Sure you design your avatar, but does your avatar then have a hand in designing you? Based on the Proteus Effect and objectification theory, a?case study by Stanford researchers?explored whether and to what extent the use of sexualized avatars would increase self-objectification experiences.?With much of daily life and leisure time spent online, the effect of virtual avatars on offline personality, called the Proteus Effect, has become increasingly significant. The Proteus Effect has been shown to have a lasting impact on the user in his or her interactions and self-image long after logging out. Objectification theory was explained in the study as:
“Rather than being respected as individuals, women are depersonalized and judged as bodies and objects with solely sexual worth. The result is that women gradually internalize this perspective, learning to see and value themselves based on their appearance.”
Using what is known about both the Proteus Effect and objectification theory, researchers hypothesized that women using virtual avatars that were sexualized would show greater self-objectification and acceptance of rape myth than those using non-sexualized virtual selves.?The participants were placed in a completely immersed virtual reality and given a randomly assigned avatar. They were given a series of actions to complete and a small scripted interaction with a male avatar (manned by a confederate). They then filled out a questionnaire and after some distraction, were asked to free write about their thoughts.
Disturbingly, the results were supportive of an increase in self-objectification and acceptance of rape myth by test subjects wearing sexualized avatars.
The study concluded that:
“Women may be at risk for experiencing self-objectification and developing greater rape myth acceptance, and these attitudes may influence their behaviors both on- and offline.?
The researches went on to caution, “..users of video games, online social worlds, and other virtual environments should be made aware of the potential effects and implications of the avatars they embody.”
Corroborating?prior research on the effects of wearing an alternate version of ourselves online, this study warns us that it is not just seeing the violence against women and sexual imagery often included in gaming and virtual worlds that supports the continuing acceptance of rape myth and the objectification of women, but that by wearing these images we incorporate said imagery into our personalities, perhaps permanently.
For one vlogger’s irreverent discussion on sexualized tropes in gaming, check out this video.