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.”
Finding a way to transform MU’s School of Journalism into a think tank for the news and advertising industry has been the main research goal for Esther Thorson, who serves as Professor, Associate Dean of Graduate Studies and Research, and Director of Research for the Reynolds Journalism Institute. While medical schools, law schools, and engineering schools have long provided think tanks for their fields, journalism schools have never focused on the creation, research, and application of new industry ideas. Simply put, thus far journalism schools only “produce the fodder for the personnel in those companies,” but this is something Thorson aspires to change.
Recently in the United States the majority of citizens have come to reside at the extremes of either the political right or the left. “Most people either love George Bush or hate George Bush,” Professor Wayne Wanta explains, with few people falling in the middle. Wanta carefully recounts his recent research concerning such polarization of attitudes, especially in terms of how the media contribute to this phenomenon. Initially he suspected that the internet (now about ten years old) was the primary factor affecting this polarization, that perhaps people were going online to get information that reinforces their already existing beliefs, resulting in those beliefs becoming more extreme.
Betty Houchin Winfield has earned a reputation for her fascinating and illuminating research, whether it concerns the roles that the media play in the reputations of such public personas as presidential candidates’ wives or those individuals who undertook the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery expedition. As a University Curators’ Professor, based in the School of Journalism, she also looks at the media’s building of “social capital” in the United States, that is, people actively participating in the democratic process. In contrast to those naysayers who claim there has been a decline in social capital in the U.S., Winfield examines how the internet may reverse this trend. In fact, many internet sites actually stimulate “bridging and bonding” of like-minded individuals that seems to result in people becoming more politically involved.
Behm-Morawitz’s research with media extends beyond video games. When she is teaching, she tries to make sense of the different types of media effects she observes, an approach that she hopes will advance students’ critical thinking and viewing skills.
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.
In her research, Behm-Morawitz found that female players judged other women after playing a sexualized level of Tomb Raider: Legend.
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.
Winfield’s current book project on public perception before the advent of public opinion polls and the national media. Reputation-building and the development of the hero designation in nineteenth-century U.S. as revealed by the media coverage of the Corps of Discovery expedition along with other public references, such as textbooks, maps, trail guides, histories, and children’s books.
Winfield discusses differences in the processes of celebrity hero-ification today.
WInfield discusses how presidential candidates’ wives are framed by the media. What happens when a candidate’s wife doesn’t fit these molds?
The philosophical underpinnings in the media of China and Japan.
Winfield further discusses how journalists place a particular story in a certain context to deliver to the public.
What influences the mass media process? Winfield discusses how journalists use historical context when trying to explain something to the public.