College Essay Examples

Gender and Race in Video Games

Why Is It Important to Examine Race and Gender in Video Games?

Historically, researchers have examined novels, comic books, and movies in an attempt to critically examine how culture shapes society, and vice versa (Williams et al., 2009). The underlying theory behind this rationale was that these forms of entertainment often serve as an important means of socialization for those who participate. Video games have arguably reached this same threshold, thus arguing careful examination. After all, “A medium’s general depiction of a group does have an impact on its users’ perceptions…” (Williams et al., 2009). Accordingly, the way diverse are depicted in video games matter a lot to how the users view those races and genders in real life.

If one analyses this under the social identity theory, a young Latino child who plays video games might perceive themselves as inferior to their white peers. This is because most video games have an overrepresentation of whites (Williams et al., 2009). Thus, the absence of Latinos in games may be directly linked to the perception that Latinos are inferior.

Gender roles within videos are very often stereotypes, which paints a negative picture of femininity amongst the predominantly male users of video games (Lynch et al., 2016). Specifically, women characters are often objectified because they are partially nude, and inappropriately dressed and with prominent feature like breasts (Lynch et al., 2016). Moreover, they typically only portray supporting roles to the males. This contributes to the dangerous perception that women are inferior to males, and indirectly promotes sexist views. For example, it promotes themes of hostile sexism whereby women should not violate traditional gender roles (Mastari, Spruyt, & Siongers, 2019).

Have Video Game Representations of Race and Gender Changed Since the “virtual Census” in 2009? how So / in What Ways?

Gender and Race in Video Games

Williams et al. (2009) revealed considerable inequalities of character representation in video games. The researchers found that male characters appeared more frequently in video games than female characters. From a racial view, there was an overrepresentation of Whites and Asians in most American video games. Other races, including blacks, Native Americans, Hispanics, and biracial, were considerably under-represented (Williams et al., 2019). Moving forward, they hoped to highlight the lack of diversity in video game representation.

Despite the concerning video game representation results revealed by the researchers, there has only been minimal improvement of race and gender representation in video games in the ensuing years. Recently, Harrison et al. (2020) evaluated over 7,000 characters from 100 videogames to study race, age, and gender representation. The researchers found there is still an over-representation of White and male characters in most best-selling video games. However, the percentage of female characters improved from about 15% in 2009 to 22% in 2017 (Williams et al., 2009; Harrison et al., 2020). Although there is an improvement in female character representation, only 16% of females are given leading/primary roles.

Although White characters still predominate in terms of race, the proportion of other racial representations, particularly bi-racial and Asians, has moderately increased from 15% to 20% (Williams et al., 2009; Harrison et al., 2020). The proportion of Black and Hispanic characters is still significantly low. Thus, like the 2009 research study, this second research study still reveals minimal diversity and inclusivity with respect to race and gender representation in video games.


How does the notion of “semiotic space” allow us to consider different motivations for playing games?

Different motivations for playing video games can be examined through the “semiotic space” notion. Semiotics constitute the study of how signs and symbols to aid communication and information processing in books, images, movies, and even games (Faillaci, 2017). The concepts of this field can be applied to create a “semiotic space,” a system of gaming elements comprising graphics, audio, and audiovisual elements, within the games (Faillaci, 2017). Thus, it constitutes the signs or symbols that demonstrate a game’s meaning through interaction with the game.

The characteristics of a semiotic space can dictate the primary individual’s motivation to play certain games. For example, individuals motivated by destruction or competition can go for complex interactive games with excellent semiotic space. Similarly, other players may play games because they want to learn specific tactics or issues illustrated by different symbols used in the games (Faillaci, 2017). Thus, the notion of semiotic space allows individuals to view games as stories, with different objectives presented with multiple signs in several phases of the game.

What Are “boundaries” in The Context of Gaming Communities? how Do These Boundaries Contribute to Racist or Sexist Player Behaviour?

Gaming communities have grown impressively over the past years. However, this growth has led to the development of “boundaries,” a set of specific characteristics that identify gaming communities (Tang et al., 2020). Examples of such boundaries that define gaming communities include perceptions, gaming identity, competitiveness, knowledge, and preferences to specific game genres or designs (Tang et al., 2020). Gaming boundaries can result in undesired consequences within the online gaming space.

Developing gaming communities based on these elements can result in some players being excluded and therefore vulnerable to racial and sexual harassment during online gaming. For instance, gamers with perceptions that women should not play video games are likely to respond negatively when female players join their communities and defeat them in certain games (Tang et al., 2020). They are likely to demonstrate hostility towards women, and this may result in racial or sexual abuse. Similarly, players who prefer playing certain games on mobile devices or web browsers are likely to be excluded and discriminated against by gamers who consider themselves pros of playing console and real-time games. This exclusion may make them victims of various antisocial behaviors, including racism and sexism.

What Might Be Done to Minimize or Prevent Racist / Sexist Behaviour in Online Gaming Spaces?

Racism and sexism in the gaming industry is a growing issue that requires immediate attention from all people, including game developers, gamers, families, and other institutions associated with the entertainment industry. Game developers can start addressing the issue by embracing diversity and inclusivity when developing video game characters. The games should equally contain characters from major races to avoid creating a notion of superiority among some White gamers. Moreover, they should avoid sexualizing female characters. Some gamers may portray sexist behaviors because they see and interpret sexism in video games as acceptable behaviors.

Gaming companies should also strengthen their measures against racism, sexism, harassment, and discrimination with online space. Gamers with racists or sexist behaviors can be banned from participating in online multiplayer gaming and blocked from creating other accounts based on their internet protocol (IP) addresses. The companies can also develop identity management tools that do not require gamers’ voices or gender. For instance, games like Apex Legends and Fortnite have a ping system that allows non-verbal communication during online gaming (Cote, 2020). Thus, expanding and developing such tools can minimize sexual or racial harassment in online gaming spaces.

Lastly, individual gamers and their families or friends should also participate actively against racism and sexism in online gaming. They should confront and condemn such behaviors proactively to prevent them from reoccurring. Individuals with racist or sexist behaviors should be reported to relevant authorities using in-game tools so that the support staff can take further action against them. Thus, gamers should support and respectfully socialize with one another during online gaming.


Cote, A. (2020). Here’s what it’ll take to clean up esports’ toxic culture. The Conversation.

Faillaci, D. (2017). Video game semiotics. Medium.

Harrisson, A., Jones, S., Marchessault, J., Pedraça, S., & Consalvo, M. (2020). The virtual census 2.0: A continued investigation on the representations of gender, race, and age in videogames. Selected Papers of Internet Research.

Lynch, T., Tompkins, J.E., Van Driel, I., & Fritz, N. Sexy, strong, and secondary: A content analysis of female characters in video games across 31 years. Journal of Communication, 66(4), 564-584.

Mastari, L., Spruyt, B., & Siongers, J. (2019). Benevolent and hostile sexism in social spheres. Frontiers in Sociology. doi:10.3389/fsoc.2019.000047.

Tang, W. Y., Reer, F., & Quandt, T. (2020). Investigating sexual harassment in online video games: How personality and context factors are related to toxic sexual behaviors against fellow players. Aggressive Behavior46(1), 127-135.

Williams, D., Martins, N., Consalvo, M., & Ivory, J.D. (2009). The virtual census: Representations of gender, race and age in video games. New Media and Society, 11(5), 815-834. doi:10.1177/1461444809105354




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By Hanna Robinson

Hanna has won numerous writing awards. She specializes in academic writing, copywriting, business plans and resumes. After graduating from the Comosun College's journalism program, she went on to work at community newspapers throughout Atlantic Canada, before embarking on her freelancing journey.

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