Thinking outside the Man Box
The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media yesterday released its report “The Double Edged Sword of Online Gaming,” which examined the role of masculinity in the gaming industry and gaming communities.
To mark the occasion, the actress and lawyer herself appeared in a fireside chat with Glow-Up Games CEO Mitu Khandaker at the Game Developers Conference to publicize the research.
“We wanted to know what message the games are sending,” said Davis.
To do this, the researchers analyzed the content of games, streamer communities, and game chat features (using automatic language analysis), and conducted a survey of boys and young men. aged 10 to 26. They looked at the portrayal in games of women, people of color, LGBTQIA + people, people with disabilities, people over 50, and tall people.
To answer representational questions, the group gathered information on nearly 28,000 characters featured in 684 15-minute clips of gameplay segments from top Twitch streamers. Male characters outnumbered female characters four times. Girls and women made up almost 28% of the protagonists and were 10 times more likely to be shown in revealing clothing than male figures (24.6% to 2.3%).
“The overexposure to these kinds of tropes is very impactful. What we are exposed to over and over again becomes kind of a reality for us.”
Out of race, 75% of all characters were white, as were over 89% of the main characters. Games were apparently more comfortable when white characters commit acts of violence than characters of color (51.7% vs. 33.6%) and the violence was less likely to have arguably noble justifications ( 14% of the violence of colored characters was committed to protect strangers or society, compared to 7.3% for white characters).
“It’s not like we’re saying, ‘Hey let’s make it even and make the characters of color more violent,’” Davis said. “It’s, ‘Let’s make the white characters less violent.'”
LGBTQIA + characters were “virtually absent,” representing 0.03% of the sample, with 0.1% of the characters shown having a physical disability.
3.2% of the characters were 50 or older, and 1.5% had larger body types.
In addition to concerns about the representation of marginalized audiences, the report also focused on the representation of men, particularly how they describe and reinforce notions of what it means to be a man.
“The overexposure to these kinds of tropes is very impactful,” Davis said. “What we are exposed to time and time again becomes kind of a reality for us. Media and games, the things that we see in our popular culture, have a huge impact on how we are. So as you can. imagining it, playing these games over and over or watching people play these games can have a significant impact on what you think is how men should be, or what masculinity should look like. “
Davis described the idea of the Man Box, “a set of beliefs that are communicated by parents and family, the media, peers and other members of society who put pressure on men and boys to ‘they act a certain way.
She identified seven main pillars of the Man Box:
- Be fully autonomous: do things without the help of others
- Act Decisively: Defend Your Reputation and Use Aggression to Do It
- Be physically attractive, effortless: spending time and effort on your appearance isn’t manly
- Stick to gender roles: take risks, be a leader, provide for your family, no cooking or care
- Being heterosexual and homophobic: avoiding being gay or even being perceived as gay
- Be hypersexual: favor sexual conquests over intimacy, never refuse sex
- Use aggression to resolve conflicts: be prepared to use violence to gain respect, control your relationships
“We found in our study that masculine norms are very strongly adhered to, with four out of five male characters displaying at least one of these pillars of masculinity, for example,” Davis said. “Seven in ten male characters are shown engaging in stereotypical male activities such as taking risks, engaging in violence, getting angry. Almost one in four male characters actually expresses anger.”
Khandaker pointed out that these strict conceptions of masculinity hurt both those who fit in and those who don’t.
“What I like [the Man Box] the definition is how she talks about how she limits, both for cis men and people of all genders, how those representations lock people up, in a way. “
Of course, these problems are not limited to the content of games created by the industry; they are also clearly visible in the culture surrounding games, including online communities and on streaming platforms like Twitch.
As the new report’s introduction notes, “On the positive side, streaming platforms are a vital space to connect with male friends – these communities are a space where boys and young men can share their emotions and issues. and be authentic themselves. But online spaces are also teeming with identity prejudices, harassment and bullying that are ultimately detrimental to boys and young men, as well as because of other community members who interact with this content may mimic or condone these behaviors both online and offline. “
Almost 38% of the streaming segments analyzed included sexist language. 29% included the word “bitch”.
Davis said Twitch’s top 20 streamers were all male, with only one being a man of color and one identifying as LGBTQ.
The report found that almost 38% of the streaming segments analyzed included sexist language. 29% included the word “bitch”. Almost a quarter contained sexually degrading content.
Racist language was used in 6% of segments, and almost 1% included the n-word.
Homophobic language was used in more than 10% of the segments. 49% of the segments used a capable language, “crazy” being used in more than 18% of the clips analyzed.
The numbers are worse when looking at the chat accompanying Twitch streams, where 63% of segments had sexist language in the chat, 38% included racist language, and 84% saw ableist language used.
“Online games provide amazing opportunities for boys and young men to connect, but we need to make them feel like they are themselves online …”
“When a streamer uses sexually objectifying language, the amount of sexually objectifying language in the chat doubles,” the report says. “We find similar increases in chat messages using a respective insult when the player uses sexist, racist, ableist, ageist and sizeist language. This confirms that the most popular streamers on online platforms are setting the tone for the language. used by chat participants. “
Davis acknowledged that gambling culture provides people with valuable human connections and stressed the need to have a place for this, but added that there is an ongoing concern about the normalization of violence and hatred.
“The thing to think about is, since there is such a positive aspect that you can gain by building community and sharing special time with your friends through the game, how can we make it a more positive experience? and submit to less bullying, harassment and violence “There must be positive things, ways to make the experience more positive and creative,” she said.
“We know that what happens in the fictional world has a real impact. Online games provide incredible opportunities for boys and young men to connect, but we need to make them feel like they are to be themselves online., and not have to reinforce toxic biases and toxic masculinity. “
In light of this week’s discrimination lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, Khandaker clarified that those responsible are responsible for addressing issues of representation and treatment of marginalized people in the industry.
“Ultimately these issues go back to leadership,” Khandaker said. “These things start at the top, so companies and leaders have to have values where they care about these issues … It really comes down to a question of values from the top, because that’s who is being listened to in the ‘company, who is supported, what is the overall culture of the company. “