Gender Bias in Video Games


Twelve-year-old Madeline Messer demands that video game companies get rid of the gender bias that fills their games. PHOTO: getshocked/Flickr
Twelve-year-old Madeline Messer demands that video game companies get rid of the gender bias that fills their games. PHOTO: getshocked/Flickr

Imagine scrolling through the characters of a video game and finding out that the majority of the characters are male. Some video games even require you to pay to play as a girl! According to research done by 12-year-old Madeline Messer, out of 50 popular video games, only five offer free female characters. This is an example of gender bias.

The gender bias in video games is angering many people. Because most of the characters in the games are male, many girls feel they are being treated as though they are unequal to men. Some say deal with it; the game is fun. However, many people, including Messer, feel as though gender bias is unjust.

Messer decided to raise awareness of this problem. On March 4, 2015, she wrote an editorial for the Washington Post about how the games that she plays all seem to fall into this pattern. She did some research and found that out of 50 games, 90 percent offer male characters for free while only 15 percent offer free female characters.

Gender bias takes on many different forms in video games. One example is the “damsel in distress.” According to Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist blogger, a damsel in distress situation is “a plot device in which a female character is placed in a perilous situation from which she can’t escape on her own and must be rescued by a male.” For instance, in “Super Mario Bros,” Princess Peach is kidnapped continuously and Mario has to rescue her.

This common scene from "Super Mario Bros" shows female character Princess Peach waiting to be saved in a classic "damsel in distress" situation. PHOTO: Ricardo Saramago/Flickr
In this classic scene from “Super Mario Bros,” female character Princess Peach is a damsel in distress as she waits to be saved by a male character, Mario. PHOTO: Ricardo Saramago/Flickr

There are other types of gender bias in video games. With “Temple Run,” there are far fewer female characters than male. In “Despicable Me,” you play as a minion. You have a choice to wear costumes, however there are fewer female minion costumes than male. “Minecraft” has had a similar problem. Until April 2015, you could only play as Steve, a male character. Now, you can play for free as Alex, a female character.

Madeline Messer’s editorial brought on some positive changes. “Temple Run” notified Messer that they would be releasing a free female character. Another game, “Noodles Now” is creating a new character named “Madeline,” and Messer has agreed to do the voice-over for the character. As she writes in the Washington Post, “If I were an app maker, the ethical issue of charging for girl characters and not boy characters would be enough reason to change.”

Gender bias: When a person faces discrimination because of their sex. Sometimes gender bias is conscious, and sometimes people are unaware of their bias.

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