What is gender-based violence in games?

Taina Myöhänen
This article is part of the Gender in Play project publications. Gender in Play was a project by We in Games Finland and The National Council of Women of Finland that examined the character development and world-building within Finnish games studios’ games from the perspective of gender equality and representation. The project ran 2021–2022 and was funded by the Ministry of Justice.

Video game violence has been the topic of intense discussions for a long time, but gender-based violence has not been a part of this debate. That was reflected in comments we obtained from game developers when we began our Gender in Play project. The commentators considered whether gender-based violence applies to fighting female protagonists in action games or female fighters in fighting games. To address this discussion, we specify what gender-based violence includes the following:

  • Physical violence against women or gender minorities due to their gender.
  • Sexualisation and objectification of a body, like pornographic images or sexualised views on violence in video or audio materials, overemphasised feminine body features, voyeuristic camera angles focused on private parts of bodies, and sexualised screams and moaning.
  • Misogynistic speech: the use of offensive language directed towards one gender.
  • Silencing in dialogues and narrative. Do certain characters speak and are they spoken to? How many lines do they have compared to other characters?
  • Not to incorporate similar development options for characters of certain gender
  • Repeating negative stereotypes in character design, like the concept of a “weaker gender”, damsel-in-distress, and “exotic sexy savages”.
Image by Tuuli Hypén

In our study, gender-based violence did not include physical violence against female protagonists when the female characters had full agency, were able to develop their skills equally to their male counterparts, were as likely to be the saviours as men, and were not represented as one-sided stereotypes or only seen as merely a representative of their gender (Rodrigues & Sićević 2021b).

We planned to include an analysis of gender-based violence in our quantitative research, but came to the conclusion that it was hard to recognise gender-based violence in games just by looking at the marketing materials provided, gameplay videos, or short gameplay (Rodrigues & Sićević 2021a).

Gender-based violence in games, if not blatant, is well hidden in structures, as in everyday life. Looking into the existence and the features of gender-based violence in games requires the person to pay attention to the context of the game world and gameplay; that is, to play the game. To analyse that more in depth, we conducted a qualitative study that included eight games where we took a deeper look at the different forms of gender-based violence. This can be read here: Gender-based Violence against Women Characters.


Rodrigues A. & Sićević, N. (2021a, June 23). Gender in Play – large-scale content analysis about the character representation and diversity in Finnish games. We in Games blog, https://weingames.fi/analysis-character-diversity-games-large/

Rodrigues A. & Sićević N. (2021b, December 16). Gender-based Violence against Women Characters. We in Games blog, https://weingames.fi/gender-based-violence-against-women-characters/