How Gender is Played

Hey, I have an idea. Let’s talk about women. Let’s talk about women and how they’re portrayed in video games.

Hey, I have another idea. Let’s talk about men. Let’s talk about men and how they’re portrayed in video games.

A Long Time Ago…

Way back in the ancient history of this blog, way back before Mass Effects months, talks about addiction and coping via video games, and even before I tried my hand at slapping back when faulty research blamed video games for unemployment, I asked you all to play a game with me.

The point of this, I said, was to tailor some of my upcoming posts, which was an extremely broad-brush way of saying I would be using the information I got in an upcoming post to talk about gender in video games.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect. If my hypotheses were proved incorrect, then I’d drop the issue and move on. But here we are, so here we go!

The Expected

I asked you, my lovely readers, to describe a series of video game characters using the first word that came to mind. While a few made me scratch my head (like “petals” for a warrior), and some made me chuckle (like “defibrillator” for Cole McGrath), most of the responses I got were understandable and somewhat expected.


Readers were also asked to talk about any patterns they saw for the above characters, but only a few people did so. Two commented on similarities in the pictures (everyone has some sort of knife or sword), or that they all seemed like part of a set (which they are: they are the promotional art for each of the origins from Dragon Age: Origins).

And two commented on the gender differences of the characters, which was somehow both more and fewer comments on that than I thought I would get. More because I expected none, and less because I wanted so badly for you all to see my point without me having to actually, you know, make it. Because then this wouldn’t be an issue.

Anyway, here’s my data. Let’s take a look and then talk about it.

F M adj real.JPG
Note: These do not contain words used more than once (e.g., “sexy” was used a few times for female characters), or words that were not directly related to the character him/herself (e.g., “petals” referred to the background*).

Let’s look at the cold, hard facts. According to this – admittedly small – sample size, male characters are almost twice as likely to be described using positive words or words that denote strength or some sort of inner fortitude* as their female counterparts.

Meanwhile, women characters were three times as likely to be described negatively as their male counterparts.

Also worth noting is that women’s appearances were commented on six times (i.e., sexy, gorgeous, bucktoothed, overdressed, and hairy, with “sexy” being used twice), whereas only one male character’s appearance was commented on (i.e., handsome).

But Athena, I hear you type loudly, incensed. YOU’RE the one who gave us those pictures to label! That woman WAS bucktoothed/sexy/fierce/dangerous/graceful/whatever!!!


Maybe she was. Maybe every woman (in those six above) was depicted in a negative light. Maybe those women did look murderous, while their male counterparts looked regal and royal. Maybe my beloved forward-thinking-and-inclusive BioWare unknowingly made each “noble” a male, and each “commoner” a female in their promotional material.

And each of you picked up on those traits, to judge from your answers! But only two people commented on the difference between genders. No one else, even my most eagle-eyed observers, commented on that.

For which I don’t blame you at all.

Sexism with a capital “S” is thankfully long behind us. Women aren’t barred from working, and it’s illegal to blatantly pay women less for the same work. But maybe sexism (with a little “s”) is systemic to the point we don’t notice it anymore. We’ve seen women put in the position being “lesser” for so long – and are so proud of the strides we have made to equalize the genders – that we don’t notice when women are still subtly – and perhaps unconsciously – portrayed as not quite as good as their male counterparts. Like BioWare unknowingly and unintentionally did.

Image result for morrigan disapproves

But what is the underlying message here? What does seeing your gender depicted as “lesser” – over and over again – do to a young woman or a little girl?

Note: before people start pounding away about feminazi’s and “it’s better now” and I’m being picky and everything else, I will say that, yes, things are better now. But we’re still not where we should be. And media is still part of what shapes our ideas and our society. But that still begs the question:

Why Are We Talking About This… Again?

A while ago, I wrote about how game developers sometimes confuse game mechanics with game themes, and market mechanics toward one gender or another, which set off a different mini-series on representation in games, which ignited a lively discussion about sexism.

Related image

But in this article, we’re talking about how women versus men are portrayed. We’re talking about how women look versus how men look, and how that affects perception. Before dismissing this as over-exaggeration, though, it’s important to remember that, in our society, a man’s worth is not generally assessed by his appearance in the same way a woman’s worth is. Even here, women were six times as likely to have their actual appearance (e.g., sexy, bucktoothed, etc.) commented on, compared to the men (i.e., handsome).

However, when a man’s looks are commented on (in real life or in a video game), it’s assumed that his looks are just a bonus. Indiana Jones is smart, innovative, and has dashingly good looks, whereas poor Lara Croft – originally modeled to be a female Indiana Jones – became gaming’s sex symbol until her most recent game releases tried to salvage her image.*

Image result for lara croft


I wavered back and forth about the points I wanted to make. Frankly, I’m tired of debating with people about sexism and whether it still exists.

But that’s really not my point.

The take-home message is not to condemn developers, gamers, or any one group in particular. We are all members of this imperfect society, and all of us affect and are effected by  it.

two way.png

(edit for clarity) The point here is not to say that women are more aggressive than men, or to pass judgment on how we all interpreted those pictures. The fact is, I think those women look terrifying, too, and would rather be standing next to one of the men since they seem to pose the least amount of risk to me.

But the fact that women are portrayed as more aggressive/standoff-ish/etc. is the issue. When a person is exposed to these images again and again, they unconsciously begin to associate women with “negative” adjectives, and that’s where things like sexism (and racism) comes from: our subconscious interpretations of other people that we weren’t aware we learned and aren’t aware we’re acting on. (end edit)

What we can do – and should do – is be aware of what message media is sending us. We can try to notice things from the point of view of someone else, especially if they have been misunderstood in the past. Sexism, bigotry, and racism still exist, and it’s up to us to be aware of it – not just when it rears its ugly head, but when it whispers to us in the dark when we’re not expecting it.

What do you think? Do we not notice sexism in our media anymore? If a forward-thinking company like BioWare can send these types of messages without noticing, are they at fault? Are we? Does any of this matter? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you soon!
~ Athena
**Extra content available on this topic on Patreon!**

((Notes about experimental control:
The 6 pictures used above are the promotional pictures from BioWare, and the pictures of Bayonetta, Snake, Miranda Lawson, and Cole MacGrath were all images taken from their respective Wiki pages, in order to control for my own bias.

Adjectives were found on, and when a particular word wasn’t found on one of the lists, I tried to find a synonym (e.g., “intelligent” for “wise”) or interpret its meaning from context (e.g., “battle-ready”).))

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  1. I think the clothes they are wearing and their facial expressions have a huge impact, the women in those pictures aren’t wearing anything sexy (or I don’t think so anyway) but none of them have the same dress style where as the men have very similar armor styles and expressions despite all being different races and classes, and I think that kind of makes you see the men more as a unity rather than 3 separate people at first which explains your point about the men’s appearance only being described once, it also hinders you from being able to see anything about their personality because they’re not very unique whereas the women, you’ve got one in a white, blood stained dress – there’s definitely a story behind that – one who has a hammer and she’s in a smithy, her armor is arguably the most protective of the 3, she looks pretty fierce, then finally the mage who stands out mainly as the only one with magic but she’s looking at someone or something and looks cautious. They’re all, without a doubt, 3 completely different women with totally different backgrounds and stories but the men are like ” ah yes, the silent hero type”. So basically, you can see a story and more of a display of personality from the women, but the men are a pretty generic hero looking type and therefore forgettable (I had to keep scrolling up while writing this to remember what the men looked like). Unfortunately the facial expressions of the women are all quite angry looking which means they are more associated with negative descriptions, however it also means I am more intrigued by them, it would be nice to have a heroic looking one up there though or one with a nicer expression to balance it out. I hope I explained that all ok! This ended up being a long comment!
    To answer your questions at the end I think that we do notice sexism in the media, it gets called out a lot more than it used but there is still a long way to go before I would happily say that men and women are both portrayed equally in the video game industry.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Long comments are always welcome! You’re right that things are getting better, and I hope as younger generations are raised this will continue to become less and less of an issue.

      This problem of “generic hero” is one that I’m addressing at a later date, so I appreciate you talking about that, but it’s interesting that you dismissed them as “hero,” yet still describe the women with negative adjectives. I appreciate that their complexity draws you to them, but for the sake of this particular article, subjective judgment of a character isn’t entirely what I’m trying to discuss. Yes, more interesting-looking characters are usually more fascinating, but that still doesn’t change that the group of women here is described as “angry” and the group of men is described as “heroic” (even if they are dismissed afterward).


  2. If i’m being honest, I’m probably guilty at times of simply not noticing some of the sexism portrayed. For example, if I lok at the six pictures above, my first takeaway is that all six look pretty sterm and far from friendly. If anything, I’d say that they all look about ready to lamp me. In actuality, I wouldn’t peg any of them as heroic at all. If i’m looking closely, then I’d pick up on all of the women carrying lighter weapons (and it took a moment to notice that the one in the bottom middle position had a knife in hand). It’s not every time that it passes me by, but it does happen, and I’m sure that many others are in the same position. It sucks, because I try to be reasonable and to treat people equally, but i’m certainly perfect in that regard.

    In terms of whether sexism matters, I’d say yes. Whether accidental or deliberate, if something exists and causes problems for others, it should certainly be dealt with, and in a reasonable manner where possible. I am glad to see someone acknowledge how much better things are though, even if there is still a ways to go.

    In a similar way to your point on Indiana Jones and Lara Croft, I read an article recently talking about how Ridley Scott had recently complained about Wonder Woman on the grounds of her outfit. His view was essentially that his strong-female-leads didn’t need to be pretty, they earned respect through hard work. The response basically said that his characters are great but that it’s an unfair assertion. Sherlock Holmes gets to be smart, charming, attractive, dashing etc and women just get to be ‘strong’. It called for more varied depictions of women and pointed out that there are different types of ‘strong’ traits that can be portrayed.

    So, on that point, what would be your ideal in terms of portrayal? Does it come down to a specific image, or simply more of a variety and positive characterisation in general? What specifically needs to change for game portrayals to be equal?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. We’re all (including me) guilty of not noticing things like this, don’t worry! It’s a difficult issue, because we as a society have made such huge strides that shouldn’t be dismissed, but we (all) are also in the position of having learned – consciously or not – to dismiss certain things. And sometimes it’s extreme, because after all, there are still plenty of women who don’t think women should be (or are) equal to men.

      Goodness, I could write a whole response to the nonsense about Wonder Woman. She IS what a female character should be, and exists in the world that I want to see exist here: she’s strong of character (and physically strong), intelligent, beautiful, and can wear a sexy outfit *without anyone in her universe judging her for it.* She’s respected for her amazing abilities, and oh yeah she’s good looking, too. It’s only the people in *this* universe (male AND female) who first judge Wonder Woman based on her physical appearance and the clothes she wears. Equality, to me, means that both you and I could show up to a board meeting in frilly pink dresses and we’d both still be taken as seriously as if you walked in in a suit.

      Regarding where I think we should go from here, I honestly hope that if we continue on the trajectory we are on now, we’ll get there. Aloy was met with some shock at being a “female character” and the diversity in Andromeda caused some grumbling, but in the same way our thinking was subtly trained before, it can be subtly changed again. As long as we keep having discussions like this! Across the board, if I were to give a recommendation, I would keep trying to portray all characters as realistic, and then simply flip a coin regarding their gender. I’m working on a whole discussion of good “female characters” for another time, but that would be the summary I’d give of what I’d like to see.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s a shame that people on either side of the gender divide can’t view themselves and others as equal. In a way, I think that I was lucky to grow up with female characters like Ripley and Aeryn Sun though, as it meant that I was always in a position where media showed women doing exactly the same things as men.
        *without anyone in her universe judging her for it.* That’s an interesting point actually. To make snap judgements based on appearance is not fair, but it’s something that seems to be ingrained in society. I’m not even sure why it’s still a major thing, but there you go. I like the pink frilly dress concept too. Back when I started at my previous job, my manager actually told me that I could turn up to work in a pink frilly dress if I wanted, and no one would be allowed to discriminate. I think she must have known something, because there are plenty of pictures of me wearing clothes not technically designed for my birth gender. Heck, 99% of my cosplays are female characters, for a myriad of reasons ranging from design preference to more emotional stuff.
        Discussions are certainly important. I think that the issue though is how people react to the discussions. There are so many people seem to simply want to get aggressive and cause arguments rather than try to make actual progress. That’s a big obstacle, unfortunately. I do love the diversity being portrayed out there right now across different forms of media though (though there are still some TV shows that miss the mark for me in different ways). I actually take the same route that you just described when it comes to writing different characters in terms of sexual orientation. I prefer to have characters ‘just be’ who they are and not have it really commented on. Everything they are is just a part of them. Honestly, I think that whatever branch of the diversity tree (my head is screaming diversitree as a terrible hybrid word) is better being represented that way. People are just people, multi-faceted and with their own quirks, but no different than each other on a fundamental level.
        I’ll look forward to the good female characters discussion. Aside for anything else, I’d like to see if any examples fit broadly into the same genres, or if good characters are appearing across a wide spectrum.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I fully endorse the term “diversitree,” first of all!

          People are just people, and I think our snap judgments based on physical appeared is too ingrained in us to ever fully “get rid of,” but being *aware* of those judgments and then cognitively deciding what to do about it (i.e., not act on a stereotype, etc.) is more than half the battle.

          That’s so nice that your workplace is so forward-thinking! Also (unrelated), Aeryn Sun is one of my favorite TV characters…

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Great article. It is so true–sexism still exist and majority of the time it is done unconsciously. I am not overly sensitive about it, but I do noticed it quite frequently in the gaming community. Sadly, even some women in our society subconsciously think men are better than women overall, which is very sad. I noticed some of my own female friends will dislike a character based on the way they look such as Jessica Sherawat from Resident Evil Revelations and Vanille from FF XIII . According to them, they look dumb and no one wants to be dumb. Like you, I am tired of arguing with people about sexism. We can’t always judge people based on the way they look. The most important thing as you said, is to be aware of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s true that there are plenty of women who don’t see a problem with women being seen as unequal. Sexism is certainly not exclusive to one gender or another (or exclusive as being toward women).

      All I can ask for is awareness. While I can sit here and say that people should change their ways of thinking, there is no way I can do that, and you can’t force people to *think* certain ways. But I hope people are at least open to the idea of entertaining that there still might be issues out there.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree. Sexism is certainly not exclusive to one gender. I am guilty of that too and it does take a lot of effort for me to step back and acknowledge my own prejudice against the opposite sex. Though most of the time, it really is unintentional.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. If it helps, I would be hesitant to describe many 2010s AAA male characters as heroic. An impression I’ve been getting lately is that many AAA developers haven’t really moved past the nineties, and seeing that decade’s worst trends in action such a long time after the decade ended is both jarring and kind of embarrassing. It was a good, important decade for the medium’s growth, but other mediums by and large moved past it for a reason.

    Given what we have to work with, I’m not terribly surprised that there were more negative words used to describe female game characters. Then again, considering many games with female protagonists make players do similar things as they would had they played as a male protagonist, I would’ve assumed the overlap would be more significant than what we got. If nothing else, I’d say at least half of the negative female traits on that chart (i.e. furious, sarcastic, and heartless) could be used to describe many male video game characters too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right that there is a certain bit of stagnation we’ve seen in the gaming world. And maybe that’s part of the issue.. I’m actually working on a “female characters” post, which will talk about male characters, as well, so I appreciate you bringing that up!

      The pictures here are definitely skewed toward the women being seen in a negative light, but that was sort of my point. When the pictures aren’t side-by-side like this (aka are displayed as they were for promotional material), it was hard to notice. I just happened to be looking for pictures of the promotional materials and saw the row of pictures next to each other, which is the first time even I noticed how the characters were portrayed.

      I do think that many of the negative traits could be used to describe male characters, as well, but here, with characters from the same game, same year, and same developer, the skewing of how negatively some of the characters are portrayed is hard to deny.


      1. Sort of. I feel the creative stagnation is a real problem, but in practice, it’s only as bad as you want to make it. I myself tend to switch between AAA, smaller-budget mainstream, and indie games rather quickly, and for the most part, the only times I notice the lack of imagination is when I’m playing a AAA game. I think that’s where this gender disconnect stems from – not malicious intent, but rather being too afraid of failing. It’s a shame because a lot of these developers have dedicated audiences who would accept a new, experimental title, yet they choose to go through the motions nine times out of ten. Then again, considering the gargantuan budgets they have to work with, taking too many risks could result in disaster. Maybe they could do with scaling back a bit now that graphics have reached a reasonable peak? It’s a complicated issue no matter whose side you take.

        That said, warts and all, I would say this is a better decade in gaming than the nineties due to its thriving indie scene and underrated gems from big-name companies.


  5. Testimonial: The extra notes on Patreon for this article are so worth giving up those awful freemium games for!!! 😀

    My super-rambling response:

    I was wondering when that “game” would show up in one of your articles, haha. But yeah, you mentioned Cloud in your notes (I really loved you bonus notes for this), and sorry, my inner raging fangirl has awoken…

    I hate saying this, because it always makes people defensive (and really, I can talk about other games), but this is EXACTLY why there is so much hate for Final Fantasy XIII. People don’t even realize it themselves, but it is definitely the root cause of the hate bandwagon everyone jumped on. Yes, issues with the linearity and informed counter-to-my-opinions are valid, but when I see people hate on the characters with passion, without giving a reason other than “they suck”, THIS ARTICLE is the reason why. I’m not saying I’m immune to this either – I see my responses in your data (I also have both Bayonetta Amiibo now 🙂 ).

    I’ll just keep rambling though. Lightning, and even Fang, have many of the “negative” female traits. Here’s a great example – I remember an interaction I had on social media with a male friend. He respectfully said that he thought Lightning seemed to “think she was better than everyone else”, while he also said “Squall is so cool though! He’s like my bro.” The meaning behind Squall’s famous “whatever” attitude is no different than Lightning’s infamous “worst birthday ever” attitude. The difference? Squall is a male introvert and Lightning is a female introvert. The reality? Male introverts are often seen as the strong silent types, and female introverts are often seen as stuck up bitches. Why do I think this? Because it has happened to me so many times IRL.

    And wow, I’ve seen oh so many haters call Lightning: boring, Femacho, PMSing protagonist, a raging bitch, Cloud with Maybelline, etc. I don’t even want to think about the many disgusting sexual harassment type statements people spout against her – these all make me want to rage-cry. Seriously, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen someone call Lightning a unfeminine Cloud clone, I’d have enough cash to buyout Square Enix and force them to make FFXIII-4. This shallow statement irks me beyond words. I can’t for the life of me see how anyone who has beaten both FFVII and FFXIII could ever logically think this:

    Cloud is a Mako infused super soldier, and he will forever hate Sephiroth for offing the innocent flower girl. He may or may not actually be a dude named Zack, rides a motorcycle sometimes, and is definitely much better off with Tifa than Aries anyway. Former Sgt Lightning Farron rage quit the Guardian Corps to save her little sister, and she uses a mask of indifference (aka resting bitch face) to hide her true feelings. She hates her depressing world, refuses to submit to cruel fate in general, and knocks sense into the people she truly cares about before they get themselves killed. To me, they are both INFJs. They are both Ex-Soldiers. That’s about all they have in common. Cloud is a survivor and Lightning is a protector. Cloud is trapped on his fate train and Lightning fights her way off her train. For the record, I love Cloud, Squall, and Lightning – Final Fantasy’s miserable weather trio – but Lightning is obviously my favourite.

    It just seems that, in any media, there is this need to compare the once-in-a-blue-moon female protagonist to her plethora of male counterparts. It’s like a woman has to be “sexy” and/or “better” than them in order to be accepted. FFXIII came out almost a decade ago, and I can guarantee you that if it came out today, there would not be nearly as much hate for it, because society is indeed changing for the better. However, there is always from for improvement and it’s going to take a long time before all the bigot attitudes are silenced. I pray that one day humanity can rise above all of this poisoned hatred and just love each other – no matter race, religion, gender, or orientation.

    Jeez, I’m going to shut up and go play Dragon Age now…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you kindly for the endorsement! I’m glad you liked everything I put up over there!! This was a tough one to cut down, so I’m glad you appreciated the stuff that didn’t make it over here 🙂

      Yes, there is an unfortunate lack of thinking sometimes, and then the loudest opinions can set off a herd mentality and… sigh. But you’re right. Lightning bucks convention by being a surly hero who is a woman, the same way Sazh bucks convention by coming across like a ditz (in the beginning) except during battle. In another game, their genders would have been swapped (although, like you said, nowadays maybe not, which is a wonderful thing).

      Well, that’s the old tongue-in-cheek saying, isn’t it: work twice as hard to get half as far? But it’s changing. I hope as younger people who have grown up with more diversity begin to get into leadership positions, we’ll see another step forward in equality for all genders, orientations, races, faiths, etc etc.

      You’re always welcome to leave long comments! But have fun playing Dragon Age, too 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No problem! I think you’ve got a great business model going here. The masses get to see your almighty wisdom, and your loyal Aegises get sweet bonus content. Oh, and I’m available for any future advertising campaigns! Just contact my manager to work out the details. 🙂

        *eats a Snickers bar* Sorry, I’m not me when I’m hungry…

        When I see people attack other strong female leads and characters I like, sure I want to Lightning-style eye roll, but it doesn’t bother me nearly as much. I guess it’s because Lightning and her crew mean the world to me. Your great “window to understanding the mind” description from The Shameful Narcissist’s State of the Reader post works for fictional characters too – We all see them from a different angle, based on our own circumstances and experiences. IRL, you could describe me as a surly outcast woman, and that’s one of the many reasons why Lightning’s character speaks to me so loudly. I can understand why other people see her in a more negative light, even if I 100% disagree with their opinions. I also LOVE your point about Sazh and Lightning’s genders being reversed! I’ve been thinking about doing a series of posts on my blog called “Final Fantasy XIII on Trial” where I defend each character from the game. The haters may roar loudly, but I can try to calm the herd with my insignificant opinions, haha. We shall see.

        I’ve been pondering your last question: “Does any of this matter?” I’ve grown up on video games during the times when they were “male focused”, and I never thought much about the sexism. Today we have so many inspiring female protagonists – Lightning, Aloy, Faith, updated Lara Croft, Senua, Jill Valentine (I could go on, and that’s awesome!!). I think it does matter. We’re not all cookie cutter humans who fit into those stereotypical gender molds we constantly see. Diversity in media increases the chances that someone out there may find a fictional person that speaks to them, maybe even during a time when they need it the most, and that is a very powerful experience.

        I can definitely relate more to female issues since I’m a woman, but I think this time is really hard for both genders. I see ignorant women attack men for very stupid reasons too (like raging at him when he makes a nice gesture, like I don’t know, holding the door for her… seriously?). Female superiority is just as dangerous and disgusting as male superiority. We are all equal human beings who deserve to be treated with respect. I’m glad we’re finally shaking the awful social conventions that have always dominated human societies. Gender roles and “traditional” families are outdated concepts that anger me greatly, but at the same time, they have governed us for generations. While it’s not right, it makes sense that some people would be confused, angry, and hostile when everything they understood is suddenly being changed. I think you are totally correct – the real shift will happen as the younger generations grow up seeing diversity at its finest. That generational snowball effect may one day bring the true equality I wish we had now.

        Don’t encourage me to leave comments… sigh. Dragon Age FTW!! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Sounds good. Next time I see Lightning I’ll be sure to hammer out all the details.

          Yes, yes, yes to all of this. And it grinds my gears when women discriminate against men, as well. Holding a door? That’s called being a decent person, not propagating systematic oppression. Ugh.

          In other news, I’d be interested in reading your analyses of the characters!! As the world’s leading FFXIII expert, I think that would be fascinating 🙂

          Moar comments are always welcome, whenever the mood strikes you… 😉 Only if you want, of course!

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Cool, cool! I’ll let Lightning know you’re looking for her. She rarely leaves Sunleth Waterscape these days. Can’t say I blame her either… 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

    2. God forbid a female centered narrative not do well. That means ALL female centered narratives are scrapped ugh. Imagine if every time a movie with a white, male protagonist bombed, they cancelled all movies like that. They’re not seen as a monolith, but women, POC, and other marginalized identities are 😑

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yeah, I just had a conversation IRL about how one woman represents all of womanhood when things go badly and only herself when she does well, and one man represents himself when things go badly and all women when he does well. Sigh. You’re right that it’s the same with all minorities.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. You have to be a model and paragon for your group, and I’ve definitely been there before. The “You’re different!” or the always “Wow, you’re so articulate and speak English so well” in utter shock. Um, yeah, I studied it. I used to take it as a compliment, too *sigh* before I, myself, became more educated. Though I will say the people who used to say it who are still my friends also educated themselves, so I’m pretty happy about that.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s honestly tiresome his often I have to argue that sexism and racism indeed do exist, and just because things have gotten relatively better, it doesn’t mean everything is fine. I even hesitate to say things truly are better since systematic oppression is still in place as it has been for centuries; it just finds different ways to manifest. The underlying system hasn’t changed, the rot in the foundation.

    What you see now is people denying they’re bigots, because it’s so ingrained they can’t see it without deep self reflection. So they’ll say they dislike something with a female lead because “It sucks!” but deny they hate it for that reason; however, if you point pot a similar narrative with a male lead, they’ll make every excuse in the book hoe it’s not the same thing e.g. Rey vs. Luke (Star Wars) when the former is called a Mary Sue when Luke was JUST as strangely good at everything, LightningEllen’s example. I haven’t played FFXIII yet, but Lightning cannot be more broody than Squall not more mopey than Cloud, and these are universally beloved characters, but Lightning is a bitch? Then of course we have the backlash to the female Link (Linkle?) or victim blaming Princess Peach for “letting herself get kidnapped.” A Let’s Player I follow said that one 🙄 Again it’s just woven into the fabric of our society. Calling it out disrupts the status quo, which is why there’s a huge backlash whenever we do.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. To be fair, there are laws that do protect people from discrimination, which is good, but there are still ways to get around them that are “socially acceptable,” which isn’t…

      I guess that’s the price of political correctness, though? Folks just deny the bad stuff is happening, because it’s not socially polite to acknowledge that in the 21st century we (all) are still having these issues.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There are laws, but when the people who enforce those laws are able to get away with breaking them, it really doesn’t matter what’s on paper :\

        It’s sadly laughable that people complain more about political correctness, which in essence is just treating people with respect, than they complain about systematic discrimination. Like how it’s worse to be *called* a racist than to suffer the effects of it.

        The reason it persists is because this country (the US) still hasn’t really acknowledged it. Like you can’t just ignore or cover up a festering wound even if it does have a scab. Eventually, you have to get to the source/foundation of the problem, but if you don’t even acknowledge it exists, it will never heal.

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  7. I do wonder how much that’s impacted by your choice of pictures there. Two of those three women, as well as one of the other two you had in the original post, are posed rather aggressively towards the viewpoint, whereas none of the men, with the possible edge case of Cole McGrath, are. I don’t doubt that there’d still be some differences in the way the viewer reacts to aggressive men and women, there’s plenty in real life, but to me, I would hypothesize that the aggression may make almost as much of an impact on views as the gender swap.

    Also, if you don’t mind, how did you separate out the negatives and the positives? Some of the negatives on the female side (i.e., cunning, dangerous, fierce) seem rather similar to positives on the male side (i.e. wise, powerful, battle-ready), and I’m wondering where the difference falls there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Those are fair questions. The six pictures I used above are the promotional pictures from DAO (which were, as far as I could tell, the official pictures so I didn’t have to sort through anything), and the pictures of Cole, Miranda, Bayonetta, and Snake were the pictures from Wikipedia/the game’s respective Wiki (and was usually one of the first two or three images on Google Image search). With so many images available, I figured the pictures on the Wikis would at least provide some level of control. Believe me, I agonized over the pictures, and without another set of eyeballs to help with experimental control, I did have to make some judgments by myself, so I tried to control as much as possible.

      Regarding the adjectives themselves, I used lists I found at for both positive and negative words. Since some, like “battle-ready” were not there, I again had to make a judgment call. In that particular case, battle-ready seemed like something akin to “prepared” so I judged that to be positive.

      Semantics, semantics, they can be so irritating.. But “cunning” and “wise” have different connotations, with cunning usually being associated with some sort of unscrupulous actions (it’s also on the list of negative adjectives on EnglishClub), whereas “wise” doesn’t have that same “underhanded” sort of association with it.

      I should have posted that information with the article, so thanks for asking for it! I’m still trying to strike a balance with what type of nitty-gritty details to keep in posts like these.

      At any rate, the point I was trying to make was not so much that women are perceived as more aggressive than men – like you said, the pictures were obviously skewed – but that women are *portrayed* as lesser or more aggressive (or what-have-you) than men. I think those women looked pretty terrifying, to be honest, and the men look stern, but not immediately dangerous to my well-being because, well, that’s how they look. So then, when a person *always* or *mostly* sees women as aggressive/bad/lesser in some way, that becomes the association in their mind, because that’s always what’s being reinforced: women are not as good as men, and vice versa for me.

      I just re-read my conclusion… I tried to take a softer stance than I usually do with this topic, and and may have blurred my point in the process. So I appreciate you asking; I’ll have to go back and add a clarifying statement at the end.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for the detail! I don’t know that you really need to soften the stance there. Even if you’re as generous as possible with those word categories, the data is still overwhelmingly in favor of your conclusion, so I don’t know that it makes that much of a difference, in all.

        Words and meaning are subject to opinion, and I don’t think anyone is going to completely agree with anyone else on the whole spread. I just think it’s handy to know what gauge you’re using to evaluate them when considering this, so again, thanks for the detail.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I confess I was super curious about what that game was for. 😛 This article is super timely, considering the mess James Cameron made about strong female characters (something Matt mentioned) and the many revisions of Joss Whedon’s heroines we got in the last few weeks.

    First of all, this is a great reminder that fighting against sexism of the little s variety is an everyday thing. And “yikes!” at my own bias. D:

    I have to agree with the Dragon’s Tea Party about the female characters seeming more well-rounded than the male ones. Maybe it’s because the drawings are more dynamic and it has little to do with gender bias, but the men seem very standard or run of the mill RPG characters, and the women don’t. Or perhaps Bioware did design them differently, either on purpose to point out that Thedas is still a complicated place for women or accidentally because whoever designed this promotional art has their own bias. Another option is that the women seem different/more interesting by virtue of being women because female characters have been relegated for a long time, but that explanation becomes a bit of chicken-and-egg problem if I think too hard about it.

    As for the questions. I do think we notice sexism in the media, but I feel like we also are quicker to judge female characters and hold them to higher standards. Maybe it is because we have a double standard, or maybe it’s because there are still comparatively fewer, a gap that is even wider in video games as opposed to other media. I mean, I don’t want to name names *cough*Kingkiller Chronicle*cough*, but a Mary Sue is always a Mary Sue while a Gary Stu can have about four chapters dedicated to him wooing a goddess of love and he gets called an unreliable narrator.

    I have a question that may be a bit dumb, but seeing as I have no idea about psychology’s method and methodology, I ask you to bear with me for a moment: how did you classify comments as negative or positive? I am asking because I noticed that some of my comments are mediated by my knowledge of Origins and don’t align with the column you assigned them to. For example, I don’t think being canny is a bad thing, much less in the context of the game, where it may very well be the thing that saves a mage’s life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, James Cameron… I’m not sure there’s a better example of a man thinking he knows what’s best for women, in spite of, you know, thousands and thousands of women saying otherwise…..

      But I wonder why “dynamic” needed to be “looking aggressive.” And if that’s “dynamic” why aren’t the male characters more “dynamic”? It’s possible this was all an innocent attempt to make the women seem like “strong” characters, but again, the male characters don’t look particularly weak, so why the angry/aggressive poses for just them?

      I’m not sure… an “unreliable narrator” is a pretty big slap to a character (especially the main character). But you’re right that Mary Sue entertains a different type of disgust, I think.

      Not a dumb question at all! I used lists I found at (linked above). Some of the words weren’t on the lists, and so I did have to make some judgment calls. In regards to research, this would ideally have been done with at least one other person to control for our/my biases. I tried not to look at who left what word, since there are some people who played Origins and some who didn’t, so I didn’t look at context re: how much the person knew about the games.

      Regarding the word “canny,” since that wasn’t on either list, I had to make a judgment. The dictionary defines it as “shrewd,” which could also be good or bad depending on the situation. In those situation (cunning way another vague one), I tended toward the negative each time just to be consistent. It’s possible I could have labeled them differently (this is where another set of eyes would have come in handy), but even removing those “unsure” words doesn’t really change the results.


      1. What really gets me is that for him a strong woman is one that acts and dresses like a man. I am not sure what the rationale is. Either women can be strong but only if they aren’t attractive to them, or women can be strong as long as they don’t exhibit traditional “womanly” behaviours. It’s beyond messed up. There is room for different kinds of strong women and not all of them have to be unsexed (to steal from Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy).

        As for the poses, I don’t know if we’ll ever know for sure. It could be like you said, a misguided attempt to have “strong characters”. Or maybe the artist/producer wanted it that way to show us the difference between classes in Thedas, and their own bias had them put women in all the subaltern classes (which is debatable in the case of the Dalish elves, even though Dalish >> city elves in the social hierarchy of Ferelden). Alternatively, they tried to make a point on purpose. that for all that Thedas is a bit more progressive than this world of ours, women end up in more vulnerable situations.

        You are right that the term Mary Sue has a more negative connotation than “unreliable narrator”. To me it goes back to what I said about Cameron’s ideas: dudes are allowed to be ridiculously strong AND fully developed people, while women aren’t usually allowed to be anything but strong.

        And thanks for answering my question! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I was just talking to LightningEllen about strong women not being attracted to men sometimes. It boggles my mind… One day, women won’t have to be like a man (either in dress or by, you know “being attracted to women” *rolls eyes*) to be considered strong. Here’s hoping!


  9. Very interesting post! I’m sorry I couldn’t participate in the initial game, but I have some thoughts on the results. Looking at the six character portraits, as you say, it’s striking the aggression. But also, I think the men (I nearly wrote boys – LOL) are posed more professionally. That is to say, even wielding weapons, they all seem to be working for a higher cause of some sort. The women’s portraits are far more emotionally charged, and the conflicts they are experiencing are presumably more domestic. On the plus side, that does make the female characters more interesting/compelling in some ways!

    On the downside, it reiterates certain (sexist) assumptions about men and women. One of my textbooks discussed gendered language in media reporting, with studies showing that newspaper headlines regularly identify women in connection with their placement within the family (e.g. wife), while men are generally identified through their profession (e.g. builder). Just one legacy of times when women were considered the property of men.

    Liked by 1 person

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