For decades, there has been a discussion about whether or not video games can translate to real world violence. There have been a number of peer-reviewed studies on the subject, though they appear to be inconclusive. Whenever one study comes out claiming video games do cause violence, another study will contradict it. With many researchers focused on a potential link between video game violence and real world violence, other ways games can impact people haven't gotten quite as much attention, such as how games that sexualize female characters may influence the behavior of those who play them.
A study conducted by Jonathan Burnay (University of Liege), Brad J Bushman (Ohio State University), and Frank Laroi (University of Bergen) called "Effects of sexualized video games on online sexual harassment" looks to answer that question. The study consisted of 211 participants, with some asked to play Ultra Street Fighter 4 with sexualized female characters, and some asked to play the same game with non-sexualized female characters (achieved by equipping different costumes, though the costumes shown in the image from the research appear to be mods and not part of the base game). After playing, participants were given the chance to send sexist jokes to a male or female partner.
The researchers predicted that those who played Ultra Street Fighter 4 with sexualized female characters would be more likely to sexually harass female partners than those who didn't. The results showed that sexual harassment toward a female partner was more common for "participants who played the game with sexualized female characters" when compared to those who did not. "These findings indicate that sexualization of female characters in a video game can be a sufficient condition to provoke online sexual harassment toward women."
The researchers named two results from their study that surprised them. One is that more sexist jokes were actually sent to men than to women. Secondly, researchers found that female participants sent "significantly more sexist jokes than male participants."
Since this is a subject that hasn't been researched all that much, it's clear that more studies are needed. One area that the researchers suggest further studies should explore is how the violence in the game may have impacted the results. "Future studies might address this limitation by explicitly distinguishing between sexualized content and violent content," they explained.
With game addiction now listed as a mental illness by the World Health Organization, it's likely that research into video games and their impact on people will become more common moving forward. Perhaps these future studies will shed more light on this issue and address some of the limitations of this study as listed by the researchers.