When you’ve spent months immersed in a video game, you may have noticed how the animations have changed.
The same animations are used for both male and female characters in many video games, and they’re all designed to appeal to different audiences.
And you may even have noticed that the game designers have used the same facial animations for all their male and all their female characters.
What’s up with that?
The answer, according to a new study by researchers from University of Toronto, is that the facial animations have a cultural significance.
“Our study indicates that the sexualization of male characters is not the result of the cultural context of the games but rather, the way they are presented,” says lead author David Poulin, a psychology professor at the university.
Pouin and his colleagues used data from the popular game League of Legends, which was released in late 2014.
In the game, players compete in arenas to be the best in the world by collecting the most points.
As the competition intensifies, players face off against each other in arenas that are more crowded and more dangerous.
The game has become popular because it’s an extremely easy game to learn.
Poul-Henning Kampf, a professor of psychology at the University of Groningen, explains that League of Legend is an example of a game that has a long history of sexualization.
“The most obvious thing is that people are playing the game because they like it, they enjoy it, and it is an attractive and easy game,” Kampf says.
The study also found that the sexually objectifying facial expressions in League of Legendary are a result of a variety of factors.
“There are a number of factors that contribute to the appearance of sexually objectified characters in video games,” Pouins team explains.
“One of them is the use of facial animations in the games.
For example, in games such as Overwatch and Hearthstone, the facial animation of the characters is based on a facial pose, which is a generic type of animation that is common in most games.
In Overwatch, for example, the characters are animated with facial poses that resemble those of real-life people.”
While the use and distribution of these animations in League may be intentional, they may also be influenced by social pressure.
“In many countries, people are encouraged to play video games.
The use of sexualized facial expressions by developers in gaming games has been known for a long time,” Poulienning Kampfe says.
“This may be because the games are often a source of social stimulation, and the people who play them are often more sexually satisfied than people who don’t.”
Pouens study has been published in Psychological Science.
To see if the same sexual objectification has been found in other games, Poulins team conducted a more extensive analysis of more than 100,000 players in a series of online online games.
Players from a variety a variety social circles, including friends, guilds, and rivalries, were recruited from the U.K. to participate.
The team used information on the participants’ social network activity to create a profile of their game play.
The researchers then analyzed the images of each of the participants and created a set of facial expressions, such as smiling, laughing, or frowning.
The facial expressions were then compared with the images in League to determine which participants were sexually objectifiable.
POULIN explains that their findings show that in games, players have to face a lot of pressure to appear sexually attractive.
“They’re expected to look like the opposite sex,” he says.
Poussinning Kampff says that, for most of the players surveyed, their games were more sexually objectifed than the images they were shown in League.
“We were surprised to find that most people, in our group, did not experience any sexual objectifcation in their games.
Most people found that their games looked like they were played by a bunch of girls,” Kampfe explains.
Pounis team says the results also show that sexual objectifying in games can be culturally meaningful.
“Games with more explicit depictions of sex and violence can be more problematic for young people, as they tend to reinforce the idea that sex and violent behavior are normal and acceptable,” Pouniens team writes.
“Thus, more explicit and violent depictions of sexual violence may be seen as an opportunity to challenge young people’s gender and sexual identity and reinforce sexual norms and stereotypes.”
The researchers say their study may have an impact beyond League of legends.
“Although the effects of sexual objectifierism are subtle, it could have an important impact on young people by influencing their understanding of sexuality and gender,” Kampffs team concludes.
“It also shows that sexualization in games does not have to be limited to games.”