Selling Gender: Associations of Box Art Representation of Female Characters With Sales for Teen- and Mature-rated Video Games

Sex Roles. 2013 Feb 1;68(3-4):252-269. doi: 10.1007/s11199-012-0231-6. Epub 2012 Oct 26.


Content analysis of video games has consistently shown that women are portrayed much less frequently than men and in subordinate roles, often in "hypersexualized" ways. However, the relationship between portrayal of female characters and videogame sales has not previously been studied. In order to assess the cultural influence of video games on players, it is important to weight differently those games seen by the majority of players (in the millions), rather than a random sample of all games, many of which are seen by only a few thousand people. Box art adorning the front of video game boxes is a form of advertising seen by most game customers prior to purchase and should therefore predict sales if indeed particular depictions of female and male characters influence sales. Using a sample of 399 box art cases from games with ESRB ratings of Teen or Mature released in the US during the period of 2005 through 2010, this study shows that sales were positively related to sexualization of non-central female characters among cases with women present. In contrast, sales were negatively related to the presence of any central female characters (sexualized or non-sexualized) or the presence of female characters without male characters present. These findings suggest there is an economic motive for the marginalization and sexualization of women in video game box art, and that there is greater audience exposure to these stereotypical depictions than to alternative depictions because of their positive relationship to sales.

Keywords: Video games; content analysis; gender representations; media effects.