Sweden Wants to Label Sexist Video Games, and the U.S. Should Learn From This

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 18: A display copy of Grand Theft Auto V (R) sits on a shelf at the 8 Bit & Up video games shop in Manhattan's East Village on September 18, 2013 in New York City. The video game raked in more than $800 million in sales in its first 24 hours on the shelves. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Source: Mario Tama/Getty Images News/Getty Images

In case you weren't convinced that Sweden is the best country ever, especially with regards to gender equality, here's some convincing news for you: Sweden is considering labeling sexist video games based on whether they have harmful portrayals of women. The Swedish government agency that doles out funding to state research and development is paying Dataspelsbranchen, a Swedish video-game trade organization, around $35,000 to study female characters in video games and implement this labeling standard. 

The research is inspired by the Bechdel Test, a simple test that can be applied to works of fiction, including video games, television shows, movies, books, and comics, to analyze the how realistic and multi-dimensional the representation of women is (or isn't) in the given medium. The test asks whether the piece of media features at least two named women who talk to one another about something other than a man. Some famous films that fail the Bechdel Test include The Social Network, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II, and the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. Unsurprisingly, most video games would probably not pass this criteria and many gamers have suggested their own version of the test that would pertain more directly to the sexism and misrepresentation that occurs in video games.

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As of right now, the United States has no such rating system. Video games in the U.S. are rated mostly by age, for example the rating T for Teen (suitable for ages 13 and up) means there may be suggestive themes, crude humor, and blood, M for Mature (suitable for ages 17 and up) means there may be graphic sexual content, blood and gore, and intense violence, and AO for Adults Only (suitable for ages 18 and up) means there may be prolonged intense violence and extreme sexual content. But these ratings can be vague and arbitrary and never actually state exactly the content of the video game, which is what the Swedish research aims to do. Hopefully the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ERSB) which assigns these ratings can take a page out of the Swedish video-game book when there are further developments.

 

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