A pair of studies has concluded that much like the effect images of super-thin supermodels have on teenage girls, images of overly-muscled male figures and overly-skinny females in video games can have much the same effect on the body-image self-esteem of gamers.
My psychologist wife has called this a "Grandmother Conclusion," regarding studies done which come up with answers your grandmother could have come up with. Personally, I prefer a female avatar in a MMORPG (like City of Heroes) because a third-person view of a guy isn't really something I enjoy all that much.
The studies, by Richard Harris, Kansas State professor of psychology, and Christopher Barlett, a former Kansas State graduate student in psychology, were detailed in the paper "The Impact of Body Emphasizing Video Games on Body Image Concerns in Men and Women."
According to the Kansas State press release, the men played "WWF Wrestlemania 2000," while the women played a beach volleyball game. It's unclear what the age of the beach volleyball game was, but that WWF game was an N64 game. Looking at the graphics in it, the male participants must have had some serious self-esteem issues from the get-go.
It only took 15 minutes of gameplay to affect their self-image scores, determined by a series of questions. Harris said:
"The results really weren't surprising; they were kind of what we were expecting and fulfilled one of our hypotheses. I'm not going to say that we were happy about that, to see such an effect. It was kind of sobering that it did have such a short-term effect.
There's been a lot of interest for a long time on the unrealistic supermodel image in advertising. What isn't as well known is that idealized masculine image is becoming so much more muscular and is just as unrealistic as the supermodel image.
While Harris added that not everyone who plays video games has body-image problems, the studies do emphasize that there is more to be concerned about in terms of video games than just violence.
Future studies, Harris said, could include studies on whether video games increase objectification of women, the long-term effects of video games on body image and how video games affect the body-image views of the opposite gender.
A previous study ran by Harris in 2006 determined that watching a scary movie on a date reinforces stereotypical gender roles and that men actually enjoy "chick flicks," at least while on a date.