New Indiana University Study Shows A Decline in the Sexualization of Women Characters in Video Games

lynchTeresa Lynch, a Ph.D. candidate in The Media School at Indiana University, is the lead author of a new study that finds a significant decline in women being portrayed as sexualized characters in video games. Lynch and her colleagues – three other doctoral candidates at the university – examined in-game content of 571 video games released between 1983 and 2014.

Lynch reports that the analysis found that “in the 1980s and early 1990s, a lot of the graphical integrity just didn’t allow for the characters to be sexualized. When we fast-forward to the next generation of consoles, which happened in the early to mid-1990s, we see the transition to 3-D graphics, and that’s when we saw a big spike in the sexualization of female characters. That continued its upward trajectory through the early 2000s and then, suddenly, we saw a decrease.”

The analysis found that when women were in secondary roles they tended to be more sexualized. “This is essentially pointing to the objectification of the character,” Lynch said. “When you have a male character in body armor and a female character in a bikini fighting side by side, it’s hard for women not to feel trivialized and objectified.”

The results showing a decline in the sexualization of women in video games gives the authors hope for the future. “As more women have joined the industry as professionals, and men have seen hypersexualization and objectification of women in media as a legitimate concern, I think we’ll continue to see better and more varied representations of women in games,” Lynch said. “In turn, I think more girls will have their interest in gaming piqued.”

The study, “Sexy, Strong, and Secondary: A Content Analysis of Female Characters in Video Games Across 31 Years,” appears in the August issue of the Journal of Communication. It may be accessed here. Co-authors are Niki Fritz, Jessica E. Tompkins, and Irene I. van Driel.

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