Film, Brown Bag Question Videogames

Vanessa Persico

The Women’s Studies Center showed the documentary “Game Over: Gender, Race and Videogames” and hosted a brown bag discussion with Assistant Professor of Communications and Journalism at Suffolk University Nina Huntemann, the documentary’s producer, last week.

The documentary, which Huntemann assembled over the period from 1991-2000, played the evening before the brown bag. It articulated many concerns about video games in the 1990’s, emphasizing their importance as a sector of the media as influential as film, television and newspaper.

In the documentary, Huntemann and others highlighted themes of violent masculinity, hyper-sexualized femininity and negative racial stereotypes that are present in video games. The Duke Nukem games came up frequently as examples of these tendencies.

Characters such as Duke Nukem white male heroes are typically unrealistically burly and imposing figures. Women are usually “damsels in distress.” Even female heroes, such as Lara Croft, are depicted as fantastical sexual objects; if Croft were life-sized, her measurements would be 36D-24-34. People of color, when portrayed, appear in stereotypical roles: Asian characters have karate skills, Black characters are gang members and Latino characters are wrestlers.

The brown bag, titled “Armchair Soldiers: Masculinity and Warfare in Video Games,” was geared more toward the depiction of masculinity in military-themed videogames, which have been growing in number and in popularity since 2000, possibly due to the real-life military action in which the United States is engaged.

Huntemann outlined four categories of military videogames: reenactment of historical wars, reenactment of contemporary wars (such as Desert Storm), revisionist war and future wars.

The first two categories tend to center around historical realism and the importance of the squad, whereas the latter two have more to do with adventure and thwarting potential threats, usually in the form of terrorists threatening women and children.

In focus groups, Huntemann found that the players of these videogames do not feel much of an impulse to enlist and become physically involved with the overseas conflict, in spite of the highly military rhetoric used in advertising.

Instead, she said, they play contemporary military games for the cathartic effect.

“They describe it as an opportunity to feel some sense of control in a situation where they feel powerless,” she said.

Unlike many similar productions, the documentary stopped short of claiming that playing violent video games increases the chance of violent behavior.

However, in the film as well as at the brown bag lunch, Huntemann said that these violent games cause an overall shift in attitude toward violence: in videogames, as in military training simulations, there are no negative consequences for acts of violence; in fact, players are rewarded in proportion to the number of “enemies” they kill.

“I am uncomfortable with a direct-effects argument,” Huntemann said. “I take much more of a cultural standpoint and stay away from the behavioral.”

Huntemann produced the documentary at the request of a graduate professor of hers, a request that excited her very much, as she had been an avid player of videogames since childhood.

She spoke of potential future research into more specific data as to the prevalence of race and gender stereotypes across genres in this, the fastest-growing sector of the American media.