Lara Croft in Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend is known as much, or more so, for her hyper-sexualized body as for her skills and adventures. This is often the norm for female characters in video games, saysElizabeth Behm-Morawitz, Assistant Professor of Communication at MU. Having recently finished her first year at MU, Behm-Morawitz actually began studying video games as a doctoral student at the University of Arizona. “Seeing these hyper-sexualized images of women caught my attention,” she recounts.
Behm-Morawitz’s research focuses on the effects video games can have on college students: “This is a stage of life when you’re on your own for the first time. You’re doing a lot of identity exploration, making sense of the world, coming into your own. So, this is a time when media images might have an impact on how you think about gender and how you think about yourself.”
For two decades Robert E. Weems, Jr. has been studying interrelated aspects of African-American business and economic history at levels both local and national. The MU professor of History observes that the history of black economic development in Columbia, Missouri, with its once-thriving black business district, stands as a microcosm of national trends. “For a variety of social and economic reasons,” he notes, “we literally see black businesses disappearing from the landscape of America.” Weems’ first book, Black Business in Black Metropolis: The Chicago Metropolitan Assurance Company, 1925-1985 (1996), based on his dissertation research, explored the factors underlying this change. The history of this now-defunct black insurance company in Chicago has implications for the economics of race in America in general.
There are a lot of anecdotal claims about school uniforms helping to level economic status, increase attendance rates, create a healthier school environment, curb school violence, increase academic achievement, and so forth. Unfortunately, none of them have been substantiated. And yet, according to recent estimates, today “roughly 25% of our elementary public schools have mandatory school uniform policies,” observes David Brunsma, whereas in the mid-1990s only 5% had such policies.
Behm-Morawitz discusses how her investigations into video games and the media may affect other research studies.
Behm-Morawitz recently received a grant to replicate the study she did with Tomb Raider: Legend, this time with additional video games to determine that it is not just one game that can influence players’ perceptions of women. She will also examine stereotypical depictions of African Americans in video games.
Some games, such as The Sims, are representations of real life, where the player can live in a community or interact with other characters. Players can also personalize their characters to match themselves. Behm-Morawitz will be studying such games associated with “real life” in order to find out how players represent their identities when given multiple options.
Behm-Morawitz also studies video game advertisements that promote certain racial and sexual stereotypes. The graphic art in these ads, she explains, is so advanced that some of her students had trouble identifying whether an animated character was real or not.
Behm-Morawitz describes her research into the effects of racial and sexual stereotypes in the media. Her most recent endeavors center around video games, specifically hyper-sexualized characters. “Video gaming is becoming much more mainstream,” she says. “You are seeing the profile of the gamer shift a bit and seeing the gaming industry itself really take off.” This research started for Behm-Morawitz at the University of Arizona, where she had groups of students play sexualized and non-sexualized levels of the video game Tomb Raider: Legend.
The fate of black economic development in Columbia, Missouri, represents a microcosm of national trends. “For a variety of social and economic reasons,” Weems observes, “we literally see black businesses disappearing from the landscape of America.” Looking at the economic dimension of desegregation reveals a bitter irony that has animated much of Weems’ work. As a result of so-called desegregation, “on one level, we see white companies making great inroads among the African-American consumers,” he explains. “But we don’t see black companies being able to make similar inroads in the mainstream community.” In economic terms, this one-way situation is not true desegregation.
Ugarte discusses the relationship of various ethnic groups in Spain throughout history and how the African “Other” is absorbed in the consciousness of Spaniards.
Brunsma explores the construction of racial identity in Beyond Black: Biracial Identity in America (2001), with Kerry Ann Rockquemore, and Mixed Messages: Multiracial Identities in the “Color-Blind” Era (2006).