Dr. Steph Hendrick discusses women and video games during research series


Dr. Steph Hendrick presented her research about women in the gaming world on April 21 during the Women and Gender Studies lecture series.

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Steph Hendrick presented her findings regarding women in the gaming world at her research series for the Women’s and Gender Studies department last Thursday in the James Union Building.

The research series was titled “When ‘Wifey’ is on the Front Line: Legitimizing Practices in Female Gamer Tags in Augmented Reality Environments.” According to Vicky MacLean, the Director of Women’s and Gender Studies at MTSU, the purpose of the event was to further the sharing of the department’s research.

During the lecture, Hendrick spoke about the way that domestic violence effects those in the cyber world. Hendrick discussed an ad from 1997 suggesting “there is no gender on the internet.” She moved forward, saying that this theory has been absolutely disproved with numerous cases of online rape.

An example she explained began in a MUD called lambdaMOO, which is a textual game room where players can join. These somewhat anonymous people form relationships and chat in a real-time virtual world. LambdaMOO, specifically, allowed players to use avatars to interact and perform activities. The “cyber rape” occurred because a player named “Mr. Bungle” ran a devious subprogram. This program allowed him to make other avatars act extremely sexual. Other players’ avatars were even forced to perform sexual acts on Mr. Bungle.

Eventually, the player was banned, but it raised many questions about how online communities should be regulated. According to Hendrick, it also raised the question: “Can rape happen in cyber space?”

“If you have a textual community and if you have technology with only voice, what does this mean for some of the stereotypes we are exposed to in real life?” Hendrick asked.

The next topic that Hendrick discussed was the sexualization of women in video games. She announced that women are always the overly sexy characters and men are the warriors.

“People try to make plus size avatars and the games won’t allow them to,” Hendrick said.

She said that women are usually used as rewards or simply as damsels in distress. These are characters that are not respected for their abilities, but for their looks.

Hendrick’s observation was surrounding a virtual game called Ingress. Ingress is considered a form of augmented reality. Augmented reality is known as real-life situations turned into virtual games. The gameplay of Ingress consists of capturing portals at places around the earth that have cultural significance.

Players find monuments or landmarks and link them to create control fields. From there, it turns into a kind of “capture the flag.” The different teams attempt to capture different areas. The most interesting element, according to Hendrick, is the biggest demographic that plays are middle aged women. Hendrick said that while middle aged women are the majority, many of them use gamer tags that reflect their male counterpart. The names are not establishing their own qualities but that of their husbands or boyfriends.

Hendrick inquired, “Why are we using names that say: I belong to this male counterpart?

“In the gaming world there is still a lot of over- sexualization of females that shouldn’t be existent,” said Shaun Keefe, a junior at MTSU. “We should defiantly have more opportunities for women not to be harassed, just like in real life.”

“Incidentally, I never gave the topic much consideration until I took Professor Hendrick’s Survey of New Media class last semester. She really helped elaborate on the issues and make me more aware of my role in the situation,” said Chandler Warrick, MTSU sophomore. “There is no reason women should continue to be portrayed how they are now.”

“I would say, don’t be a creep,” Hendrick said. “Women are there. Treat them like you would treat your father or your sister or your brother. Treat them like human beings.”

The Women’s and Gender Studies series presents research on the third Thursday every month.

For more information about Women’s and Gender Studies, contact (615)-898-5910.

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