Researcher says video games can empower girls

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Researcher says video games can empower girls


PhD student Katryna Starks at her computer

11 September 2014

A USC researcher is investigating how video games might promote positive female identity during play and deliver affirmative outcomes in the lives of teenage girls.

International PhD student Katryna Starks from Los Angeles said her thesis ‘Game Chang(h)er: Exploring the video game design elements that may impact the agency and identity of adolescent girls’ focused on female gamers, a demographic not yet adequately catered for in game design.

“My research is exploring the effects of video games on, stereotype threat, agency and self-esteem in pre-adolescent and adolescent girls,” Ms Starks said.

“I’m investigating whether there are gaming elements that promote positive female identity, which may also promote positive results in life.”

She said issues identified by her preliminary investigation included that the vast majority of the popular, high-end video games were targeted at males.

“Also, the women in the games are often stylised in a sexist or stereotypical fashion, and the few games that are directed at females tend to have a few limited, stereotypical themes, like ponies or makeovers to look pretty. I think girls would be better served with a wider variety of themes, including more mysteries and adventures.

“My research will include an extensive investigation of how girls react to, and are influenced by, the range of different games currently available to them.”

Ms Starks said there was a major gap in the marketplace when it came to games featuring strong, positive, non-sexualised female protagonists.

“When it is done right, the first-person nature of the games, as well as the 3D graphics, provides an immersive experience, while the puzzle and mystery-story themes of good games provide challenges and the opportunity to build problem-solving abilities,” she said.

“There is a clear demand for a wider variety of such games: ones that girls want to play and that they enjoy playing. They should feel empowered and creative and be instilled with confidence when they play these games.

“This can give them life tools and the confidence to move forward in the world at the same time.”

Ms Starks’ dynamic presentation of her research recently won the $1,000 first prize in the Three Minute Thesis contest that capped off USC’s annual Research Week.

— David Cameron

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