Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
Anita Sarkeesian, who runs the YouTube channel and organisation Feminist Frequency, is back. Her series on the representation of women in computer games has now lingered into its second season, which promises tighter but more numerous videos.
(Video: Feminist Frequency)
The first entry in this new season was Strategic Butt Coverings, where designers “often choose to put tremendous focus on the butts of certain characters, while going to almost absurd lengths to avoid calling attention to the butts of others” . Ms Sarkeesian then cites a number of examples of more sexualised representations of female characters, before listing cases where the male equivalent is not emphasised or well-defined.
Ms Sarkeesian states that, in reference to the Batman Arkham games:
For the purposes of this video I tried to get a glimpse of Batman’s rear end, but it’s as if his cape is a high-tech piece of Wayne Industries equipment designed to cover up his butt at all costs. I like to jokingly refer to this aspect of a male character’s costume as the strategic butt covering.
Batman is typically shown in all media with a cape, so it is difficult to characterise this particular example as “absurd lengths”. Moreover, male playable characters in the Arkham games — such as Nightwing — have similar tight costumes to Catwoman; and Batgirl’s cape operates in a similar manner to Batman’s cape.
A standard deficiency within the Feminist Frequency videos is that examples are stacked on each side, without recognition or calculation of how many do and do not follow an identified pattern, or how influential those games are. Still, Ms Sarkeesian does appear to have a point about how women are sexualised in the marketing of particular games.
Given the great diversity in both the produced media and the consumed media, making a broad claim about the effects of watching certain films or playing certain games is rather unwise:
Rather, the solution is to de-emphasize the rear ends of female characters, so that players are encouraged not to ogle and objectify these women, but to identify and empathize with them as people.
Studies can help illuminate the effect sizes. German researchers looked at gamers aged 14 and over across three years, to see if playing games affected the development of sexist attitudes . This would be what cultivation theory would imply: the values propagated from media sources are absorbed and change perceptions of social realities.
The study’s abstract states:
Controlling for age and education, it was found that sexist attitudes — measured with a brief scale assessing beliefs about gender roles in society — were not related to the amount of daily video game use or preference for specific genres for both female and male players.
This is only one study, but Ms Sarkeesian’s work would be made more complete by greater inclusion of empirical studies. This research suggests that the effects of computer games on people may be overestimated, but instigates other interesting questions such as the influence of gamers on each other .
Nevertheless, Feminist Frequency promises to be more frequent.
 Sarkeesian, A., 2016. Strategic Butt Coverings. Feminist Frequency. Available from: http://feministfrequency.com/2016/01/19/strategic-butt-coverings/ [Accessed: 25th March 2016]
 Breuer, J., Kowert, R., Festl, R., and Quandt, T., 2015. Sexist Games = Sexist Gamers? A Longitudinal Study on the Relationship Between Video Game Use and Sexist Attitudes. Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking. Available from: http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/cyber.2014.0492 [Accessed: 25th March 2016]
 Totilo, S., 2015. What to make of a study about gaming and sexism. Kotaku. Available from: http://kotaku.com/what-to-make-of-a-study-about-gaming-and-sexism-1698543308 [Accessed: 25th March 2016]