The (Mis)Representation of Women in Video Games
by Muneeza Sheikh
It is no secret that the video game industry boasts some of the most objectified and stereotypical portrayals of women. This is why it does not take a genius to take note of the “role” princess Zelda plays in the video game series called The Legend of Zelda, mostly because the sexism and misogyny that exists in this industry prevails on such a large scale within the game. To put it in simple terms- its widespread existence cannot be ignored.
Because some video games amplify these misogynistic views toward women, the underrepresentation and sometimes the over-the-top sexualization of women in video games is slowly yet steadily being accepted by society and is gradually being normalized. Ironically, the name of the video game suggests that the game revolves around Zelda. Surprisingly enough, she patiently waits for her lover to save her from her dismal situation for the majority of the game series.
Unfortunately, video games are the fastest growing form of mass media today, which means that because some video games portray women in a negative light, players of these video games are beginning to incorporate this behavior and mindset within their day-to-day interactions. As some video games characterize women as weak and submissive to their male counterparts, these stereotypical gender roles translate to the oppression and gender inequality observed in the some parts of the outside world.
Moreover, the stereotype that women exist to be sexualized that has been established by some video games has created a new set of irrational standards of how women should act within society. This is heavily damaging and destructive to any woman’s sense of self, as she can develop a low self-esteem, negative self-image, and lose valuable self-confidence.
The way men and women are portrayed in video games reinforces gender role assignments because often times women do not hold any lead roles, and are usually obedient, compliant and submissive to the male figure in their life. Contrastingly, men are usually portrayed as tough, brave and adventurous in video games. They are usually featured in major roles, such as the protagonist, and fulfill most of the physical responsibilities.
Furthermore, the issue involving misrepresentation of women in video games does not receive a significant amount of attention because the predominant male population that plays these video games wants to maintain the status quo of gaming mainly being a male space. This social construction of gender based spaces is damaging to the development of a healthy self-concept because it forces a person, whether female or male, to be limited in their own space assigned and dictated by these video games. They are forced to abide by these rules and not leave their “comfort/expected zone” to experience and enjoy the other spaces and ways of thinking.
However, people like Anita Sarkeesian are making a difference and initiating positive social change within society. She decided to create a series of videos exploring the way women are represented in the gaming world, and she created a Kickstarter page to seek funding. In spite of the fact that she was a target of serious sexsit backlash, her videos thrived with the support of hundreds of other like-minded women and men who strongly believed that videogames are normalizing a culture of gender stereotypes and misogyny. Her videos that were aimed to deconstruct the representation of women in games (Tropes Vs. Women in video games) were successful and now is invited to talk at international gaming studios around the world.
Sarkesian foresees a future "where women, without fear of intimidation, without fear of threats or harassment, can be full and active participants in our digital world."