Dennis Maciuszek (2010)
Sexism and ageism in video games - patterns of stereotyping and emancipation
The talk presents evidence for these claims, but also points out tendencies of game characters' emancipation during the 1980s, 90s, and 2000s – from Ms. Pac-Man via Lara Croft (Tomb Raider) to Scarlett (Venetica). Today, female characters can be heroines in their own right. While women's emancipation has made progress, men's liberation from macho warrior images still has to come a long way. Game design has made attempts to solve this through role reversal (a clumsy male pirate, a female governor, and a female swordmaster in The Secret of Monkey Island) or satire (Leisure Suit Larry, Sam & Max). Characters of 'old' age, however, remain particularly scarce. Where they exist, they seem to reinforce stereotypes of the unattractive and/or senile elderly. There are only few traces of emancipation. For instance, player characters may live to old age in The Sims, or one can deliberately design an aged avatar in Oblivion. Only The Graveyard, an experimental game, seems to adequately communicate the psychological state of an aged protagonist.
In order to investigate this evidence and to deepen published findings, the talk reports results from a qualitative study undertaken from a game design perspective. Its purpose was to collect patterns of recurring roles ascribed to game characters. On the basis of 200 female, 123 male, and a smaller selection of old-age characters, the study produced a catalogue of character design patterns (archetype plus characteristics). Typical female archetypes included 'the soldier' (as many games centre round violence), different sexy or soft stereotypes, but also some ambivalent roles that pair violence or attractiveness with an interesting personality ('the shady agent' or 'the demon'). Truly progressive archetypes were in the scarcer 'damsel in command' or 'avatar in wonderland'. Male archetypes included mostly different action heroes (‘the soldier’ or ‘the pilot’), but also, more scarcely, the more vulnerable, down-to-earth roles 'avatar in wonderland', 'hero with a past', 'apprentice boy', and 'clumsy fighter'. Old-age roles include wizards, rulers, or 'the mad professor'. As preliminary evidence suggested, stereotypes dominate among game characters, yet in addition designers have come up with a selection of stronger female and weaker male characters with multi-faceted personalities. The pattern catalogue includes these, so that game designers can start to establish them as archetypes in order to reduce prevailing sexist and ageist conventions.