Damning study shows how LGBT+ representation in games is practically non-existent

Toxic masculinity in gaming

A damning new study has highlighted the lack of diversity in video games and how Twitch streamers perpetuate toxic masculinity.

The study, titled “The Double-Edged Sword of Online Gaming”, explores how gaming can both help and hinder male gamers, with poor representation countered by community.

It comes from The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and Promundo-US.

The study found that male characters outnumber female by four-to-one, and white characters outnumber characters of colour three-to-one.

Those white characters are significantly more likely to display violence compared with characters of colour (51.7 per cent of characters compared with 33.6 per cent).

Female characters are almost five times more likely to be shown with some level of nudity compared with male characters.

The study also found that LGBT+ representation is practically non-existent: just 0.03 per cent of video game characters identified as LGBT+.

Disability representation is also incredibly low: 0.1 per cent of characters were shown to have a physical disability (this doesn’t account for non-visible disabilities).

The study is based on the seven pillars of Promundo’s ‘Man Box Scale’. These are essentially stereotypes of toxic masculinity: self-sufficiency, acting tough, physical attractiveness, rigid gender roles, heterosexuality and homophobia, hypersexuality, and aggression and control.

The study found that four in five male characters upheld at least one of these traits, with 63.6 per cent of character enacting some form of violence. Almost half of male characters carry a gun.

For these findings, analysts surveyed 27,564 characters in 684 fifteen-minute gameplay segments from sessions with the top 20 Twitch streamers.

Of those top streamers, all were male and only one identified as LGBT+.

What’s more, sexist language was used in 37.7 per cent of the segments analysed and one in four streamers used sexually degrading language (variations of the phrase “suck my d*ck” were heard in 7.9 per cent of segments).

Overall, the study found that popular streamers reinforced the ‘Man Box’ stereotypes in 96.5 per cent of the segments analysed.

Not only does this study therefore show the lack of diversity in video games and the high propensity of toxic masculinity traits, it shows how these stereotypes are perpetuated by male Twitch streamers.

“Our study highlights the increasingly influential role that gaming plays in the lives of young men,” says Geena Davis, Academy Award-winning actor, and founder and chair of the Institute.

“It also spotlights the dramatic under representation of women, non-binary and queer folks, and people of color in both the content and throughout the development process. We need to create a better pipeline for these marginalized identities.”

“The video game ecosystem is a double-edged sword,” summises Gary Barker, President and CEO of Promundo-US. 

“It is part of the problem as it fuels harmful ideas of manhood; it is also an important part of the solution. The video gaming culture provides valuable human connection and a safe space to discuss feelings… The danger is that the current culture often normalizes violence, hate, and fosters a belief system consistent with white extremism.”

You can read the report in full here.

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