Hager Jemel-Fornetty : « Our test assesses sexism in video games for the first time: the results are indisputable »
As part of the Assises de la Parité 2023, EDHEC Diversity & Inclusion Chair presented the next stage in its work on gender in video games. Following the example of the Bechdel test applicable to cinema, the researchers are proposing the first test to assess the degree of parity in so-called 'scripted' video games. We spoke to Hager Jemel-Fornetty, Associate Professor at EDHEC, Director of the Diversity & Inclusion Chair, and co-author of the study formalising this approach, which has been tested on more than 50 bestsellers... none of which passed the test.
Why take an interest in gender issues in video games?
In 2023, over 3.75 billion people - or 47% of the world's population (Statista 2023) - will be playing video games, which will outstrip all other cultural productions in terms of audience. We believe it is essential to take an interest in their narratives and characters, in particular, by analysing them as producers and amplifiers of bias, gender stereotypes and therefore sexism. Because in one way or another, and to varying degrees depending on the age and level of maturity of the players, these games influence our representations and our behaviour.
Along with two other researchers, we made last year a number of observations about the way women are represented in video games: there are fewer of them than male characters, they are often passive, and they play a lesser or subordinate role in the story, whether as protagonists or as characters; when it is possible to play women, which is relatively rare. While we are already proposing ways out of this situation - considerably increasing the number of female leads, without objectifying their bodies, making it easier for women to enter the gaming industry, etc. - we wanted to take our analysis a step further, but also produce a tool that could be used by everyone.
Were you surprised that none of the 51 games analysed passed the test?
Yes, honestly, because even though I know the extent and depth of current gender inequalities, I thought the figures were less alarming. There are certainly disparities between the bestsellers tested, but on average 80% of the characters who speak in the games are male, a ratio that rises to 96% in some games. And unfortunately this figure has remained virtually stable for 30 years. The roles assigned are a kind of mirror of our society, and we have analysed that 55% of male characters are very active, "on the front line" (fighters, ninjas, pirates...), a figure that drops to 25% for women.
Yet gamers are also female, with little difference in terms of volume: for example, 91% of men and 86% of women aged 16-24 play games. That's why we're calling on the video games industry, through its production and its cultural universes, to take its share of responsibility in the fight against gender inequality and violence.
How does the test work?
This test works for any video game with a storyline, also known as an RPG for role-playing game. We applied it to 51 of them, published between 1991 and 2022. The game's storyline must answer positively to five questions in order to be considered egalitarian. Firstly, are there as many female characters as male characters talking? Secondly, and this is a qualitative extension of the first question: are there as many female characters as male characters named (who speak in the game)? The sequences follow one another and allow players to make their choices: speech is therefore key in terms of interaction and progression. Thirdly: do male and female characters have equal speaking time in the game? Because we could very well be in a game where the number of male and female characters is balanced, but where the female characters have short, minor texts - the cinematic equivalent here is obvious. Fourthly: can we play as many female characters as male characters in the game? This is an essential question, as any gender-balanced narrative should allow as many female as male characters to be played. Finally, are jobs and status assigned equally to male and female characters in the game? The aim here is to test whether gender stereotypes operate to assign gendered roles to female and male characters.
How do you see the future?
A great deal of work still needs to be done to make the video games industry, and gamers too, more aware of these issues. One of the keys is undoubtedly to be able to analyse our favourite titles ourselves, while enabling researchers and professionals to follow these developments. Over the next few months, we're going to be putting a website online featuring the 51 games we've analysed, along with the figures produced by our team, and Internet users will then be able to test dozens of other games according to these five simple criteria. Ready to play?