Teresa Lynch

Doctoral Candidate for Indiana University

Teresa Lynch is a Doctoral Candidate of Mass Communications, Graduate Scholars Fellow, and researcher in the Institute for Communication Research at Indiana University – Bloomington. Her research broadly concerns studying gender and emotional phenomena in video games.

Her published work appears in the Journal of Communication, Communication Research, Computers in Human Behavior, Communication Monographs, and the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media. She has shared her research at domestic and international events for the International Communication Association, National Communication Association, Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, the Broadcast Education Association, and the Pan European Game Information organization.Teresa Lynch is a Doctoral Candidate of Mass Communications, Graduate Scholars Fellow, and researcher in the Institute for Communication Research at Indiana University – Bloomington. Her research broadly concerns studying gender and emotional phenomena in video games.

Her published work appears in the Journal of Communication, Communication Research, Computers in Human Behavior, Communication Monographs, and the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media. She has shared her research at domestic and international events for the International Communication Association, National Communication Association, Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, the Broadcast Education Association, and the Pan European Game Information organization.

Talk Description:

Virtual Bodies and Gendered Processes

The video game industry is the target of much popular and scholarly criticism for its portrayal of human bodies. The legitimacy of these critiques is rooted in evidence demonstrating that viewing sexually objectified bodies onscreen in media increases fixation on one’s appearance (Aubrey, 2006), decreases perceptions of the objectified individual’s intellect (Loughnan et al., 2010), and increases one’s likelihood to engage in disordered eating (Kluck, 2008). Popular and scholarly critics have also leveraged ad hominem accusations arguing the industry privileges traditionally masculine interests. Observations of disparities in the frequency and prominence of male versus female characters (Braun & Giroux, 1989; Dietz, 1998), the relatively lower status of female characters compared to males (Downs & Smith, 2010), and the proportion of female to male professionals in the industry (IGDA, 2014) support the notion that video gaming is a gendered entertainment sector.

Recent analyses, however, indicate that the industry may be responding to such criticisms – at least where the portrayals of female avatars are concerned (Lynch, Tompkins, van Driel, & Fritz, 2016). Despite the encouraging trend in portrayals, much is still unknown about the way that players process bodies onscreen. Whereas viewing a body onscreen is associated with the deleterious effects listed above, comparatively less is known about the effects of playing as characters with exaggerated body characteristics. The gendered nature of gaming as an activity complicates the assumptions that scholars might make in approaching the subject of media images’ influence on players with respect to their personal body image. In other words, it is likely that when they are playing video games, men and women psychologically process the bodies they see onscreen differently.

In this talk, I will first present the results of two recent lab experiments (Matthews, Lynch, & Martins, 2016). The experimental findings demonstrate that playing as a hypersexualized character boosted women’s body esteem and that playing as a hypermuscularized character detrimented men’s body esteem. Notably, in these experiments we did not find support linking the cognitive mechanisms (i.e. social comparisons) typically implicated in negative effects to gameplay contexts. These findings, however, do not suggest that hyperidealized avatars positively influence all women in all contexts or detriment all men in all contexts.
After sharing the results of these experimental studies, I will conclude by offering developers a lay understanding of psychological factors (i.e., ideal internalization), embodiment phenomena (i.e., The Proteus Effect), and evolutionary traits (i.e., sexual dimorphism) that scholars consider central to understanding how players process onscreen bodies. I will also share an index developed for studying body characteristics in a content analysis of female characters across time (i.e. Lynch et al., 2016) and findings related to portrayals that may buffer players from the negative effects of objectification (e.g. agency). Considered with the empirical findings from Matthews et al., 2016, the intention here is to provide developers approachable points for consideration in designing avatar and non-playable character bodies with a focus on player experience.

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