Muscle packed warrior and damsel in distressRepresentation of gender and sexual diversity in games

The "strong warrior" and the "damsel in distress" - when it comes to the representation of gender and sexual diversity in games, clichés and stereotypes are often prevalent. The Games im Unterricht project of the Landesanstalt für Kommunikation Baden-Württemberg (LFK) took a closer look at the topic. It also looks at the significance of gender representation in video games for the identity formation of adolescents.

Games and identity formation

Media images and media experiences play a major role in the identity formation of children and young people. Media provide adolescents with orientation options for dealing with external developmental tasks. One of the developmental tasks is the adoption of gender roles and role perceptions. Media characters in particular, such as those in computer games, offer identification potential and contribute to identity formation. This means that how gender and sexuality are portrayed in digital games has an impact on children's and young people's attitudes towards them.

The klicksafe material "Ethik macht klick - Werte-Navi fürs digitale Leben" can be used to address media images of women and men in educational practice.

Gender representation and sexual diversity in games

In a detailed article the platform gives Games in the classroom gives an overview of sexual diversity and gender representation in games with many examples. According to the article, the portrayal of gender and sexuality in games still relies on clichés, prejudices and stereotypes.
Female game characters are often sexualized, in skimpy clothing, and portrayed as the ideal of beauty. The players' gaze is directed to external appearance features. This can influence the viewers' expectations of female characters as well as expectations of their own bodies . In addition, there are clichés in the staging, such as the portrayal of female characters as beautiful and young "damsel in distress".
When it comes to male characters, they are primarily portrayed in games as hyper-masculine, muscular warriors and fighters. And sexualization also takes place with main male characters. When sexual and interpersonal relationships play a role in games, the male character often appears as the "conqueror."

However, a deeper look into the gaming landscape shows that progress is being made. More and more games are relying on strong female heroines. These do not advance the game's plot through martial strength, but rather realistic characteristics such as courage, curiosity, and cleverness. And also externally, these characters tend to refrain from a strongly sexualized portrayal. The same applies to some male main characters in games. So today there are also many games in which male characters appear asclumsy or aimless. It is not a great deal of strength, but humor, clever thinking and sometimes a bit of luck that turn these characters into game heroes.
In addition, the number of games in which gender diversity is thematized in terms of LGBTQ+ is growing. The embedding of different sexual orientations in games can contribute to the visibility of social diversity. Especially for young players, this creates opportunities for identification far away from clichés and stereotypes.

The complete article "Gender representation and sexual diversity in games" is available on the online platform Games im Unterricht.

On our topic page on gender roles on the Internet we offer a lot of information as well as further materials on gender stereotypes.

About games in the classroom

Games im Unterricht is a platform that provides both elaborated teaching concepts and background information on the topic. This should make it possible to use computer games in the classroom even with little prior knowledge and as little effort as possible. The Landesanstalt für Kommunikation (LFK), together with the Computerspielschule Stuttgart, the MFG Baden-Württemberg and the Kastanie Eins agency, has founded the "Games im Unterricht" (Games in the Classroom) working group to support teachers in the sensible use of computer games in the classroom.