In the News

July 2, 2018

Feminist Media Studies Publishes Ruberg's Critique of Sex Worker Representation in Video Games

It might not be surprising to hear a critique of how sex workers are portrayed in video games, but Informatics Professor Bonnie Ruberg (who uses gender-natural pronouns) takes a unique perspective in their latest research into the topic. In a recent article outlining their analysis of how sex workers are represented in big-budget games such Grant Theft Auto V and Fallout: New Vegas, Ruberg offers new perspectives that complicate existing feminist commentary and challenge the misconception that sex workers exemplify the objectification of female game characters. Rather, Ruberg's "pro sex-worker" perspective considers how such games "devalue erotic labor," revealing the need for "multiple feminisms within game studies."

Grand Theft Auto

Prices for a sex worker’s services, clearly listed in Grand Theft Auto V.

Appearing in the current issue of Feminist Media Studies, "Representing Sex Workers in Video Games: Feminisms, Fantasies of Exceptionalism, and the Value of Erotic Labor" analyzes how sex workers are represented in this widely influential medium, which Ruberg says can affect how players understand both themselves and others. "The real trouble isn't that there are sex workers in these games," they explain in a recent interview. "It's that they're represented in ways that make their labor (and sometimes their lives) seem less valuable."

As Ruberg notes in the article's conclusion, "the intersection of undervalued labor and the digital has emerged as a key site of study in contemporary scholarship around dynamics of agency, compensation, and exploitation." Furthermore, Ruberg pushes back against "harmful misconceptions about marginalized subjects in games, recentering and revaluing the work of these individuals rather than characterizing them merely as objectified, victimized, and in need of saving."

Shani Murray


<i>Feminist Media Studies</i> Publishes Ruberg's Critique of Sex Worker Representation in Video Games

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