Players Object to Extreme Physique of Video Game Characters

College students in study have negative feelings about exaggerated and highly sexualized body types.

College students playing Japanese fighting video games often object to the unrealistic depictions of the characters, drawn with exaggerated and highly sexualized physiques, but they say the mechanics of the game itself are more important to them.

Those findings come from researcher Rachael Hutchinson, associate professor of Japanese studies in the University of Delaware’s , who conducted four years of surveys of students’ attitudes toward the games. Her paper, “Gender Stereotypes in Japanese Fighting Games: Effects on Identification and Immersion,” was published in the September issue of the Journal of New Media and Culture.

“In these particular games, the characters–male and female–have very extreme, exaggerated physiques,” Hutchinson said. “These are very unrealistic body types.

Image shows a video game controller.
Men were more concerned about the extreme body images of the male characters, drawn with such exaggerated muscles that even a student who was a bodybuilder called them unrealistic. In contrast, women were more likely to criticize the sexualized depiction of the female characters as an indication that men dominate the videogame industry as designers and corporate executives. Image is for illustrative purposes only.

“My question was: Does this detract from a player’s ability to identify with a character [he or she is controlling during the game] or from their immersion in the game?”

She found that players noticed and had negative feelings about the exaggerated body types and that there were differences between the reactions of men and women, although both genders expressed worry about the influence on younger players.

Men, she said, were more concerned about the extreme body images of the male characters, drawn with such exaggerated muscles that even a student who was a bodybuilder called them unrealistic. In contrast, women were more likely to criticize the sexualized depiction of the female characters as an indication that men dominate the videogame industry as designers and corporate executives.

Despite these objections to the images of characters, students told Hutchinson that other factors were much more important to their identification with characters and their immersion in a particular game.

“When I asked them what detracts from their identification with a character, the sexualized elements were ranked at No. 6,” she said.

Much more important to the players were such factors as whether they were winning the game and whether they could easily direct a character’s actions.

“When you’re losing or feel like you can’t control your character, you get frustrated and lose that sense of identification,” Hutchinson said. “When you’re winning, you identify with the character no matter what it looks like. These are functions of the genre, not related to how the character appears.”

The research also shows the value in studying a particular type of game, rather than the industry as a whole, she said. Japanese fighting games give players a choice of dozens of characters and the ability to engage in short fighting sequences that last only a few minutes. After a fight, a player can change characters if she or he wants to.

In a different kind of game, where a player directs a single character through a narrative that might take hours to complete, the findings might be different, Hutchinson said.

“I think a lot has to do with choice, with whether a game gives you a choice of characters,” she said. “These fighting games are different from other genres, and the way people play them is different.”

About this psychology and gaming research

Source: Peter Bothum – University of Delaware
Image Source: The image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Full open access research for “Gender Stereotypes in Japanese Fighting Games: Effects on identification and immersion ” by Rachael Hutchinson in Journal of New Media and Culture. Published online August 2015 doi:not available


Abstract

Gender Stereotypes in Japanese Fighting Games: Effects on identification and immersion

This essay examines the effect of gender stereotypes on American undergraduate players of Japanese fighting games such as Soul Calibur, Tekken and Virtua Fighter. Player reactions to representations of gender are examined to discover whether stereotypes have any effect on processes of player-character identification and immersion in the game. Gender stereotypes did have some negative effects on both identification and immersion, with players expressing objections to the hyper-sexualized and unrealistic bodies of characters. Where female players were concerned with the representation of women in patriarchal society, male players were more concerned with body image. However, when asked to identify game elements that enhanced or detracted from identification, the mechanics of the fighting game as a genre were seen as much more important than the appearance of characters.

“Gender Stereotypes in Japanese Fighting Games: Effects on identification and immersion ” by Rachael Hutchinson in Journal of New Media and Culture. Published online August 2015 doi:not available

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