Friday, July 29, 2011

A Boys Choice? Propagation of Societal Gender Roles in Video Game Marketing

The views and wants of a pre-teen boy are easily stereotyped: sports, aggression, and more sports. These generally held ideals are mirrored in the typical products aimed at young male audiences. By examining the male hetero-normative values heralded by specific toys, we can see the exclusion of females and the penalization of males who wish to differ from stereotypically constructed gender roles. As a specific example, we can observe one such case; the entertainment wish list of nine year old Aaron, and the culture that surrounds his shopping experience.

In a proposed list of the top five wanted toys compiled by Aaron, three of the five were sports related. Aaron’s list focused primarily upon baseball, wrestling, and basketball. To view all of these activities as equally as possible, we looked at video games, which can encompass all of these sports similarly in price and presentation. Initially we viewed wrestling games; out of the three featured on the Toys R Us© website all showed only aggressive male figures. When browsing both basketball and baseball video games this same phenomenon occurs. While women play active roles in all of these sports within a real world atmosphere, there is no representation of them on the packaging. The idea of a male-only mentality in athletics is also the mentality of the advertisers for certain athletic video games, as Messner states, “When many of the men in this study said that during childhood they played sports because “it’s just what everybody did,” they of course meant that is was just what boys did. They were introduced to organized sports by older brothers and fathers, and once involved; found themselves playing within an exclusively male world.” (Messner, 127).The images on the packaging of these products only help to reinforce this negative stereotype. While Aaron is part of the inclusive sect of the male dominated sports world, this influence instills a subconscious bias towards the exclusion of females as fellow teammates or sports enthusiasts. 

In contrast to his largely masculine-defined preferences, Aaron’s other selection was a dancing game, a generally female-endorsed product. The first dance game to come up on the Toys R Us© website was “Just Dance 2” for the Nintendo Wii. The cover image of this product displays two provocatively dressed and positioned female, and one male. Here the feminine representation has drastically increased in comparison to the sports products; two-thirds of the characters shown are female. Interestingly, the only male figure represented is dressed in a pink and lime green jumpsuit with pink sneakers; traditionally this is an outfit that would be seen on females. This coloring palette alludes to the lack of masculinity in this male character and also questions his hetero-normative sexuality. The cover images also display the names of artists featured in the game, such as Rihanna and The Pussycat Dolls. These two artists, who generally cater to feminine audiences, warrant the largest font type as well as the most visible spot on the packaging.  These indications perpetuate the idea that this game is meant for a female audience. The smallest font on the packaging lists “The Rolling Stones”, a more universal music group,   however this is in a very indirect place and written sideways, making its legibility very difficult. These obstacles further discourage any males who may have been interested by this genre of game.

As a society males generally are not included in such stereotypically feminine pursuits such as dance, as Newman mentions, “For boys, life on the other side of the gender fence is much more precarious. The chances to play girl games without ridicule are rare and the risks for doing so are steep. The sissy is not simply a boy who enjoys female pursuits. He is suspiciously soft and effeminate. His sissy-ness is likely to be seen as reflective of his sexual essence, a sign of his impending homosexuality.” (Newman, pg. 8)  It seems that Ubisoft, the makers of this dance game, fall into the ideology described by Newman. Boys are strongly discouraged from the game by its lack of identifiable male counterparts and feminine color choices. The marketers take it one step further by emasculating the only male character, by giving him a non-normative and possibly homosexual appearance. Overall these signals spell out one clear message: that this is a game for females or homosexuals, not for the normative nine year old straight male.  

It appears that even though our typical nine year old has diverse interests, society has other plans; despite his varied wants, marketing professionals have created strict gender roles for Aaron to fill. As most boys, his hopes of sports-related enjoyment will go on unperturbed; male-dominated game covers may grasp his eye and give him same-gendered role models to whom he can aspire, even if they also reinforce an anti-woman sentiment in relation to sports. Conversely, Aaron’s trip down the dance-game section may cause him great disappointment; he will be punished with a loss of normative masculinity, propagated by female leads and homosexual connotation.

-Sarah Jablonski

Works Cited-

Just Dance 2. Photograph. Toys R Us. Ubisoft. Web. 28 July 2011. <>.

Messner, M. "Boyhood, Organized Sports, And The Construction Of Masculinities." Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 18.4 (1990): 416-44. Print.
Newman, David M. "Chapter Four Learning Difference Families, Schools, and Socialization." Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2006. Print.

WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2011. Photograph. Toys R Us. THQ. Web. 28 July 2011. <>.