As anyone who has ever played Grand Theft Auto can attest video games have not, in the past, exactly been known as bastions of female empowerment and equality.
With interaction between men and women in games like GTA limited to three options – paying women for sex, looking at them, or killing them – it’s not exactly the makings of a feminist manifesto.
And now new research has shown this depiction is actually having a small but measurable impact on the levels of sexism among teenagers.
The team from Iowa State University studied 13,000 teenagers from schools in Lyon and Grenoble, France, who played an average of two hours a day.
They then then asked them whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement: “A woman is made mainly for making and raising children.”
Participants who spent more time playing video games were more likely to agree.
While they didn’t analyse what games they were playing specifically, the team point out that previous studies have found that as many as 80% of all female characters in popular games are portrayed as sexualised and scantily clad.
Douglas Gentile, professor of psychology who worked on the study, says these images are sending a powerful message: “Many different aspects of life can influence sexist attitudes. It was surprising to find a small but significant link between gameplay and sexism.
“Video games are not intended to teach sexist views…nonetheless, much of our learning is not conscious and we pick up on subtle cues without realising it.”
They also looked at the influence of television and religion, and said that religion and sexism was also three times higher than video games.
But TV was found to be unrelated to sexism, Gentile says this may be evidence of the growing number and variety of female character roles on TV compared to two decades ago.