Games

Misconceptions About the Female Avatar

A closer look at a study on men and their relationship with hypersexualized female avatars.

From Mass Effect

Several surveys over the past year have pointed out the glaring discrepancy between the treatment of men and women in video games. Although most games show men that have bodies that are just as physically absurd as women, the difference is that women are almost all sexualized and objectified in video games. This often does not vary even if I am actually playing as the character myself. Considering that this a video game, one has to wonder if a player is relating to their avatar in the game the same way that they do an NPC.

The logic behind having me play as a woman in a skimpy outfit with large breasts goes back to a fairly simple discovery in advertising: heterosexual men will pay attention to you if you have one in your commercial. There are basic rules for how to maximize this effect. Skimpy clothing is obviously a factor, but it’s a bit more complicated than just getting naked. A pursed, open mouth indicates submission. Shoulders wide, arms to the side and hanging also arouse attention. Characterizing this sexuality in terms of dialog usually involves the female asking lots of questions or needing the male figure to do something for them. As a consequence of these classic Hollywood and advertising formulas, video games are overflowing with them. Why do you think so many games have a woman, typically very attractive, constantly portrayed as the one giving you orders and asking you to do things? In a medium that targets men with empowerment fantasies, the objectified women in them are often just another part of that formula. And yet when you change the hypersexualized female from a person I’m observing into one that I’m playing as my avatar, none of these concepts work anymore. You are not sexualizing an object for the player’s desire, you are sexualizing the player.

From Tomb Raider

This is the same issue that a study raised a while back, and they were kind enough to post the results on the internet. They applied a two part test to a group of men and women. First, a picture of a hypersexualized female game character was shown to them and they were asked what role they thought she played in the game. The second test presented the subject with two types of games: an FPS where you play a woman and a third person game where you play as either a hypersexualized avatar or a curvy, more reasonably proportioned avatar. Players would randomly start on one kind of game and could switch to the other whenever they chose. They had a set amount of time to play either game. Afterwards the subject filled out a lengthy questionnaire asking how well they identified with the avatar and which game they preferred. The results are not what you’d expect.

For the first part of the study, both men and women immediately noticed the hypersexualized state of the avatar. Although there was a portion of men who thought she might be the damsel in distress, for both genders the overall reaction was to assume that the avatar was the villain or a secondary character. That is, men did not rate the character any more positively than women in terms of liking her.

To summarize the study's brief description of the sexualized versus curvy avatar, a hypersexual body is a comic book style figure, Curvy is a more normalized ratio of breasts to waist. That is, something that’s physically reasonable. Men both preferred playing as and rated more highly the curvy avatar. Women preferred playing as the hypersexualized avatar. The questionnaire asked men if they would recommend the game to a friend along with their sense of immersion or presence. The study explains, “Men had higher responses on presence and recommending to a male friend when playing as the Curvy figure, whereas women were higher at the Hypersexual figure. In fact, both of these interactions were strengthened. In addition to these two variables, two other engagement variables became significant in the control groups…Men said they would recommend the game to a female friend more often when they played as the Curvy character, while women again indicated higher recommendation when playing the hypersexual avatar.”

From SuicideGirls.com

The reasons behind this radical departure from expectation are guessed at in the survey. It explains, “The men may be rejecting the hypersexual's abnormal stature as ridiculous, as one male participant relayed how they often laugh at such portrayals when they play games featuring such characters. A more realistic body type, while still somewhat idealized in terms of voluptuousness, may provide a better draw for male gamers.” Given the inherently empowering nature of a video game, they further speculated that the discovery that women preferred playing the hypersexual avatar says more about the media’s message to women more than anything else. The study notes, “It cannot be simply concluded that women want to play as such characters, as they did not indicate enjoying playing as these characters, nor were they overtly supportive of them in their appraisals. While they might have had some negative perceptions of the character, this did not prevent them engaging with the game more when playing as that character.” That is, they didn’t particularly like the avatar, but they were more engaged and felt more powerful playing as the hypersexualized one. The study theorizes, “A woman may see such a body type as desirable due to the positioning it has in society as the form required to achieve success, particularly in regards to heterosexual romantic relationships. If women perceive this is what men want, and there is an importance ascribed to being attractive to men, then they may be more likely to accept at some level the hypersexual portrayal as the goal.”

A film critic named Laura Mulvey outlined the distinction between when a film is sexualizing a woman and when she is shown as ‘possessed’ by the male character in her essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema". The male audience is first shown the character as voluptuous and beautiful. Every character in the film is in awe of her beauty. But as the hero wins her over and she becomes his romantic interest, her sexuality is played down. The male hero, the male viewer is supposed to be empathizing with, asserts his dominance and this dominance then should not be contested by having other people interested in his objectified female. The problem with video games is that the player is both the hero and audience. The avatar who is sexualized is also the person that we are identifying with anytime we are playing the game. As Mulvey points out most men, “cannot bear the burden of sexual objectification. Man is reluctant to gaze at his exhibitionist image.”

From X-Blades

The issue of objectified and hypersexualized women in video games is often glibly dismissed because the target demographic for games is still 18 to 35 year old heterosexual men. That's why the study is really interesting, it disputes the entire notion that this demographic enjoys playing as these hypersexualized avatars. Mulvey’s explanation for this discrepancy obviously comes with caveats: a great deal of this comes from Western Culture instead of any universal rule for men. Still, it’s important to realize that appreciating the trailer and images from Bayonetta engages this group with the usual formulas taken from film and advertising, but playing the game is another deal entirely. Perhaps the reason a game like X-Blades bombed was not just the shoddy gameplay, it’s that no one in the primary demographic that is targeted by it wants to play as a woman in a thong.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less
Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image