Ricarda Götz

Ricarda Goetz is a political scientist with a strong focus on popular culture and gender. She works for the City of Viennain the basic research section of the Women´s Department. As an independent researcher she publishes in different media, gives lectures and workshops in the realm of cultural studies.

Empathy and Inclusivity in Games. The Proteus effect

FROG 2020 – Short Talk

Games have become more varied and inclusive. The hero and protagonist is not only a 30 something white heterosexual CIS male. Protagonists in games, avatars, look and behave different nowadays. Women-avatars can be warriors, men-avatars can be vulnerable, and humanoid looking avatars can have same-sex relationships and follow new narratives. “The Sims” is one game that offered to create gender fluid game characters since 2016. Players can create virtual characters with or without any physical attributes. “The Sims”, released more than 20 years ago, was also one of the first video games to allow characters of the same sex to have a (sexual) relationship. This inclusive attitude toward the appearance of gender and sexuality, once a rarity in video games, is becoming more common as games take on more diverse and also weightier subject matters. There are different reasons for creating these sometimes called ‘serious games’ or ‘empathy games’. Many of the reasons are linked to what is known as the Proteus effect. The Proteus effect proposed by Yee and Bailenson (2007) suggests that the human embodiment in digital avatars may influence the self-perception of the player both online and offline, based on their gaming avatar’s aesthetics or behaviors. Different studies since then focused on how players can be influenced by their avatars. Jesse Fox who has been studying how online interactions with avatars and digital games influence people’s offline attitudes, did a series of studies and publications since 2009. She saw that participants responded better to avatars modeled closely on their real appearances, as opposed to generic-looking ‘perfect’ avatars. She also found out that women may be at risk for experiencing self-objectification and developing greater ‘rape myth acceptance’ when their avatars wore revealing clothing. The latter myth refers to the assumption that women´s clothing is responsible if she is assaulted. In another study, participants who were assigned a more attractive avatar in a virtual environment were found to exhibit more confidence and intimacy in the real world than those assigned to a less attractive avatar. Future studies need to clarify the extent of these effects as well as how different avatars can be used to elicit positive changes in attitudes, game play and self-image.


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