially released, that Leo was a girl. Shortly after its release in Europe there were complaints because Leo was thought of as a transgender character. The production team of the game claimed that they wanted to create a character who would be loved by the fans regardless of gender, so they made Leo‟s gender ambiguous on purpose. However due to this design, Leo is rarely used in mature content. 9. Resident Evil 4: This game is built around the survival horror and science fiction genre. One of the characters Ashley Graham (the US President‟s daughter) is kidnapped and is the object to be rescued. She is unable to use weapons. Leon, the male character, must protect her as she is very vulnerable. While there is another lead character Alice who is shown as a strong and brave character as shown below - Source: 10. Mass Effects 2 : Mass Effect 2 is the futuristic story of Commander Shepard and how he must figure out who is destroying human colonies throughout the galaxy and put a stop to them. As a 2010 blog post on the blog Game Design as Cultural Practice discusses, “This game makes a very bold attempt at crossing the barrier and creating a game that both men and women can enjoy. They do so by allowing you to start the game by choosing whether or not to make Commander Shepard male or female, as an attempt to trump the stereotype that the protagonist on all military based games is a man. They also try to break the stereotype by allowing you to recruit a multitude of female companions to aid in your journey. However these recruits do not manage to cross the stereotypical feminine constructs. While there is Miranda as the genetically modified doctor, her role makes her seem no more than a glorified secretary. Jack, a tomboyish convict, is portrayed in this game so that it appears that a woman can be helpful in a combat setting only if is not in her right mind, that is not acting like a „woman‟.” For details go to

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