They are already like them. Women account for half of all video game players worldwide, but gender biases persist in the industry, which is the largest in entertainment, already outperforming music and film. Female characters are less on screens, have more sexualized images and play less significant roles, so that their representations reinforce already known stereotypes. A new study now adds to that evidence, showing that female characters not only appear less, they also speak less and have less relevant dialogue.
The research, published today in the journal Royal Society for Open Science, It analyzed six million words spoken by more than 13,000 characters from 50 role-playing video games, in which the conversations are crucial to the plot. According to the study’s authors, this is the first time that gender representation in fictional conversations has been measured on a large scale and the results show that female characters’ dialogues account for half of that of males. This is partly due to the lack of female characters, but there are also biases in what they say and who they talk to. On average, they are given less significant dialogue and there is a tendency for them to interact less with other characters of the same gender.
Although dialogues in video games can also vary according to the will and decisions of the players, research results indicate that this has no direct effect on gender representation. In the sample, 11 games allow players to choose the gender of the protagonist. Of these, only two are triads mass effect And Dragon Age 2-, provides more feminine versus masculine dialogue when the character is a woman.
In addition, in 24 games, the researchers were able to access the structure of the algorithm-characterized dialogues. They simulated an omniscient player, trying to maximize genre dialogue. When trying to improve dialogue between females at the expense of males, the player succeeds in 36% of the attempts, which equates to 10 more words spoken by women in each conversation. However, if the character attempts to maximize male dialogue, success will occur in 65% of cases, with an average of 33 additional words. “This indicates that bias against female dialogue is not easily avoided by players,” the authors say in the study.
There was a twist. The study also looks at games from the past 50 years, and found that the number of female dialogue increased by six points every decade. Despite this, at this rate, the gender gap will only close in 2036. Stephanie Renick, a researcher in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Glasgow and lead author of the paper, explains that the fastest way to achieve parity is for games to add more female characters. “While men speak twice as much as women in general, we did not find that the average man spoke more than the average woman. Instead, there were far fewer female characters than male characters.
However, simply increasing the number of female characters will not address all of the biases identified in the study, such as the underrepresentation of non-binary characters between genders and other minorities. The studio head argues that in order to deal with these problems, measures such as monitoring the gender distribution of characters and their dialogues, diversifying roles and subverting so-called gender roles must be adopted.
One of the recommendations is to implement what is known as Gender flipping (Gender Change): Create the character as belonging to a gender, and then, without changing other aspects of his personality, such as his relationships or personality traits, modify the gender before releasing him into the game. “It can be a useful way to identify biases or stereotypes because they become more apparent after they are flipped,” the researcher details. Produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company Cymbeline A few years ago, where the character changed her gender to become a queen, the former evil stepmother was now an evil stepfather. This differs from what happens when a character is played by an actor of the opposite sex, which is common in Shakespearean performances. Characters are no longer species, but individuals,” he exemplifies.
It is important that companies think not only of the main characters, but also of the minority characters, because in some cases, the researcher argues, the biases are most pronounced at the level of the less relevant characters. “Many games have had one or more female protagonists, yet less than half of the total dialogue was female. Also, stereotypes can easily creep into background characters, like when all the guards are men,” Renick asserts.
The research highlights that many biases are built into the computational models used in the early stages of video game development. in daggerfallFor example, the distribution of supporting characters is randomly determined, and there is an equal chance that they will be male or female. However, before they can be assigned a gender, they are first assigned a role. If they are guards, they will be male by default. Thus, if not for this role identification, gender identification could be more balanced.
The authors suggest that future research should focus on identifying patterns in narratives or in the way stories are told. The damsel in distress or the knight in armor create anticipation of what will happen in the story, but they can also reinforce problematic stereotypes. “If we know the patterns we continue to perpetuate, we can decide whether to sabotage or avoid them,” Renick concludes.
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