Identity and Online Advocacy

Who Can I Play?

Contemporary Gender Representation and Identity Diversity in Video Games

Simon Kruger – Curtin Bentley – Semester 1, 2021

Video games and their use make up a particularly significant section of the worldwide entertainment market and are now a common pastime, leisure activity and even career for many individuals. Over the past decades, these media have increased in variety, availability, usage, and commercial footprint. The immersive nature of video games and gameplay are one of the main contributing factors to this media’s exponential growth. However, hand in hand with immersion comes the ability of video games to create representations of identity and gender, through the use of avatars, player-controlled and non-player characters. This includes the possibility for groups and communities that may be either historically or commonly underrepresented, misrepresented, or marginalised to access and similarly promote understanding and inclusivity.  There are many examples of digital games that are providing this platform for the control of characters that offer improved exploration of representation and identity, such as within Ubisoft’s Assassins Creed series or CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077. However, it is often the case that many AAA games that reflect increased sales, playtime, popularity, and exposure, such as Kojima Production’s Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, continue to offer a poor example of gender representation. Despite current trends towards increased and better representation in the video games industry, digital games are still lacking in their expressions of identity diversity and inclusivity, and indeed still maintain and exemplify typified examples of oversexualisation, under- or misrepresentation and stereotypical gender tropes.

Over the past decade, digital video games have continued their exponential rise to become one of, if not the most profitable sector of the popular entertainment industries. With revenues of 150.2 billion US dollars in 2019 (Witkowski, 2020), the video games industry has far outpaced the traditional media breadwinners, the film industry, by upwards of US$50 billion (Mordor Intelligence, 2021). A similarly projected 2020 revenue of US$162.32 billion (Mordor Intelligence, 2021) to US$179.7 billion (Witkowski, 2020), clearly indicates the market power that video games companies now wield. On a similar trajectory as revenue levels, “According to research reports, more than 80% of American households have computers or other game consoles,” (Liu, citing Entertainment Software Association, 2019, p. 5), with a staggering three billion estimated global video gamers by 2023 (Clement, 2021). In Australia, according to the 2020 Interactive Games & Entertainment Association Digital Australia Report (Brand et. al, 2019, pp. 3-5), two thirds of Australians play video games and ninety percent of households have a device on which games have been played. With these figures in mind, it is reasonable to argue that playing video games has become a particularly significant part of everyday life.

In unison with the importance that video games and gameplay have to individuals and communities, comes the typical feature of digital games allowing for the creation and control of a player character. From the humble beginnings of the moustachioed plumber Mario in Nintendo’s 1981 hit Mario, the ability for players to control a virtual character has been a mainstay of many of the most recognised and popular video game titles. While there are a plethora of different game styles and genres in this saturated market, many video games allow for, and often necessitate the creation of a virtual identity, or avatar.  Taken from the Sanskrit term for a god’s embodiment on Earth, avatar has become the most widely accepted description of a player’s virtual representation or identity (Pearce, 2009, p. 21), with Susannah Wood and Antonia Szymanski (2020, p. 124) arguing that an avatar is “the heart of most video games and some apps.” Academic research further suggests that an avatar can at a base level be seen as a doll or tool, however, can often become an embodiment or extension of self, with the player able to “have experiences that can be very similar to or different from his or her real-life persona,” (Wood & Szymanski, citing Mancini & Sibilla, 2020, p. 124). While avatar’s have become the embodiment of an individual in a virtual sense, it is important to note that many video games also display multiple nonplayer autonomous characters, or NPCs. Whether the NPCs in a video game help or hinder the player character, they are also open to player interpretation and exhibit some form of representation.

In our increasingly convergent and connected world, widespread social, cultural, and ethical discussion and debate concerning identity and gender representation are becoming increasingly mainstream. In particular, when discussing representation in most media texts, conversation and issue often falls on the concept of identity and gender. As a player is often required to create an avatar for any gameplay, or at the very least take control of a developer designed character, the representation of gender can be seen to have an impact on the player, and those playing the video game. In particular, as is the case with our ever more connected technologies and social spaces, many of the video games played, especially those that are currently the most popular, take place in a multiple user populated online environment. Nic Crowe and Mike Watts suggest (2012, p. 221) “Gender representation in any media texts has always been somewhat problematic, but in online games the construction of the virtual body is central to understanding how we make sense of the online world.” The player is acutely aware of what their character looks, sounds, and acts like, and likewise is conscious of others within their game world, and as a consequence of this, “bodies – whether material or virtual – are not neutral objects but sit at the central pivot of how identity is formed, shaped and understood,” (Crowe & Watts, 2012, p. 221). Liu, (2020, p. 29) similarly argues that individuals use environmental cues, such as video game character depictions, to both make sense of, and formulate ideas concerning gender and identity. As a representation of the self in a virtual world, an avatar or player character can be seen as a conduit for gender and identity exploration and representation.

While certainly not a new idea within the media industries, the display of gender stereotypes and tropes within video games is commonplace. As has been accounted for in numerous academic studies, the history of video games is littered with examples of stereotypical gender representation. Helen Liu (citing Fox & Bailenson, 2020, p. 29) suggests that female characters are often portrayed in an overly sexualised fashion or display submissive dispositions. On the other hand, males are more likely to be represented as overtly masculine or dominant (Liu, citing Gabbiadini et. al, 2020, p. 29). Examples of these types of representation can be seen in classic and well-known game titles, including female characters such as Core Design’s Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft (oversexualised), or Nintendo’s Super Mario’s Princess Peach (submissive) or male characters like Santa Monica Studio’s God of War’s Kratos (masculine)or id Software’s Doom’s affectionately named Doom Guy (dominant). In newer titles, such as Kojima Productions (2015) Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, which has sold over six million copies worldwide (Pearson, 2016), the player takes the role of Venom Snake, a grizzled, stoic and overtly masculine super soldier. During the course of the game, he is aided by a scantily clad Russian mercenary and assassin, Quiet (Figure 1), who “wore a minimal amount of clothing at all times because she could only drink or breathe through her skin following parasite-treatment,” (Fandom, n.d.). There has been some public debate within the gaming community concerning the physical characteristics and clothing worn by Quiet, both for the positive and negative representation of females (Tamburro, citing @christapeterso, 2020), however the character remains a model example of the oversexualisation of the female form, and lack of diversity in character design. As the popularity of video games and gaming increase, so does the likelihood that players will be subject to some form of gender stereotype. While the opportunities for accurate or increasingly diverse gender representation are one of the key affordances of video games as a form of media, there continues to be evidence of under- or misrepresentation, marginalisation, and gender tropes.

   Figure 1. Quiet Character Model. (Kojima Productions, 2015a).

As with other areas of contemporary media and popular culture discussion, there is a considerable ground swell for increased gender and identity representation within video games and the digital games industry. Several recent key examples can offer a glimpse at this positive movement for the promotion and accessibility of improved representation. One example can be seen in Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed (AC) series. AC titles are both numerous and globally popular and include twelve major releases for PC and console, and multiple addons and spinoffs. It took eight years from the first release in 2007 of Assassin’s Creed for the inclusion of a female protagonist in Syndicate (2015), in the form of Evie Frye. In the subsequent five years until 2021, Ubisoft have released three more AC titles, and in particular Odyssey (2018) and Valhalla (2020), in which players are given the option of choosing a male or female protagonist, Alexios and Kassandra, and Eivor, respectively. The effort and time required to make these gender representation changes in AC are highlighted by the infamous Jason Schreier (2020, para. 28) Bloomberg report suggesting changes to gender representation in the AC games “are illustrative of the sexism ingrained within [Ubisoft]. All of the directives [to keep the protagonist male] came from Ubisoft’s marketing department or from Hascoët, both of whom suggested female protagonists wouldn’t sell.” While there are good examples of the movement towards more inclusive gender representation within AAA video game titles, it must also be noted that the more widespread problem of gender divide and sexism remains rife within the video games industry.

While discussion and healthy debate concerning gender and identity representation remains a step in the right direction, it is important to note that much of the academic discussion, as outlined by Megan Condis (2015, pp. 200-201), is often saturated with arguments of gender stereotyping of video game characters, and overfocussing and pandering to a heterosexual, adolescent male target audience. Condis (2015, p. 200) further argues that “these projects…do have a tendency to rely on essentialist assumptions about gender and sexuality.” In particular, transgender, and non-binary individuals in video games remain as the least represented. While some examples do exist, such as Hainly Abrams from BioWare’s (2017) Mass Effect: Andromeda and Janeva from Guerrilla Games (2017) Horizon: Zero Dawn, these characters remain as NPCs. There has been some movement towards the inclusion of a non-binary or transgender main playable character in titles such as CD Projekt Red’s (2020) Cyberpunk 2077 and news of a non-binary player option in the upcoming Warner Bros. Games Hogwarts Legends (Carpenter, 2021). With changes such as those that offer some wider representation and improved inclusivity in AAA titles, there has, and will continue to be some pockets of backlash from the gaming community. For example, when BioWare included the option for homosexual relationships within its Dragon Age franchise, “gamers were explicit and direct about expressing their ire with BioWare for being willing to, as they saw it, dilute the influence of their ‘core demographic’ of straight male gamers by producing more inclusive games,” (Condis, citing Bastal, 2015, p. 208). It is indeed evident that popular video games do continue to exhibit under- or misrepresentation of gender diversity, and that some individuals and groups will voice concerns over increased inclusivity. However, there are examples for the possibilities of diverse gender representation in the future of video games.

As is shown by their continual rise in revenue and global use, video games and gameplay make up a particularly significant section of the worldwide entertainment market and similarly present a common hobby, leisure activity and vocation for many individuals. With improvements in technology, and the ever more connected nature of our daily lives, video games, media and their respective communities have substantially increased in their variety, use, availability, and commercial viability. As explored through the academic discussions concerning avatars, player controlled and non-player-controlled characters, the immersive nature of video games and gameplay allows players to experience differing forms of representation and identity exploration and construction. The inclusion and mainstay of the majority of popular digital games requiring a player defined or developer designed playable, humanistic character offers avenues of representation for groups and communities that may be either historically or commonly underrepresented, misrepresented, or marginalised.  While there are many examples of digital games that are providing this platform for the control of characters that offer better exploration of representation and identity, it is often the case that those games that make up the majority of sales, playtime, popularity, and exposure offer a poor example of this. Despite current trends towards better gender representation in the video games industry, video games and their design are not reflecting current discourse concerning gender and identity, and indeed still maintain and exemplify typified examples of oversexualisation, under- or misrepresentation and stereotypical gender tropes.


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26 thoughts on “Who Can I Play?

  1. Hello Simon Kruger,

    I really enjoyed reading your paper! You did a really good job in showcasing how media, specifically digital video games, represents genders. Indeed, Video games are now amongst the most common and famous forms of entertainment worldwide. In fact, the gaming industry has become a multibillion dollar industry with a revenue of over 170 billion in 2020, which makes it the leading media industry globally, topping the music industry and film industry worthen under 100 billion (Witkowski, 2021). I totally agree with your argument that female characters in video games are more prone to be sexualised and stereotyped regardless of their nature and roles. There are various popular games tittles out there which usually portrays women as “damsels in distress” or “trophies”, since video games were somehow a male dominant medium. However, do you believe that games titles where the protagonists are female, are less likely to objectify females and less likely to portray them with essentialist views? And contributing to break the stereotypes englobing gender roles?
    I would really like to hear your opinion on that.

    Good points on overall! Thank you for this read!

    Witkowski, W. (2021). Videogames are a bigger industry than movies and North American sports combined, thanks to the pandemic. Market Watch. Retrieved 2 May 2021, from

  2. Hi Thomas,
    Your paper was really insightful and I agree that the sexualisation of women characters has always been an integral element within video games. Video games has played an important role in gender representation, from creating popular characters such as Kratos (God of War) or Geralt of Rivia (The Witcher) to the inclusion of more female leading characters such as Lara Croft (Tomb Raider) and Ellie (The Last of Us). Women as leading characters in video games do empower the female gaming community as they are portrayed as powerful, intelligent and resourceful. the representation of female characters in GTA V entails a lot of stereotypes and erotism. Through the life of Michael, one of the main protagonists, certain stereotypes can be observed within Amanda (her wife) and Tracey (her daughter).
    Do you think that female gaming community will always need to accommodate with the sexualised norms and toxic masculinity?

  3. Hey Simon,

    Nicely written paper, I enjoyed going through it.

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head as to what holds back representation in gaming and most other media forms too, that being the ‘money’ who are afraid to upset the vocal, but I think quickly shrinking, denizens of the gaming community that were seen to traditionally constitute a majority audience.
    What is strange is any outcry against inclusivity, games were always the place for inclusion. A disenchanted and isolated community lurks within gaming one that contributes to things like gamergate, and it is sad that they are so vocal. I have personally been heartened to see a sort of social justice take place on some online game matches I’ve been in—a player is overtly sexist towards a female player, people tell him its not ok, but he continues, eventually a vote appears to kick that player from the game and the majority vote him out. A sort of, come back when you want to play nice.

    It’s good to see character creators in games getting more robust, allowing people to express themselves, it will be interesting to see how technology like metahuman is incorporated into games in the future. That’ll be good for representation visually, but the other aspect is character.
    It seems to me that the gaming industry began to pull focus and resources away from writers of their games, leading to many producer or game lead decisions and we ended up with many very trivial representations. What games are lacking is well conveyed and thought-out characters in their stories, not all games but much of the content that seems to come out ends up as filler between the truly outstanding game releases, because they rely on tropes and are poorly conceived in the sense of their narrative.
    There should be more variety in representation within gaming, the games themselves and the culture surrounding them. Out of interest, I would ask a somewhat hard question, as everything conveyed in an artform is a representation communicated through cultural signs, and therefore on some level is fiction, should games be held back from making some of the depictions they do?


  4. Hey Simon,

    Thank you so much for a great read!

    In my own analysis of gender in games, it became increasingly clear that games rely heavily on the gender binary that western society has constructed and used against gender-diverse people for decades.

    One point I found interesting in my research is that the iconic Mario character Toad actually has no gender, even though a Toadette exists (Hooten, 2014). This was addressed by Nintendo director Koichi Hayashida, he also confirmed that at Nintendo they never really considered the video game characters’ genders. I found that really interesting, especially from the game maker’s perspective. As it is clear to any person who has played any Mario game they rely heavily on gendered stereotypes and the gender binary. I mean COME ON Mario having to rescue Princess Peach and claim her as his prize, yuck.

    I have to agree with you I feel the current game, and by extension media, landscape is the way it is because as Condis (2015) states we are pandering to heterosexual, adolescent male target audience. And it just makes me think are you that insecure about your masculinity and heterosexuality that you can’t even fathom there being strong women or a non-binary character option here? Do you feel that is a major factor at play here?

    I love a good argument about gender so thanks for sparking that.

    Read my paper it’s really good

    Thank you so much, Connor 🙂

    Condis, M. (2015). No homosexuals in Star Wars? BioWare, ‘gamer’ identity, and the politics of privilege in a convergence culture. Convergence, 21(2), 198–212. Retrieved from:
    Hooten, C. (2014, November 24). Mario character Toad doesn’t identify as a gender. Independent.

    1. Hi Connor!

      Thanks for taking the time to read through my paper and I’m happy to hear you found it interesting! I’m not surprised in the slightest that you’d find the gender, diversity and representation discussion both topical and to your liking 🙂

      You are spot on when you say, “games rely heavily on the gender binary that western society has constructed and used against gender-diverse people for decades.” As a form of art and popular culture, video games just like many other media and art varieties have perpetuated the stereotypes associated with gender for a significant period of time, there’s just no escaping it. There is definitely some ground swell within the industry and associated communities for increased and better representations of both females and non-binary individuals, it’s just a shame how slowly this process is occurring.

      The thought has just occurred to me that this may have something to do with the amount of time it takes to actually develop and produce a game from inception to release. Often games take more than 5 years in this process, for example Cyberpunk 2077 took 9 years! There is the possibility that unlike other forms of media and art that can be produced in a much shorter time frame, and I would argue at much lower cost, video games are less likely to make these kinds of changes that reflect changing and current discourse and social opinion in the same timeframe (quicker and easier) and that they are therefore less able to allow for better representation and diversity due to these constraints. I am certainly not using this as an excuse for the poor showing in the games industry that I have demonstrated in my conference paper, but am interested in how you feel about this? Would you consider it a reasonable argument?

      I totally agree with your opinion concerning the continued targeting and pandering to a hetero male audience within the video games industry. The topic itself is enough to write another whole essay/article on but suffice to say that yes I do believe that this is still a major factor influencing design and marketing decisions in the video games industry. In line with this, and in a similar response to James in my comments, the nature of video games and the immersion they provide generally creates a strong attachment to these medias from their players. This creates loyal and fierce fan bases that will both buy products and support series, franchises and developers/platforms but at same time often be up in arms if changes are made – particularly to perceived ‘established conventions’. I have absolutely no problem with strong, positive female and non-binary characters, in fact I feel like it is both refreshing and much more reflective of the diversity within our day to day lives. I find that the anonymity that the web provides often allows for hate speech and unnecessary and biased commentary to surround design decisions that revolve around subjects such as sexuality, gender, and representation. However, I am also both happy and hopeful to see that the industry as a whole is taking some significant steps (although still not enough!) to understand the power of inclusion, and to similarly increase the diversity of characters within video games and provide more accurate and improved gender representation.

      I hope that my response has piqued your interest as much as my paper itself and I look forward to hearing your reply! Thanks again for taking the time to read and comment.


      1. Hey Simon,

        Woah what a long comment! I love you took that time to comment, dedication.
        I think that opinion regarding the time it takes to make games stands, especially when compared to other types of art, e.g. pictures, drag, music. However, it does make me think how hard is it to change the coding to make certain characters appear a particular way e.g. people of colour, feminine accersories. But then again I’m not a coder.

        I completely agree as to why some game developers pander to their heterosexual cisgender male audience as to a way to make money, because of capitalism. However, from a moral stand point I see the power these games hold within that demographic and they COULD create real change, WOULD they do that though? Personally, I think not because this world is fuelled by money way too much. As ABBA said Money, Money, Money.

        Thank you so much, Connor 🙂

  5. Hi Simon! This is a really interesting paper. I believe the importance of gender and racial representation is completely lacking in modern times. But despite this, The Sims franchise is at the forefront of customisation for their characters and allow for incredible diversity such as transgendered characters, non-binary characters etc without it affecting the gameplay and how NPC’s react to your characters. Although I really wanted to ask whether you think the ability to have a diverse range of characters means that video games will have to conform to this more customisable characters, such as Sims or Skyrim, or would they have to limit the amount of chooseable characters? I personally think that perhaps games should conform to this more customisable standard, for those players who don’t care as much about what their characters look like they can definitely just skip over or randomise their characters but for those who are a minority it is amazingly significant that they see themselves within the characters, but beyond that it is important that they see how their character interacts with other NPC’s and other NPC’s also representing these minorities as well.

    1. Hi Anika,

      Thanks for taking the time to read my paper and I am glad you enjoyed reading it and found the content interesting.

      I agree with you that The Sims, especially as it has progressed through different iterations, is a great example of seemingly limitless character customization and representation and diversity allowances. I believe that the sandbox or simulation style of the game relies on this customization and exploration as a key feature, because without it I feel like there would not be much of a game at all. I have not played The Sims in some time, but I can only assume that if you could only pick one male or female character that looked the same and made the same ‘life’ choices every time you played/created a new family, the experience would be pretty dull! I guess that is in essence the point of the game – the human race is incredibly varied, not one person is the same as the next and for this game to work per se, this diversity needs to be both highlighted and made playable.

      As for your question “whether you think the ability to have a diverse range of characters means that video games will have to conform to this more customisable characters, such as Sims or Skyrim, or would they have to limit the amount of chooseable characters?” I feel like we are on pretty much the same page. I do however think that it is entirely dependent on the game style, genre and particularly narrative. These are production and development choices that need to be made by those in the video games industry who both create and market games. If you were to create a simulation game like The Sims, then the customisation is inherent and makes sense. If for example you were creating a more cinematic action orientated experience, such as Naughty Dog’s Uncharted or The Last of Us, then customisation is not particularly necessary and may indeed take away from the desired player experience. There needs to be a clearly defined main character, with backstory, identity etc. to create a believable and engrossing/entertaining experience. My argument is that when these decisions are made, they still tend to skew to oversexualisation and under- or misrepresentation. Games like AC: Valhalla show that these game experiences can indeed be crafted regardless of the gender of the protagonist, and games such as Cyberpunk 2077 show that not just the hero character, but also many NPCs and important side characters can illuminate and exemplify the diversity that is found in our lived experiences, simultaneously improving the empowerment and positive representations of these individuals and communities.

      I hope I have answered your question and would like to thank you again for taking the time to read through my paper and commenting. It was great to see you using The Sims as an example for positive representation as I had not thought of it while writing the paper. I realise it is close to the end of the conference but would love to hear if you have anything else to say once you have read my reply.


  6. Interesting paper Simon, really enjoyed reading it!
    I think this is a very important topic and one that I am surprised isn’t already at the forefront of gaming. Seeing as it is a highly customised form of media, one which offers many inherent features that would make it much more viable to offer great choice in representation opposed to other forms of media like film and TV. Gaming has a unique experience where players are given choice and it would be so easy for people who are opposed (for some reason) to this gender representation to simply not use those characters.

    It is unfortunate to see that a large majority of female representation falls into the stereotypical troupe of being over sexualised, submissive or just as a whole very unrealistic. Especially as the gaming industry has gone from being a niche form of entertainment associated with mainly adolescent men, to becoming the forefront of entrainment globally, video games have budgets the size of movies now and bring in larger amounts of revenue too. This idea that they don’t want to push away their male users with too much inclusivity is also evident of their unrealistic gender views as they are assuming all male players embody the hyper-masculine traits of the male characters within the games. If more inclusive characters meant a potential for more users to play with, I’m certain the majority of players would agree that is a major positive inclusion.

    I think it is evident that many industries are coming to understand the power of inclusion and it is being seen more and more that film, TV series, music and gaming are taking steps to better represent people (which many of them make up large percentages of existing customers). Even at the most basic level, increased inclusion equals increased market potential. Games with strong, positive female characters are awesome and I’m excited to see many more to come!

    1. Hi James!

      Thanks for taking the time to read my paper, and especially for your positive comments and thought provoking and considered response. I am glad you found the content interesting and enjoyable, and that it got you thinking about gender representation within not just the games industry, but also other media varieties.

      I think that the issue of gender representation has certainly been discussed and argued within the video games industry for many years, although I would suggest that it has become increasingly debated and spotlighted due to our evolving and improving social and cultural discourses concerning the topic on a global level. I am sure social media platforms have provided an increasingly open arena for the discussion of this issue, but that would have to be the topic of an entirely new paper if I was to accurately discuss it in any detail!

      I completely agree with you that video games are a form of media that exemplify customisation and user/viewer/player choice. One individual’s playthrough can be completely different from another, and at the same time different meanings and experiences can be drawn from the game, its characters, story, world etc. It is often baffling to me that there aren’t more options made in games development, such as the simple addition of allowing the player to choose between a male, female or non-binary character. While I do suggest the addition of gender spectrum choice would be a simple development decision that would increase and improve gender diversity, I am certainly not a games developer. In his Bloomberg article, Jason Schreier (2020) suggests “an Ubisoft creative director said Assassin’s Creed Unity wouldn’t let people play online as female characters because “it was really a lot of extra production work” to add women’s clothing and animations to the game.” This was in 2014, and while I am aware of the production cost and time constraints on video games development, I feel like this is poor excuse that has been debunked by the likes of later AC games and other titles such as Cyberpunk 2077 and the Mass Effect series.

      I do resonate with your comment “If more inclusive characters meant a potential for more users to play with, I’m certain the majority of players would agree that is a major positive inclusion.” However, it could also be argued that the developers decide to have just a single protagonist with no option of gender with the intention of maintaining a particular story and focused narrative thread. How do you feel about this? I am sure you would have the same thoughts as me on this. I personally feel that in this day and age the main character of any fictional game story does not need to have a fixed gender to ‘make the story work’, and if this decision is to be made based on ‘extra production work’, then choose a protagonist who may have traditionally been under- or misrepresented, to help increase empowerment, diversity, and positive and accurate representations within the video games industry.

      As with most areas of pop culture and media/arts there is always going to be pockets of the community that will complain about any changes to content or different design choices that they feel do not fit their personal perspective. The nature of video games and the immersion they provide generally creates a strong attachment to these medias from their players. This is part of the reason why any changes seem to elicit strong responses from fans. I too have absolutely no problem with strong, positive female characters, in fact I feel like it is both refreshing and much more reflective of the diversity within our day to day lives. I find that the anonymity that the web provides often allows for hate speech and unnecessary and biased commentary to surround design decisions that revolve around subjects such as sexuality, gender, and representation. However, much like yourself I am happy to see that the industry as a whole is taking some significant steps (although still not enough!) to understand the power of inclusion, and to similarly increase the diversity of characters within video games and provide more accurate and improved gender representation.

      Thanks again for taking the time to read my paper and for your excellent comments. Your statements have allowed me to delve further into this topic and I hope my response has got you thinking a little more!


  7. Hi Simon,

    Your paper was super interesting to read. It got my attention since I am a female gamer. That issue has always bothered me. I never understood why certain games would oversexualize women while the men would just wear normal armor or cool armor that is extremely effective and realistic. Most of the time, the oversexualization has nothing to do with the story or the world of that particular game and they might not even give the choice to cover up your character. Also, I was surprised and glad to see games like Cyberpunk 2077 give us more option to make diverse characters which gives the player the option to do whatever they want unlike other games that would force you to play characters that would appeal to the stereotypical gamer. I do also want to bring attention to Aloy from Horizon Zero Dawn who is the female protagonist. She showed me that female characters does not need to be sexualized to display power or that a game does not need to sexualize characters to have a beautiful story and message.

    1. Hi Munika,

      Thanks for taking the time to read my paper. Glad you enjoyed reading it and found the content interesting.

      There are a multitude of factors that affect how different genders are portrayed within video games, some of which I have outlined in my essay, however this is a particularly extensive topic to cover in just a comment reply!

      With regard to your points on oversexualisation, I believe that there remains this lack of accurate and diverse gender representation in video games because of the continuation of the games industry marketing and targeting the core demographic of adolescent male gamers. If you look at the history of video game design and in particular marketing, these medias have mostly been aimed at selling to this demographic through a focus on feelings of excitement, thrill and challenge, and if not these emotions, then certainly on the concept of the hetero teen male fantasy of scantily clad women and sex. If the executives of a video games company, (like Ubisoft) think that female protagonists won’t sell, or that oversexualised female characters are what will sell a title, then not only are games not developed to include those strong female characters, but this has the added impact of increasing the lack of accurate representations and identity diversity in the industry as a whole.

      While it can be argued that different video game genres will target different player bases, overall, there has been a historical trend of strategies targeting this demographic despite the almost 50/50 gender split of gamers (this statistic in itself disregards the current discourse concerning non-binary individuals and the gender spectrum), and furthermore a continuation of this trend in modern game development and production. I also believe that despite current trends towards better gender representation in the video games industry, show by games like Cyberpunk 2077 and your example of Aloy in Horizon: Zero Dawn (a game, story, and character that I absolutely love by the way!), video games and their design are indeed not reflective of the current societal and cultural discourse concerning gender and identity and continue to maintain typified examples of oversexualisation, misrepresentation and gender tropes.

      I hope that my reply has to some extent elaborated on your points and thanks again for reading my paper and taking the time to send me your thoughts. There are a plethora of academic articles and resources on this topic, so if you’re interested in a more in depth and further researched response than what I have been able to provide, start with my reference list and go from there!


  8. Hey Simon,

    Thanks for the great read!

    I am a big fan of the AC Franchise and decided to play as Cassandra in Odyssey simply because the choice was there and I wanted something different in a character. I found Cyber Punks character selection outstanding in that you were given the option of making a diverse character instead of the standard M/F choice. I also enjoyed that that diverseness extended to the NPCs through-out the game.

    I have always been astounded at how games portray the female character – WOW for example, having a full set of armor for male characters that make them look invincible and strong, as opposed to the female characters completing the same quest and getting a ‘two piece Bikini’ with the same stats.

    I find it truly sad that gamers would complain about having homosexual relationships in a game, as Bioware’s core market, that being white and straight, I personally find it in our day and age completely ok!

    Your comments on Ubisoft didn’t surprise me as they are only interested in the money that their games bring in, not the gamers. There is/was a Netflix Documentary ‘ Playing Hard’ which show the game ‘For Honor’ from idea to release and I was amazed at the amount of people working on the game – 650 at the highest point of development, and also appalled at how Ubisoft ended up treating the original creator of the game.

    Again thanks for a well researched paper!



    If you have the time, please check my paper out as well:

    1. Hi Jeremy,

      Thanks for taking the time to read through my paper and for your recognition of the amount of effort and research I put into it. I’m glad you found the content interesting and thought provoking.

      As you can probably tell from my responses to other comments and from my paper itself, I too am a big fan of the AC series! I also chose to play through Odyssey as Kassandra, mostly for the same reasons as yourself, for the novelty value of there being an option to play a female hero for a change. While it did not actually affect any of the gameplay at all, it was refreshing to have a strong female character as the lead of an AC game. At the same time, it is a shame that there was such a struggle within Ubisoft to actually get a playable female character in the series and this is obviously reflective of the misogyny and hostility towards female employees within the company at the time of development. Another interesting point is that despite the option to play a female or male character, and for them to be able to pursue same-sex relationships in AC: Odyssey, one of the DLC updates, ‘Legacy of the First Blade’, received some backlash and quite a negative response from the LGBTQ AC community for forcing either Kassandra or Alexios into a heterosexual relationship (apparently to ensure the assassin bloodline) no matter what decisions the player made in their playthrough. The creative director Jonathan Dumont did apologise for ‘missing the mark’, although no change was made in-game to reflect this. Check out this short article on this if you are interested in a little more detail –

      I also think that the Cyberpunk character creation was excellent, and I agree with you that it was great to see this extend outside of just the protagonist, to many of the other NPCs throughout the entirety of the game. It’s a shame about how buggy it was on release and the mostly poor reception this cause it to receive though, it might have had a little more impact if more people were actually able to play it!

      WOW is definitely a great example of the ‘bikini armour’ that female characters get in comparison to the mostly full coverage sets that male characters do. I find that this is such a typical trend in most fantasy style RPGs as a whole. While it is a common feature in most RPGs I find that the armour in Elder Scrolls Online and in the Dragon Age series are not as overtly oversexualised and skimpy as those of WOW – just in case you were looking for some that buck the trend.

      As with most areas of pop culture and media/arts there is always going to be pockets of the community that will complain about any changes to content or different design choices that they feel don’t fit their personal perspective. I too have absolutely no problem with LGBTQ characters in video games, or increased gender and racial diversity, in fact I feel like it is both refreshing and much more reflective of the diversity within society and that which we encounter daily in our lived experience. I find that the anonymity that the web provides often allows for hate speech and unnecessary and biased commentary to surround design decisions that revolve around subjects such as sexuality, gender and representation. I also feel like the fact that the games industry seems to still pander to the white, adolescent hetero male target audience/market exacerbates this problem. How do you feel about this?

      Thanks for recommending the Netflix documentary, I was not aware of it and haven’t seen it yet so will see if I can search it out and give it a watch. I have played For Honor but am not particularly familiar with the whole scenario.

      Much appreciated again for reading my paper and for your comments. I hope my reply has provided some more thinking and talking points for you and I look forward to your reply!


      1. Hey Simon,

        Thanks for the link to the article… I can understand Ubisoft taking that track with the story line of the assassins bloodline needing to continue. As I was reading the comments section after one comment struck me about how another story line being destroyed by the LGBT community and found myself thinking about how the AC Franchise tries to be as historically accurate as possible and that given in the time period that Odyssey is set, if either Kassandra or Alexios were gay would have to have sex with a member of the opposite sex as artificial insemination would be a few years off. The people getting upset about this obviously don’t know anything about the Greeks during that time period – Spartans took both male and female partners!

        It is sad that the gaming industry doesn’t see the winds of change and cater to be inclusive – yes currently the market is for straight, white, hetero market – guess that is why games like Resident Evil or Tomb Raider sold so well! My question is how many girls bought and played those games due to the strong female character and also dreamed about being or being with Lara Croft!

  9. Hi Simon,
    I really enjoyed reading your paper! I like how you shared both the positives and negatives of the games industry; on one hand, you discussed how games can facilitate identity expression and exploration because avatars can be an “extension of self” and allow players to experiment with different identities. However, you also argued that many games reinforce gender roles to appeal to their main target audience of heterosexual, adolescent males. I agree with these points, considering that gaming is becoming a “significant part of everyday life”, video games are important to help people build their identities in modern society; however, the games industry should embrace more diversity to be more inclusive and reduce the harmful effects of stereotypical gender tropes.

    I read an article recently that discussed how gender representations in media can affect the way that people construct their own personal identities (Lumen Learning, 2011). I wonder, what impact do you think poor gender representations in the gaming industry have on identity formation?

    But thanks for the great read!
    If you have time I would love it if you could check out my paper, here’s the link:

    Lumen Learning. (2011). 8.1 Foundations of Culture and Identity. Communication in the Real World: An Introduction to Communication Studies.

    1. Hi Rebekah!

      Thanks for taking the time to read my paper, and especially for your positive comments. I’m glad you found the content interesting and enjoyable, and that the structure and content got you thinking about gender representation as a whole, and within the games and media/arts arenas.

      Thanks for linking the Lumen Learning article in your reply, it was an interesting read, and definitely resonates with some of my understandings and thoughts concerning identity. I feel like it really highlights the sheer of the complexity behind the concept of, and discussion around personal identities and the idea of ‘self’.

      In regard to your question concerning poor gender representations in the gaming industry and their impact on identity formation, it’s a pretty complex question and I’d say it would take me writing another entire paper on the topic to truly unpack it! I’ll do my best to answer it in this comment, but if you have more questions/comments, let me know and we can keep this discussion going.

      In my opinion, video games and gaming are becoming one of the main areas of entertainment/media where people, especially younger individuals have the ability to both explore and express their own identity. As I have outlined in my conference paper, if an avatar, or game character, is the personification of an individual in a game world, then it can be argued that some description of exploration, alteration or bettering of this representative identity would be desirable, if not actively undertaken by the individuals they represent. Outside of the online space, appearance and the image that people present to others is a complex, multifaceted and essential part of everyday life. Social and psychological theories such as signalling theory, the need to belong, fitting in and standing out all play a significant role in identity and self-representation. In particular, these needs are especially relevant to youths and youth culture. On top of this, concepts such as gender are intrinsically tied to identity and the idea of the self. If there remain poor gender representations in one of the most popular forms of entertainment/media for a younger audience (who are experimenting or beginning to understand their personal ideas of identity and self), then this inevitably leads to these representations being seen as the norm, and furthermore, there is even less opportunity for identity exploration possibilities that interactive and immersive experiences such as video games have the ability to provide. Poor and inadequate representations in the video games industry, whether they be gender, race, body type etc., will continue to bleed into other facets of individuals daily lives, as well as within communities and broader society as a whole, and both negatively impact identity formation and hinder equity, diversity and greater understanding.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting on my paper Rebekah. I hope that my answer to your question went into enough detail for you to get an idea concerning both my opinion on the subject, and just how deep and complex an area of discussion gender representation and identity construction can get! I’ll be sure to have a read of your paper and hopefully leave a thought-provoking comment/question like you have for me.


  10. Hi Simon,

    Very well written and researched paper mate.

    It’s interesting the timing of this, given just two days ago I changed my character on Warzone after a year of operating the stock standard operator I was given. I felt a little bad leaving my guy behind and had an attachment to him…but I had to go with the fisherman even though I don’t like fishing. I don’t feel the need to represent myself accurately on that space.

    Despite this, I found it really interesting when you talked about the sexualisation of female characters opposed to the masculinisation of male characters. Thinking back to my younger gaming days, this was definitely the case. However, I’m noticing less of it and more diversity across the board which is an interesting thing for me to think back on. It’s important to note, I basically only play Call of Duty and sports games so my view is somewhat narrow.

    Do you think it’s getting easier for women to feel comfortable in the gaming community? I still sense a bit of a stigma around it given the few experiences I’ve had with females in lobbies with mics. Maybe this is more of an issue with Warzone, as it feels like its almost not part of the ‘gaming community’ in a way. I say this given how many people I know who aren’t ‘gamers’ and don’t play anything else but are infatuated with this game.

    Anyway, thanks for the read mate.


    1. Hi Declan!

      Thanks for taking the time to read my paper and cheers for the compliment! Glad you enjoyed reading it.

      I feel you with the change of character! I am definitely attached to some of the characters I play, especially if I play them for an extended period, or if I spent a bit of time customizing them or working through tough content with them. This is especially true with live service and multiplayer games for me. I’ve had my main Destiny character since Destiny 1 came out about 7 years ago, and I still took her with me over to Destiny 2, and she’s still my main now. Which leads me to my next point, which is that I chose to create and run with a female character, even though I am male. Just as you said you don’t like fishing and don’t accurately represent yourself in the context of video games, I too tend to not create or choose characters that are a reflection of myself, particularly in any physical sense. While I’m sure the way I play and what I choose for my characters to wear and look like does say something about my inner self, it seems to me that games offer that extra layer of immersion and truly allow for experimentation. I guess you could say I thought it would be interesting to make a female character because I normally wouldn’t and now I’m particularly attached to her!

      I’m guessing that we must be around the same age, because I can definitely relate to your experiences with poor gender representation and oversexualised female stereotypes in games of my youth. I can still remember some of the frankly pretty ridiculous costumes that the female Dead or Alive fighters wore. If you haven’t played it, just go for a quick Google search – you’ll understand pretty quickly! I also agree that there is a movement within the industry towards more accurate and diverse gender representation, for me, it just hasn’t and doesn’t happen fast enough and that at times it appears slightly tokenistic. When I say tokenistic, I mean that in some cases it appears as if the publishers or developers have decided to throw in a strong female NPC or trans character for the sake of inclusivity without fleshing out these characters, providing them with a large portion of the spotlight/hero role, or truly accurately reflecting gender diversity. Even if you have only played Call of Duty and Sports games, I know that they have added female teams into the EA Sports FIFA series since FIFA 16 (There’s a great article by Dean Takahashi here if you’re interested and female characters have been in Call of Duty since Ghosts in around 2013 – albeit at a pretty superficial level, how do you feel about this? I’m interested to see if you think the additions are tokenistic or actually create improved inclusivity and representations.

      As for your last point, as I am literally the watermark for ‘average Australian gamer’ being a 30 year old male, I can’t truly speak for what it is like to be a female in the gaming community. I can certainly attest to my partner and several female and trans friends that have had both some pretty harrowing experiences with online games, and particularly social and communicative aspects of online gaming – such as verbal abuse and messages within game lobbies, worlds or chat areas. For example, one of my friends plays with the mic turned off in most of her multiplayer online gaming sessions because its just easier if the concept of gender doesn’t come into either the gameplay or discussion/chat at all. On the opposite side of this, my partner loves to make her characters ultra feminine and has no problems dealing with people who call her out based on her gender in an online gaming scenario – she just shuts them down and gets on with it. I’m sure any verbal abuse would take a toll over time even for those who have an easier time coping/dealing with it, but this is still a prominent and complex issue dependent on a multitude of factors including psychology, mental state etc. that I do not have the expertise or knowledge to comment further on.

      Thanks again for the comment Declan, and I hope my reply has answered your questions and possibly got you thinking even more about this area of discussion in gaming.


      1. Hi Simon,

        Thanks for the insightful and interesting reply.

        I completely agree with your point about the ‘tokenistic’ addition of female characters in gaming contexts. It seems they don’t put very much effort into the research and even back story to these characters when compared to some of the male characters. I’m actually seeing more men adopt female characters, just as you do in Destiny. However, it almost feels as if its a piss-take more then anything.

        I’ve actually really enjoyed the handful of encounters I’ve had with female players online, as they often take the same approach as your partner. They just play normally until they are challenged verbally, then often put the men in question down pretty quickly and is always a good laugh. Although I’m certain there are dozens of females playing without the mic for reasons you’ve mentioned earlier. It must take a toll getting abused or not taken seriously in these spaces, particularly if you’ve got a passion for it.

        Thanks again mate.


  11. Hey Simon,

    As the other person with a paper relating to video games, I thought I would give yours a read first!

    This was an interesting read. Part of my research was also looking at gender representations in video games though not as focused as yours is. A question I had comes from both a research side and my own experiences playing some of these games, so I was curious, when it comes to gendered representation do you think that it needs to be able to say something or is the avatar representation of a different gender presentation what is important? I ask because I have played Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and to my understanding, there is no gameplay or mechanical difference between male and female Eivor. Even with Kassandra and Alexios in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was much the same in just changing the avatar and not much else. So do you think that it is good they have the option or does it not really add anything? I remember when Evie Fyre was first introduced and as the main concept was playing siblings in that game, they were well thought out, differently portrayed and had gameplay mechanics that gave each a different purpose.

    Curious to hear your thoughts on this and also if you had any thhoughts on what I had written, particurly in the crossover of our research when it comes to gender in games.

    1. Hi Thomas,

      Thanks so much for reading my paper and I’m glad you chose to read through mine first! I’m glad there are others who have chosen to write about games as well as myself, and I’ll make some time today to give your paper a read and hopefully I can leave some engaging feedback for you. I’ve been pretty busy with work and other unit assignments this week so apologies for my delay in replying.

      Now down to my actual reply to your comment!

      In regards to your question concerning gendered representation, I personally don’t believe that each and every character in a game ‘needs’ to say something poignant or take a particular stand if that makes sense, but rather that there are options for identity and gender representation offered to players through the characters they can choose to play or those they may meet in their game worlds.

      While there is no real gameplay benefit that can be gained from selecting to play either the male or female ‘version’ of Eivor in AC:Valhalla, I believe it is a step in the right direction for the video games industry to at least provide the player with an option to choose how they want the character to be represented in their playthrough. The story of AC:Vahalla can be experienced from either gender perspective, and while this doesn’t change how the game pans out, it does provide the player with the ability to see Eivor in a different light. Eivor (or you, the player – depending on how much you choose to/do see the main character as a reflection of yourself) can be a badass warrior Viking regardless of gender. The fact that Ubisoft have crafted this character without Eivor’s gender being a determining factor to gameplay or story is a positive step forward for video games and gender representation.

      Having said all this, I also believe that with there being no difference in what version of Eivor you choose to play, this could be seen as a missed opportunity for the empowerment or increased representation of females, or indeed others on the gender spectrum. Having a strong and well crafted/written transgender main/hero character may have the ability to tear down some of the prejudice surrounding trans people, or provide a positive role model and representation for a younger trans audience. How do you feel about this?

      Hope I’ve answered your question Thomas, and if you haven’t already I’d suggest having a read of the Jason Schreier Bloomberg article (there’s a link in my reference list) as it really shines a light on just how much of a struggle it was to even get female AC characters into the game! Thanks again for your comment, and I look forward to your reply.


      1. No worries mate, this is a hectic time!

        I definitely think it is important that we can give choice in these situations, I guess I personally would just like to see grow to mean more than just a different voice actors. In Oddssey I played as Kassandra and in Valhalla as male Eivor purely because I heard and agreed that their respective voice actors were the better ones. But in saying that, I know that canonically Eivor is female and there was one time in the game where the developers had made a mistake and programmed it only for female Eivor to do that one, tiny interaction. And I don’t think there needs to be any gameplay or major change/benefit to the player, but it needs to make sense narratively. And by no means do I just want anything historial to just oppresive female characters, but in Odyssey there is a mission all about the Olympics where it is a big deal that the female characters cannot be involved in anyway, but no one bats an eyelid and this female main character being there.

        I definitely agree that trans representation needs to start becoming more prominent. I love the character of Krem in Dragon Inquisition. Unfortunately they are an NPC of smaller prominence, but you can learn about their history and it even briefly goes into the gender politics of the world, but at the same time it is not a big deal and everyone is just fine with it. It’s great!

        Yeah reading that Bloomberg article that is sadly not surprising. But hopefully as we see the market change more it will lead to better change.

        1. Hi again Thomas!

          I completely agree that best practice should now be the provision of choice. It is certainly becoming more common for there to be a choice in character, and surprisingly enough I also played Kassandra in Odyssey, and then chose male Eivor based on reports of how well Magnus Bruun voiced his character!

          I feel like the fact that the developers decided to not create ‘separate’ male and female characters as they did with Alexios and Kassandra, but rather have a central protagonist in Eivor who could be either, is a further step in the right direction. If I recall correctly, in the prologue of Valhalla you play as a child who has no gender attached to them and then as the gameplay skips forward into adult Eivor, this is where the player is given the choice of a male or female representation. This really again ties into the point in my paper where the player can see Eivor as a kickass Viking warrior regardless of whether they chose male or female, and moreso that it has no impact on young Eivor, or any of the gameplay for that matter. Having said that, I didn’t know about the part in the game where only the female Eivor was programmed to do a specific part – I’ll have to have a look into it!

          Dragon Age: Inquisition is still one of my favourites too! I feel like Bioware have always been at the forefront of increased gender and indeed minority representations and have at least attempted to remain inclusive in most of their titles – obviously in particular with the Dragon Age and Mass Effect series. But I also agree with you that these characters generally tend to be NPCs or have just very minor roles in the actual story or gameplay elements of these video games. I’m sure we will begin to see much more movement within the industry to increased positive and more diverse gender representation, it’s just a shame it has taken such a long time, and continues to create backlash within certain pockets of the gaming community!

          1. Magnus did such an incredible job! I usually get bored with cutscenes with games that long, but he kept me watching every time.

            Yeah that introduction was really good because it put more of a focus on the game and the character before talk of gender.

            We are slowly making more steps, even if very misguided steps, but Cyberpunk 2077 had nothing of their character customisation locked in to the gender roles, but it doesnt help when the game is broken.

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