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gaming magazines' depictions of male strength influences boys
Andrea Lynn, Humanities
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|Kristen Harrison, a professor of speech communication, is the first to link the gaming magazine genre to boys' body ideals.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. —
Researchers have found a surprising cultural influence on some boys’
drive for muscularity.
In a study to be published this summer in the journal Body Image, University
of Illinois researchers discovered that exposure to video gaming magazines
has a stronger influence on preadolescent boys’ drive for muscularity,
or desire for muscle mass, than does exposure to magazines that depict
a more realistic muscular male-body ideal.
However, the relationship between video gaming magazines – “where
characters are drawn with extreme muscularity and much more realism
than in video games themselves” – and the drive for muscularity
was found only for Caucasian boys, not for African American boys, say
Kristen Harrison and Bradley J. Bond, a professor and doctoral student,
respectively, in Illinois’ department of speech
According to Harrison and Bond, theirs is the first study to link the
gaming magazine genre to boys’ body ideals.
“In a nutshell, we found that exposure to video gaming magazines,
which are immensely popular, increased boys’ subsequent drive
for muscularity, more than exposure to other, more realistic ‘ideal-body’
magazines like sports, fashion and fitness,” Harrison said. This
effect, she said, “was significant regardless of how thin or fat
boys perceived themselves to be.”
“Given the extreme muscularity of the characters represented in
the video gaming magazines, and the magazines’ popularity among
boys and young men, I believe much more research on the topic should
be done in the coming years,” said Harrison, whose scholarly research
focuses on issues of nutrition and eating, perceptions of ideal-body
weight and the impact of media on these variables.
One hundred and four black and 77 white preadolescent boys with a mean
age of 8.77 participated in Harrison and Bond’s longitudinal study
to determine whether self-reported exposure to four ideal-body magazine
genres – health/fitness, fashion, sports and video gaming –
predicted an increased drive for muscularity one year later.
Harrison suggests that at least two characteristics of gaming magazines
may explain why the genre appears to play a more important role than
more realistic ideal-body magazine genres.
“First, gaming magazines’ illustrations of exaggeratedly
muscular bodies encourage young readers to take notice of the male form.
They catch the eye because they depart so drastically from the typical
In contrast, models in fitness and fashion magazines and athletes in
sports magazines, “although fit and well formed, do not look much
different from the real men encountered by boys in their everyday lives.”
The second reason why the gaming genre may play a more prominent role
in boys’ developing drive for muscularity is that “male
video game characters are frequently cast as superheroes, thereby promoting
an association between hyper-muscularity and the power, control and
agency that superheroes symbolize to children.”
As for why African American adolescent boys are not as influenced by
video gaming magazines as Caucasian boys, Harrison said that “the
majority of characters appearing in these magazines are white, so black
boys are likely modeling their ideal-body shape from other sources.”
In their article, the authors said that boys play video games nearly
twice as much as girls, and that African American children play more
video games than white or Latino children.
They also pointed out that gaming magazines are especially popular with
“When reading for leisure, boys prefer magazines over books and
newspapers.” Topping the list of boys’ favorite magazine
genres, which include sports, music, computer and entertainment-type
magazines, is the gaming genre.
For the study, two rounds of testing were done one year apart. Researchers
administered questionnaires to groups of two to five boys, separated
by visual barriers. They were asked to report the genres of magazines
they read each week.
The boys’ drive for muscularity was gauged using a child-appropriate
version of a standard “drive for muscularity” scale. Drive
for muscularity was defined as desire for muscle mass.
“Ultimately, to better understand the role video games and gaming
magazines play in boys’ developing drive for muscularity, rigorous
and systematic content analyses of these media are needed,” the
researchers wrote. At the time of this study’s completion, there
was “not a single published content analysis of video gaming magazines
in spite of their remarkable popularity.”
“We hope that our findings underscore the need to further investigate
these magazines to better understand their role in promoting a hyper-muscular
physique among boys and young men.”