[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Game Over: Gender, Race, and Violence in Video Games
a film by Nina Huntemann
from Media Education Foundation, 2000

41 minutes, color
$250 ($115, high school price)

Lara Croft, the female lead character in the Tomb Raider video game series (and the feature film based on that series), challenges some of the gender stereotypes reflected in most video games. She is a strong woman—muscular, aggressive, and determined—who is not, like most women in video games, waiting for a man to rescue her. But she is also a sex symbol, created to feed the fantasies of the boys and men that comprise the majority of the industry's consumers. Like her fellow heroines, she has unrealistically large breasts (36D to be exact) and, in relation, a ridiculously small waist (24 inches), particularly for somebody who performs superhuman physical feats.

According to Michael Morgan, an expert interviewed for Game Over, while the sexism, racism, and other cultural messages of some media remain subtle, "video games have the quality of being so explicit—so blatant—in their representations of men, of women, of power, of control, that they lay out some of the key ideologies of the culture in absolutely unmistakable, vivid ways." Indeed, video games, once cultural media afterthoughts, are now, in the context of the computer and Internet boom, helping to shape and define mainstream culture in the United States. Game Over, a film by Nina Huntemann, explores how, in its "reality"-focused depictions of sexualized women, violent men, inner-city drug-dealing African Americans, savagely violent Native Americans, and other stereotypical prototypes, the video game industry is using this power in racist, sexist, and violence-encouraging ways.

The film is divided into six parts, each focusing on a distinct theme. The first of these, "Play Like a Man: Video Games and Masculinity," exposes how masculine perceptions of success in video games is linked tightly to violence, destruction, and murder. The second part, "Buxom Babes: The Female Heroine," critiques the profusion of sexualized female "heroines," like Lara Croft, who encourage sexual stereotypes by feeding male consumers' sexual fantasies. "Narrow Vision: Race in Video Games" examines racist portrayals of racial minority groups in video games that, again, feed stereotypes and support whiteness as the racial norm. The fourth part, "Video Game Violence," highlights the gratuitous violent nature of many games, while the fifth and sixth parts, "Sim Violence: Teaching Kids to Kill" and "Virtual Violence," consider whether the redundant violence of the games impacts the thoughts and actions of their consumers.

The primary hook of Game Over is a stream of scenes from a plethora of video games, each supporting the analyses of expert interviewees. A character's head is ripped from his body, still connected with his spinal chord. A prostitute is offered money, then shot and killed. Others are stabbed, kicked, thrown, mutilated, beheaded, and destroyed, their killers earning points and the right to continue killing. Scenes from Kingpin, a game full of poor, inner-city, drugged-out African American characters, depicts a white male protagonist—the only high-profile white character in the game. These scenes accomplish what a critique of a single video game cannot—namely, revealing industry norms and standards of oppression and violence and providing viewers with a small taste of the images, and as a result, the lessons, consumed daily by masses of young people.

Game Over successfully inspires dialogue on a variety of issues—racism, sexism, the connection between violence and masculinity, and the way the media feeds into them. Because it attempts to address the cultural significance of video games from so many angles, the film's analysis remains, for the most part, at an introductory level. As a result, Game Over can be particularly useful as a low-risk tool for initiating dialogue. However, in doing so, the film sacrifices potentially deeper analysis, making it less educative or moving for more sophisticated audiences.

Appropriate contexts for Game Over include introductory classes in Women's Studies, Gender Studies, American Studies, and Media Studies as well as early-level workshops or dialogues about sexism in the media, male identity, and consumer culture. It is appropriate for all age groups.

A free study guide is available from the Media Education Foundation's Web site.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]