Analytical Essay on Issues of Gender, Race and Violence in Video Games

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Video games have become a significant part of the media diet, as well as have been seen as a crucial symbolic system that mat have a wide range of social influences (Comstock and Cobbey, 1979). Considering the influence of video games as a form of media, it is necessary to research whether some game elements represent real-world situations and problems or video games’ representation are disconnected with real-life; as well as the impacts of game representations. This article affirms the video games' representation to some extent reflects the realities and problems. In addition to harming real life, the game representation has a positive impact on it. It may not have much impact on real life. This article first analyzes the importance of video games as a representation of reality and issues based on the nature of video games as the most representative and influential media platform of the era. Secondly, considering that the existing video game analysis work is mainly focused on three topics which the communication researchers extremely interested in, including violence, gender, and race (Dmitri et al. 2009). Consequently, this article will analyze the reaction and influence of game representations to real life from three perspectives, containing gender representation, race representation, and video game violence.

Gender representation

Gender representation in the video game is largely reflected in that video games have always been a male-dominated media, including market audiences, group players, and characters in the game (Williams, 2006).

Firstly, males’ characters are more frequently present in video games than females. Secondly, females role are more likely to play secondary roles instead of primary roles. Dietz (1998) examined the stereotypes of violence and gender in 33 video games from Nintendo and Sega. The research demonstrated that the most common description of female characters is that there are no women at all: more than 40 per cent of the games have no female characters. Apart from the frequency of occurrence, male characters are usually more playable than females. On the one hand, when women characters appear, they are likely to be secondary roles. For instance, Dill (2005) analyzed the top 20 bestselling video games of 1999, which illustrated in the 20 games, 70 per cent of the main characters are men, while 10 per cent are women. As for the secondary role, 55 percent are men, as well as 31 per cent are women. Even though video games have female characters as the main roles, these women characters tend to be with men characters.

Male characters act as protectors, directing or performing the majority actions, while female characters are regarded as partner roles, indicating that women are only a significant part of video games (Burgess, 2006). On the other hand, for the video games that players are allowed to choose the gender of the game characters, the players are more willing to play male characters. For example, when playing The Simms 2 or Guild War, 60 per cent of players tend to operate male characters (Williams, 2006). Thirdly, the depiction of women in the video games reflects traditional gender roles and female stereotypes, including characters’ physical representations (body, dress), the ability and images of male and female characters (heroes, victims). Miller and Summers (2007) claimed that male characters are stronger but female characters are sexier. Women are usually portrayed as large breasts and more exposed(王者荣耀⼥女女英雄). Lara Croft in Tomb Raider (1996) is one of the most famous female game characters in the history of video games (Egenfeldt-Nielsen et al., 2008). However, she was criticized due to the unrealistic size of her breasts. With the rise of the feminist movement and the advancement of women’s status, female characters are slowly subverting the gender stereotypes on the image. Among many games released in 2013, including The Last of Us, Bioshock Infinite, the Rebooted Tomb Raider, and Beyond: Two Souls, female characters are in a leading position. However, in-game narratives, women are still restricted by men. Women characters are seen as “accessories” for men characters or complementary roles in driving game progress. Princess Zelda in the early Legend of Zelda and Peach Princess in the whole Mario series are typical examples. They are all characters who need to be rescued (Totilo, 2013). The female characters mainly can assist other roles. For example, in Outlast 2 (2018), players are required to operate two characters simultaneously. The male characters can more insight the enemy’s weakness to improve the ability of single combat; the female characters can hear the footsteps around them and play the role of detection to assist the male characters in battle.

Williams (2006) illustrate that the gender representations in video games create a “vicious circle”. The more masculine the video games are, the more young men are more likely to be attracted to the games. Consequently, these men are more likely to engage in game- related industries in the future. 88.5 per cent of developers are men while women are only 11.5 per cent (Gourdin, 2005). When developing video games, male creators tend to develop more masculine games, including making male characters appear more frequently and giving male characters more important roles in the game. Consequently, male players will be the primary audience for these gender-skewed games. The game developers will be more likely to develop games for male players to satisfy their current clients. The vicious circle keeps female underrepresented in video games. The low representation of women in the video game and gender stereotypes have reinforced society’s perceptions of traditional gender roles and gender discrimination against female players (Shanon, 1997). Yee (2006) claimed that female group’s status and power is real- world are not as high as that of the male group. In addition to video games, the representation of women in other media is generally lower than that of men. With the development of the feminist movement, more and more women groups appear in the current media reports, while audiences rarely pay attention to them. Female roles tend to be “male gaze” object, including huge breasts, revealing clothing. The status of women characters as primary facilitators leads to the emergence of female roles as accessories to male characters. To some extent, the above situation aggravates the imbalance hegemonic masculinity. Further, based on the games’ masculine characteristics, the attitude of male players towards female players reflects the stereotypes of women.

Female is considered not to play MMO games. However, it is game culture rather than game mechanics as a major obstacle to potential female players. Although female MMO gamers are small groups, women spend the same amount of time playing MMO games as men. The underlying cause of the underrepresentation of female players in the MMO is the social environment. Social norms and perceptions may control women's exposure to electronic opportunities in ways that are not available to men. Most players not only think that the women in the game are unreal but think that women who play MMO are trying to establish a relationship. Even when male players introduce games to their girlfriends, they should be strongly encouraged to play a supporting role to promote their games (Yee, 2006).

Race representation

Due to technical immaturity, early video games imposed certain restrictions on the design and representative form of video games. For instance, the early Moria had no apparent racial feature. Nevertheless, with the development of video game rendering capabilities, Mario has shown Italians’ characteristics, containing the love of pizza and pasta. Additionally, GTA portrays symbols of race more clearly through skin colour, environment, gestures. The description of gender in games is narrative. Black and Latino characters are usually limited to violent applicators, athletes, or are completely invisible. In the GTA series, blacks and Latinos are more likely to be considered as symbols of violence. For example, after completing the robbery mission, a black character, if players operate a black character, the players’ risk assessment will be higher than playing the white character. Furthermore, black characters will be forcibly arrested in front of the police. However, if the white character has a gun, most players will be asked to negotiate instead of forcibly arresting.

In sports games, the representation of black characters is higher, which is closely related to popular sports programs. Many sports game roles are based on real athletes from the real world sports league like NFL Street 3 and NBA Ballers Phenom. NBA Ballers demonstrated the fame and wealth that sports celebrities will receive. On the one hand, increasing black boys of working-class aim to become sports celebrities, thereby establishing a learning environment to activate the black hegemonic masculinity (Egenfeldt-Nielsen et al., 2008). However, the power and universality of these forms of expression are likely to distort the young black men’s values, thus having a huge impact on their lifestyle choices and behaviour (Everett and Watkin, 2007). On the other hand, “the desire to be black” play a role in the virtual reality of sports games because of black athletes’ athletic prowess and the growing popularity of sports stars (Leonard, 2004). In the immersive environment of urban or street games, not only can teenagers interact with realistic environments, but they have the opportunity to interact and express black masculinity.

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The corresponding invisibility and the relatively negative on-screen images of other race contributed to the fact that members of other races were not interested in the game. In GTA's game BBS, many players prefer to play white characters, even if the players are from other races (Everett and Watkin, 2007). The members of other races who are not interested in games are less likely to become game developers and are less likely to develop games with a higher representation of their own population, thus generating another 'negative' cycle (Williams, 2006).

In the view of Harwood and Anderson (2002), the existence, absence, and type of social group image in the media are closely related to social justice, power imbalance, and stereotypes. The groups that appear more frequently in video games are more “important”, as well as these groups are in possession of more status and rights in their daily lives. The media is both a mirror of existing social forces and a causal case of them (Yee, 2008). In video games, the social groups that recur in the specific roles will be more easy to access by other players, which make it easier for social groups with high frequency to be recalled, while the unrepresentative groups slowly become invisible. In general, the imbalance in video games to some extent reflects or affects the imbalance in the formation of social identity, social power and policy in real life. In the video game, the low representation of women and non-white races leads to their rights and status is ignored.

Game violence

The majority of critics believe that violent games have a negative impact on ordinary relationships (Schulzke, 2010). Nevertheless, Goerger (2014) stated that whether violence games have negative impacted is associated with its morality rather than simple manifestations of violent graphics.

Since the emergence of violent games, an increasing number of media storms have blamed juvenile crimes on violent games. Opponents argue that players’ minds are contaminated by violence in the games, leading them more likely to react to aggressive behaviour in the real world (McCormick, 2001). Proponents argue that although violent games can be offensive, they lack a clear link to violence (Markey et al., 2015). Since the emergence of violent games, more and more media storms have blamed juvenile crimes on violent games. Opponents argue that players' minds are contaminated by violence in the game, making them more likely to exhibit aggressive behaviour in the real world (McCormick, 2001). Proponents argue that although violent games can be offensive, they lack a clear link to violence (Markey et al., 2015). Scott (2011) and others even said that violent games can be used as a means for players to vent negative emotions, which is likely to reduce violent crime. The violent factors of video games are reflected in three aspects: realism, graphicness, and gameplay.

Advanced computer equipment and technology have made the depiction of violence more and more realistic. Pixelated non-human characters have been replaced by ultra- realistic humans or demons. Furthermore, modern games’ visual effects are more bloody than in earlier games, which describe a variety of graphic violence, including the enemy being shot by a shotgun, the player being hacked, and so on. Killing ultra-realistic human characters is more aggressive and more influential to players than violent attacks on non- human characters (Goerger, 2017).

The third violent elements in-game involved in the gameplay. In many contemporary games, players cannot successfully access the game without simulated violence. Let us take the first-person play games as an example. Players are required to participate in violence as a condition for demonstrating skills. The Last of Us is a horror game. Players must direct a specific NPC to the hospital to develop detoxification vaccine to save the world. To protect their character, players will fight against zombies and infected humans encountered on the road. The Last of Us is known for its extreme graphic violence.

However, violence in the game is considered “necessary” or “forced” and the ultimate goal of the game is “salvation”, which emphasizes the fragility of the characters and the importance of toe moral choices they face. Although the players simulate violent actions, they do not perform similar actions in real life. They are primarily attracted to the entertainment value of the games, while violent simulation provides this kind of entertainment (Goldstein, 2005). From this perspective, the violence in the game will not affect real life. Whey studying GTA5, the core plot elements of GTA5 is a crime. Players are asked to rob the NPC characters for clearance. Critics illustrate GTA5 guides players to make money through criminal means in a hyper-realistic city (Everett and Watkins, 2008). This gameplay is morally problematic. Additionally, violence in the video games is often associated with drug crimes and gang activities, which also occur in real life. The player's entertainment effect from the violent depiction that affects real life indicates their defects in character (Goerger, 2017). Although this gameplay does not harm real people, it is morally problematic and pollutes the player's behaviour or character. In general, if there is a moral problem in a violent game, it hurts the player's character. The role of violence in video games is negative for real life.

Graphic violence has little to do with players and real society. What kind of behaviour game players will make in the real world depends on players rather than the game. A mentally sound adult has the ability to distinguish between 'reality' and 'virtual', as well as 'right' and 'wrong.' Therefore, in essence, violent games do not lead to player crime. The game representations reflect some extent certain social phenomena, which have an impact on society and players behaviour. Furthermore, the game representation affects or reflects the impressions of outside society on specific social groups (Comstock and Cobbey, 1979). Gender and race representation in video games exposes white male hegemony and stereotypes of women and races, which hinders women and other ethnic members from accessing the game to a certain extent, causing them to become fewer game developers and form a Vicious circle. As for the violent performance in video games, graphic violence hardly affects players' violent behaviour in the real world. However, crime games like GTA5, because of their moral problems, are considered to have a negative impact on players' personality and behaviour.

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