Judging a Game by Its Cover: the Development of a Fairer Framework for Analysing Gender in Video Games




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De Montfort University


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Peer reviewed


In recent years, society has gained a newfound acknowledgement of understanding gender as a multifaceted spectrum (Monro, 2019; Hopkins and Richardson, 2021), requiring universal acceptance and support from both individuals and industry. Companies now have a duty to re-evaluate their products and outputs to accommodate this deeper level, as opposed to catering to the binary approach to gender that has been prevalent for many years. The video game sector is no exception. Realistic graphics and immersive storylines mean that the inclusion of diverse personas is vital in ensuring that video games are accessible to everyone (Jin, 2012). A mirror of society, games have the power to influence players and aid identification with repeated representations of characters and depictions of cultural norms (McQuail, 2010, p.82). However, although video game companies are attempting to keep up with changes in the interpretation of gender identity (Ruberg, 2018; Thach, 2021), the method used to analyse these non-normative characters has neither been adapted nor re-evaluated in research.

There are two aims of this research that share importance here. The initial aim is to demonstrate that the traditional gender-based content analysis method is no longer suitable for modern-day analysis of character representation in video games. To achieve this, the content analysis has been replicated and evaluated to identify the shortcomings that occur when analysing characters in this way. The further aim is to suggest and develop an alternative approach that is more appropriate for the changing nature of gender identity concepts. A framework is presented that utilises a game-by-game character-by-character qualitative method where diverse perspectives are not only accepted but also serve to strengthen and enrich results.

This thesis is the first to highlight a need to re-evaluate existing methods for their suitability instead of blind replication. It is also the first to develop and test a new approach that is fair and promotes understanding of those characters outside of the gender binary. The content analysis replication discovers that women are vastly underrepresented in all roles, but little sexualisation occurs in any character. Testing the framework indicates that more detailed responses provide worthy justification for ‘good’ or ‘bad’ representation and, thus, a better understanding of character agency. Finally, the framework itself emphasises that a less restrictive approach to character analysis enables researchers with multiple perspectives to collaborate, creating a more rounded, comprehensive, and enhanced understanding of gender in games.





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