Sexualized Female Video Game Characters: Stereotyping and the Female Self-Concept

According to this study, done by Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz and Dana Mastro in 2009, female characters in video games are grossly underrepresented, hypersexualized, and are often victims or prizes for the player. Female characters in game are often portrayed with stereotypical gender roles such as “brazenly sexualized beings and objects of sexual desire.

The sexuality of the female characters is often showcased by their clothing, or lack there of. Behm-Morawitz ad Dana Mastro cite facts from Beasley and Standley, who found that “70% of female character in [M-rated games] and 46%… in [T-rated games] were depicted with abundant cleavage.” Behm-Morawitz and Mastro go on to list other percentages about female characters’ appearances:

  • 86% wearing clothing with low/revealing necklines
  • 48% dressed in outfits with no sleeves (contrasted by 22% of male characters represented with no sleeves)
  • only 14% of males characters wearing low/revealing necklines.
  • Female characters are twice as likely to be shown in revealing clothing

Behm-Morawitz and Mastro found that the majority of female characters represented are NPCs (or Non-Playable Characters). Although the playable female characters are often important, powerful, and heroic their sexuality is their defining feature.  Behm-Morawitz and Mastro hypothesized that played a sexualized female character would result in lower self-esteem and lower self-efficacy (the belief in oneself to perform and complete tasks). There was no support for the hypothesis about self esteem, but they did find that playing a sexualized video game character negatively effected self-efficacy in women (in comparison to not playing games at all).

Personally, I think the sexualization of female characters is empowering. Often the female character is looked upon as weak or too feminine. I enjoy playing female characters and often feel an increase in my self-esteem having accomplished what I do in game as a female player and female character. Most female character have weaker physical attributes but are often very intelligent. That’s not a bad thing at all regardless of how the character appears.

And what about the non-sexualized female characters? What about the female characters who are leaders? Warriors? Berserkers? Assassins?  I can guarantee you that I have put some very bulky, non-figure-flattering armor on my characters. And let us not forget the customized characters. How does that fit into the gender roles argument? I often make my characters in my image-which means short and stocky. I won’t be naive and say that the number of sexualized female characters is down-but I will go so far as to say that the number of female characters who are not-sexualized and are challenging the tradition of being a sexualized prize are increasing. Most games, role playing games (RPGs) in particular, have to option to play as a male or female lead character and the games I have played which feature a female lead have been survival horror games (excluding Super Princess Peach and Harvest Moon Cute), in which there is very little to find sexually appealing I assure you.



  1. I definitely noticed that in most video games that the female characters have a lack in clothing and are usually very physically fit and have a perfectly sculpted body. And I am not going to lie that in my fair share of game playing I always tried to make the character look like me, but the super fit version of me! I used to play W.O.W. (World of Warcraft) and everytime I wanted to buy more clothing I would buy the cutest outfit, not necessarily the best or safest for the game. I feel like video games are a way for people to escape reality and have their own reality within the game. This goes for pretending to be something you’re not like a wizard, warrior, or just super skinny! This is why I think games are designed this way!

  2. I have definitely noticed that in some games my brother and I would play growing up, and even now have women as characters that cannot be played, and are seen simply as a “side kick” role, waiting for instruction from the main male character. On the other hand I have noticed more recently a lot of games have been taking onto the idea of creating your own character, which leaves the gender and physical attributes to the player, which I am completely for. While some of the skill sets may be predetermined for each individual character, it is now in the player’s hands to choose.

  3. I’m a little confused by your argument that the sexualization of female characters is empowering. I’d love to hear you expound on that.

    The problem with it is that there is a humongous difference between a character who is sexual and one who is sexualized. And sexualized does NOT equate to feminine. The women in video games are often unrealistically proportioned and wear clothing that makes absolutely no sense for their purpose. My favorite example is Catwoman in Arkham City. Selina has her catsuit unzipped so low that her boobs would fall right out the first time she does a backflip.

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