Video game characters are icons in youth popular culture, but research on their role in gender socialization is rare. A content analysis of images of video game characters from top-selling American gaming magazines showed male characters (83%) are more likely than female characters (62%) to be portrayed as aggressive. Female characters are more likely than male characters to be portrayed as sexualized (60% versus 1%), scantily clad (39% versus 8%) and as showing a mix of sex and aggression (39 versus 1%). A survey of teens confirmed that stereotypes of male characters as aggressive and female characters as sexually objectified physical specimens are held even by non-gamers. Studies are discussed in terms of the role media plays in socializing sexism.
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This research was supported by a research collaboration grant from Lenoir-Rhyne College. Great thanks to Dorothy Singer and Melanie Killen for comments on a previous version of this article. Thanks also to Craig Anderson and Melinda Burgess for helpful comments on a version just prior to publication. We acknowledge the support of the Lenoir-Rhyne College scholarship group (Beth Wright, Paulina Ruf, Bill Richter, Lisa Harris, Kathy Ivey, Gail Summer). Finally, thank you to our research assistants, Brian Brown and Michael Collins.
Karen E. Dill and Kathryn P. Thill (formerly Kathryn L. Phillips), School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Lenoir-Rhyne College.
Operational definitions of terms for magazine content analysis
Aggression—behavior intended to harm another living being
Ex. pictures of aggression may contain weapons, injuries/blood, attacking postures and facial expressions showing intent to harm, cues in the situation (ex. explosions)
War—real, military, historical (ex. fatigues, tanks)
Fighting—any other combat; must show movement/action such as firing weapon, running with sword
Posing with weapon: picture of person holding weapon (ex. gun, knife, sword, ammunition belt. Not using weapon.
Armor—mail, metal armor, leather armor, shields
Sexualized (women)—showing skin, particularly cleavage, midriff and legs; large breasts, extreme proportions, provocative poses, postures or facial expressions
Sexualized (men)—showing skin, belly (six pack), provocative poses, postures or facial expressions
Scantily clad/showing skin—men who are shirtless, women showing cleavage, midriff, wearing short skirt. Tight outfits that cover most of the body do not fit this category.
Hypermasculine—distorted male characteristics. Ex. large muscles (often unrealistically so), very masculine facial features (chiseled face, stubble) signs of power and dominance
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Dill, K.E., Thill, K.P. Video Game Characters and the Socialization of Gender Roles: Young People’s Perceptions Mirror Sexist Media Depictions. Sex Roles 57, 851–864 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-007-9278-1
- Video game
- Sex roles
- Content analysis