The archetypical protector and psycho-killer number among the many tropes at play in horror media. As with film, they permeate horror video games. Even though the medium allows for user agency to varying degrees, these tropes are heavily reinforced and rarely modifiable. This is very much the case of the 2015 horror video game “Until Dawn.” The gender roles within the game are heavily delineated and in line with that divide; the role of protector falls squarely in the realm of the masculine initially. As the story unfolds, there is an inevitable shifting of the protector category along the lines of mental health. The game's narrative eventually strips several male characters of their protector status through mental or physical trauma, leading to the conclusion that mental illness is a weakness unbecoming a masculine protector. The paper unpacks this definition of "masculinity" through a thorough intersectional analysis of the game content to not only discern the definition of "mental illness" within the game but also the associations and representations made of mental illness as it relates to hegemonic masculinity. In a society where mental illness is so frequently stigmatized and toxic masculinity problematizes showing weakness as a male, it is important to consider and recognize the impact of this particular intersection in our media, especially considering the growing population of gamers consuming this content.
Rebecca Waldie is a doctoral student in the Communications Department at Concordia University in Montréal, Canada. Her current research engages with the representation and stigmatization of mental illness in video games. Rebecca’s research focuses on the representation of masculinity in video games: the impact of gender, race and mental illness as forms of marginalization that feminize or weaken characters. In her past research, Rebecca explored the ways in which players relate to avatars and the sexualization of characters in video games.
In a 2013 article for the feminist blog XOJane, author Jamie Nesbitt Golden delineated the rape of one of “Scandal’s” perpetual antagonists, Mellie, as a plot device used to bring humanity and sympathy to the character. Expanding off of Golden’s article, I will present a content analysis that examines how rape is utilized as a storytelling mechanism across a broad distribution of television shows. This analysis reveals that rape is often employed to evoke sympathy for a previously unlikeable character, to retroactively justify the currently unlikeable nature of a character, or both. It is no coincidence that the vast majority of characters who endure these assaults are always female. I resolve that the gender-driven use of this trope only serves to reinscribe sexual violence as an act that de-feminizines the female victim, as a weapon that is targeted at certain "types" of women who are in some way asking for it and as a lesson that teaches us to conflate a victim with the event of her attack.
I argue that these depictions of sexual violence on television expose a larger societal dialogue regarding sexual assault victims as un-feminine, permanently and irreparably traumatized, and more deserving of our sympathy than of our direct help and support. I then move to challenge these rhetorics. Finally, as part of my larger research and activism, I propose new ways of speaking about and with victims/survivors.
Keywords: sexual violence, television, gender, race, intersectionality
Shadia Siliman currently serves as the diversity intern at IUB’s Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, and is a doctoral candidate in gender studies at IU Bloomington. Her dissertation investigates sexual violence and consent through the lens of a Queer of Color Critique, with an emphasis on Women of Color feminism and intersectionality.
The model of intuitive morality and exemplars (MIME; Tamborini, 2011) leverages the intuitionist perspective of moral psychology and attempts to explain and predict both short- and long-term effects of media use on content selection, appraisal, identification and production. Previous research has successfully manipulated players’ temporary moral salience using dialogue text, influencing in-game player decisions (Tamborini et al., 2018). This effect of salience change was demonstrated across the five foundations defined by moral foundations theory (MFT; Haidt & Joseph, 2007) — but MIME researchers have yet to test how other game design elements, beyond text-based dialogue, come together to create a morally salient experience. Furthermore, there has yet to be any experimental distinction between the valence of foundation salience; two games might both cue salience of the same foundation, but for morally opposing reasons. Following Tamborini et al. (2018), the present study seeks to target one of the specific moral foundations most relevant across video games, care/harm, to 1) validate previous research about environmental salience cues, using commercial games during a pilot study in which participants will play various “walking simulators” (story-based games with little action) to demonstrate a change in care/harm salience following play; then, with the two games that each represent care or harm the most, run a between-subjects experiment in which 2) salience is primed in one of two valence-based directions during a short gameplay session, where players’ temporary salience changes are measured using an MF-AMP test and behavioral change is measured using a post-game helping task.
This research is part of a working dissertation proposal.
Keywords: communication, social science, media psychology, morality, moral psychology, moral foundations theory, moral intuition, cognitive science, video games, game design, play, MIME, narrative, priming, implicit emotions
Ken Rosenberg is a doctoral candidate in The Media School, with a focus in media psychology. He is interested in the ways that people make moral judgments and how media consumption, particularly video game play, shapes our behavior and attitudes toward morally salient issues around politics, religion and society.