For years, the video game industry has come under fire for its sexist portrayals of women. Cultural critics like Anita Sarkeesian have pointed out how often video games reinforce negative stereotypes about women. Women represented in video games, from Lara Croft in Tomb Raider to Kate Upton’s character in the new ad for Game of War, are often hyper-sexualized, displaying plenty of cleavage.
Mainstream video game companies have assumed that their target demographic–teen boys–enjoy seeing sexualized women on their screens, but new data indicates that this assumption may be wrong.
In a recent survey of 1,400 teenagers by education consultant Rosalind Wiseman and games writer Ashley Burch, 47% of middle school boys and 61% of high school boys said they are tired of female characters being treated as sex objects in video games. Some boys said that this objectification of female characters in fighting games interfered with their ability to enjoy the fight sequence. A full 55% of boys who identified as gamers said there should be more female heroes in games.
But it is also true that video game companies have been slow to realize that more and more gamers are female. According to data released by the Internet Advertising Bureau last year, 52% of gamers are women. In their study, Wiseman and Burch found that girls play a wide range of game genres: 26% play first-person shooters like Call of Duty, 36% play role-playing games like Grand Theft Auto, and 17% play sports games like Madden.
Wiseman and Burch also discovered that the majority of boys don’t care about the gender of the protagonist in their game. On the other hand, girls tend to care more about playing a female character, and this preference only increases as they get older. The implication here is that video game companies would do well to include more female protagonists in their games, particularly ones that girls can admire and identify with.