A new study from Stanford University says that hyper-sexualized female avatars, or characters taken on in video games, can have a number of harmful effects on women. Media critics like Anita Sarkeesian, creator of Feminist Frequency, have long decried common female video game tropes—such as the “damsel in distress”—that promote negative representations of women as passive, sexual objects in need of rescue. But this new study further investigates the effect those same representations have when women take on a persona.
According to the study, women who took on the person of a sexy female avatar in a video game were more likely to objectify themselves and were more accepting of rape myths in real life. These same effects were increased if the avatar resembled them. Eighty six women aged 18 to 40 were part of the study, and researchers say their findings confirmed what is known as the Proteus Effect, whereby people take on attitudes and behaviors they experience in virtual environments such as video games. There are numerous studies on the effects of videos games in particular on young people, but this one gives new insight into how some games can contribute to rape culture.