Fan Art as a Research Population

My students and I have been looking at stereotypes in video games. The problem I see is that there are two sources of images for these games. There are advertisements and screenshots from the games. Both sources are ephemeral and may not replicate the gaming experience.  

We were discussing a different source of images that come from fan art and cosplay. These images are kind of third-person effect — not necessarily my experience but the shared experience of the game. These unofficial images could be a data source for researchers to understand what the gammer “thinks” he/she is seeing. A quick Google search yielded several images and sources for more. Here are some.

Some games now allow users to choose the race and even the heritage of the characters. Of course, it is possible that user customization does not erase all stereotypes.  However, the stereotypes are brought by the player and possibly reinforced by the game itself. The gammer may choose certain ethnic groups based on stereotypical assumptions. I wanted to look at images from the games, but I mostly saw long shots.  It was difficult to see the clothing or physic of the characters.   I turned to fan art.  Since the game is so customizable, it might be useful to look at fanart to see what the players think they see.  Here are four examples from Google search.

Of course, it is quite possible that my quick search did not yield results referring to this game.  It is also possible that the kind of gammer that creates fan art differs from the normal gammer. These are issues that would have to be worked out if I were doing a real research project.  However, I maintain that fan art indicates what the gammer thought they were seeing.  

Assuming this is fan art from the game, what does it tell you?  I see very few identifiable races. There is some dark skin and a couple with white skin — however, ears suggest a non-humanoid.  Sexism may still play a part since the females seem to be smaller than their male counterparts.  I do not see them hypersexualized.  The first image shows the male character with far less clothing than the women.  The last image shows a shapely female but still in an appropriate amount of clothing. 

Is it possible to consider the effects of video games from the perspective of images that come from outside the game?  What are the problems with this approach?  How would you pursue the research?

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