Beauty in the Background: A Content Analysis of Females in Interactive Digital Games

Beauty in the Background: A Content Analysis of Females in Interactive Digital Games

Ashley D. Cox (University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL, USA), Cassie A. Eno (Center for Academic Excellence, Bellevue University, Bellevue, NE, USA) and Rosanna E. Guadagno (National Science Foundation, Arlington, VA, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/ijicst.2012070104
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Abstract

This content analysis examined the representation of females in top selling console video games. Based on prior content analyses, the study hypothesized that female characters would be more likely to appear in supporting roles and would be represented as suggestively dressed with sexualized portions of their bodies exposed. It was predicted that female characters would be less likely to engage in violence relative to male characters. The results of the analysis of 538 characters from 48 interactive video game systems supported these predictions and suggest that video games portray stereotypic depictions of women consistent with traditional gender roles. The implications of these findings are presented in the context of social learning theory. Furthermore, the unique features of video game play that may heighten their socializing impact are discussed.
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Social Learning Theory

It is well documented that the media influences the socialization process by providing models for individuals to emulate (American Psychological Association, 2005; Anderson, 2003; Bandura, 1973; Bandura, 1986; Berger, 2005; Murray, 1980; Stein & Frederic, 1975). With the predominance of media in most people’s lives, it is important to examine the content of the messages the media are presenting to viewers. According to social learning theory, individuals will assimilate to their culture partially based on observations of the events and behaviors around them (Bandura, 1986). Learning can occur by observing others’ (i.e., models) behaviors, cognitions, and beliefs and observing the consequences of these actions, thoughts, and beliefs. Modeled actions that are rewarded are more likely to be repeated by the observer, while behaviors that are punished are not. Relevant to digital video games, exposure to virtual models can also influence subsequent behavior (Bandura, 1965; Bandura, Ross, & Ross, 1961, 1963; Meltzoff, 1988). Individuals who play video games are particularly likely to model the behavior of characters in the game that they identify with and observe being rewarded for their actions. Thus, the role of socialization in video games is both a pertinent issue and a potential concern given the literature reviewed in this manuscript.

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