Local TV: Sexy Game Characters ‘Worse Than Watching Miley Cyrus Twerk’

This local news report has all of the ingredients: sex, teenage girls, the exploitation of them, video games, and a respected university’s research. Here to synthesise it all for us is Life Coach Jenn Lee: “This is even worse than watching Miley Cyrus twerk.”

If you’re wondering why a “Life Coach” is competent to speak on this, her remark also appears straight-up lifted from this Time.com pickup of the report one week ago. It’s a timely sound bite — hell, I used it in the headline — but it does little service to the seriousness of the study.

For starters, this report is shot through with the usual suspects of sexy females in gaming: Lara Croft (a generation old), Bayonetta and Chun Li. Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, which produced this study, used precisely none of them. In fact, it doesn’t sound like the study’s 86 participants, aged 18 to 40 years old, played any commercially available game at all.

“Participants donned helmets that blocked out the real world, immersing them in a virtual world of 3-D sight and sound. Motion sensors on their wrists and ankles allowed for the lab’s many infrared cameras to record their motions as they moved identically in both worlds,” wrote Stanford’s news service in describing the study.

“Once in the new world, each participant looked in a virtual mirror and saw herself or another woman, dressed provocatively or conservatively. The avatar’s movements in the mirror perfectly copied the participant’s actual physical movements, allowing her to truly feel as if she occupied that body.”

Participants then played a game featuring a male NPC in their virtual world. He struck up what seemed to be an anodyne, getting-to-know you conversation. “Women ‘wearing’ the sexualised avatars bearing their likenesses talked about their bodies, hair and dress more than women in the other avatars, suggesting that they were thinking of themselves more as objects than as people.”

Afterward, participants took a survey, in which they were asked for their level of agreement with certain statements, among them “In the majority of rapes, the victim is promiscuous or has a bad reputation.” Participants who had “worn” the sexy avatars tended to agree with that statements and those like it.

I didn’t hear anything like that this video clip above, just a lot of stuff that would scare the holy bejabbers out of me if I was the father of a teenage girl. Here’s Lee again: “We have to be careful about what we allow our kids, our young girls, [to] use as avatars … You actually adopt their mannerisms, you actually adopt how they eat, what they wear, even what they buy.” I didn’t see that claim made anywhere in Stanford’s summary of the report, nor in Time’s pickup of it.

Lee goes on to offer some boilerplate Good Parenting Advice — limit kids’ screen time, get them to read more, offer and reinforce positive role models who exist in real life and aren’t just celebrities or attractive people. All great stuff. And Stanford’s research is useful and worth consideration too; there is an institutional (look the word up) sexism in how a lot of video game characters are portrayed. This study seriously approaches that with a rational explanation of what kind of attitudes and behaviour is reinforced.

None of that is at all served by this kind of pop-culture glossing, which alienates a gaming public well past the point of fatigue on hearing how lurid and degenerate this entertainment is, and undercuts scientific work by making it appear that some Ph.Ds watched a bunch of women play Bayonetta and then wrote up an opinion of the game.


  • I don’t know about anyone else but if I was in a 3D world and suddenly had a sexy avatar I would talk about my body morein conversation too, if you got it flaunt it after all…but did he just tell us to look up the word institutional?

    • They like engendering a sense of outrage amongst us. Like “everyone mainstream hates gamers” even though, gamers are the mainstream.

  • HAHAHAHAA! And there was a picture of Chun-li!

    I think if more people tried to be like Chunners, the world would be a better place.

  • I was going to type an intelligent well thought out response to this, but it’s next to impossible to come up with an intelligent rebuttal to an argument that is absolute horse shit.
    I guess all young boys look like bodybuilders with chiseled jawlines and that’s the reason why they aren’t as equally affected by their overly masculine avatars.

    What a fucking crock of shit.

  • Off-topic: I really don’t see what was wrong with Miley Cyrus ‘twerking’.

    Someone linked me a video of ‘Wrecking Ball (Director’s Cut)’ saying that I should watch it because it was so much better than the original clip, that it treated the ‘beauty of the song and Miley herself with more respect’ than the original clip.

    It was just several minutes of the singer’s face. Disappointment. I asked about the original and she said that it was disgusting because: ‘Miley strips down to undies and licks a sledgehammer while a wrecking ball annihilates a concrete set. At one point she even got naked!‘ The impromptu-reviewer said this like it was a bad thing.

    I was like: Lady… you are doing a terrific job of selling me on watching the original. You’re talking to someone who thought Benny Benassi’s ‘Satisfaction’ clip was a masterpiece of music video.

    I dunno… Maybe there are some folks out there who’ve been following Miley Cyrus since she was a kid star, who have kids of their own, who are horrified at the idea of a woman discovering, exploring, and embracing sexuality so publicly when they prefer she be forever frozen in time as this innocent but spunky little pop-country princess. But that’s their baggage, not hers.

  • Question: What happens with dudes who like to play as female characters? Dummm… deeee… duuuum… Queue mystery music.

    Over to you Fox with your shitty and shallow reporting.

  • So women are greatly affected by this, when the majority of avatars in games are male, and men have been playing as these characters in much greater numbers but have not shown any objectionable change in behaviour? This seems a little odd to me, and I think it need to be explored more.
    Aside from that, this behaviour is all part of our maturation and development of self-identity, in the end these girls are just exploring possible possible values they want to represent, and those they don’t.

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