Just thought I would post this here to keep people informed.
The following article was posted over at The Mary Sue today. It’s very short and very sad, and if you’re a person who’s interested in the problem of sexism in gaming, you need to read it.
If you’re interested in a longer and more detailed summary of the actual study and more information on the people who designed the research project, the article was drawn from this blog post on Gamasutra, by Wei Yen Tang.
Quick summary: a couple of PhD students from the University of Ohio put together a well-designed scientific study of how a large group of average gamers respond to gender cues in a gaming environment. The environment they picked was Halo 3, a hypothetically gender neutral playing field which is open to all players. The researchers used the same pre-recorded sound bites in matches at both higher and lower levels of skill, and got identical results–gamers were THREE TIMES more likely to respond negatively to a female gender cue than a male one.
The researchers also documented the actual language used, which is shameful and grotesque in many cases.
We have a problem. Science doesn’t lie.
1. Your female acquaintances are not lying, exaggerating, or “being oversensitive” when they say that they are being harassed in gaming environments. They are NOT receiving the same treatment that you are, as a male. They are THREE TIMES more likely to receive negative responses, and those negative responses will be gender-based and sexually explicit in many cases.
2. The victim-blaming argument that many gamers use, which is that “girls and women get flack because they don’t know how to play”, is complete BS. Via this study, skill level has been proven to have NOTHING to do with the abuse or the level of vitriol being directed at female players. It isn’t about skill. It’s classic, territorial sexual harassment.
My personal take: saddened, but not surprised. Anecdotal evidence doesn’t count for much, but this is the result I would expect based on my own experiences and the reports from female friends and family members. It’s good to have scientific proof, however, to slam dunk all the false claims, double-talk and victim-blaming excuses that gamers use when they try to claim that misogyny is not a problem in gaming.
If you are a gamer who actually DOESN’T hate girls and women, and would actually like to see them play more often, it seems that you are going to have to overcompensate for this behavior somehow to correct the problem.
I know it’s tempting to just say that someone needs to start laying some pain on the Misogynist Troll population. And who knows…maybe that is actually true, to a degree. As with the phenomenon of bashing, threatening and heaping slander on developers in gaming culture, peer support and affirmation plays a huge part in misogynistic environments. If you don’t reward, affirm and support men when they indulge in Rape Culture Chat, they stop thinking they’re entitled to it, and that it is acceptable in your group.
But by far the most important thing is to simply…Not Be That Guy yourself. If you are a decent male human being, you should go out of your way to be fair, positive and welcoming to female players in whatever way you can. Keep in mind that for every guy like you that a woman or a girl meets on-line, she’s already waded through THREE GUYS screaming “Shut up whore” and “Fuck you, you stupid slut” in her face.
It’s going to take a lot of guys like you being pretty decent to make the environment in gaming feel safer for them–in forums, in play sessions, in guilds, and in any massively multi-player environment.