Men, Women, and Games

Lots of women play video games, and lots of gamers are women. This is not news, yet for some reason we have to keep saying it.

The august Pew Research Center was the most recent group to say it. Here’s their Teens, Technology, and Friendships report from earlier this month about how teens use games, among other online services, to connect with one another. Among many other findings, 84% of teenage boys reported playing video games, as did 59% of teenage girls. All teens reported playing a wide variety of different types of games (which is to say: no, all those teenage girl gamers are not just poking at Barbie Sparkle Kardashian Krush on their phones; they’re doing everything from hacking up orcs in World of Warcraft to building imperial star destroyers in Minecraft).

So, if there are so many women playing games, why don’t male gamers see them? The results of another recent study, Insights into Sexism: Male Status and Performance Moderates Female-Directed Hostile and Amicable Behavior by Michael M. Kasumovic and Jeffery H. Kuznekoff showed that male gamers (specifically playing Halo 3) tended to be more aggressive and abusive in voice chat to players who sounded female than those who sounded male. Also not news. Anyone who’s spent time in any online chat environment is likely to have seen the kind of dreck that gets spewed at women who let their identities be known, so it’s understandable that many female gamers choose to conceal their gender when in mixed company.

The Kasumovic and Kuznekoff study offers another interesting detail, however. The abuse directed at the female-voiced player came primarily from male players who were performing poorly, while men who were doing well at the game tended to be positive or neutral in their comments.

I see three important takeaways from these two studies:

  1. There are women in your games. In fact, if you play a multiplayer game, they are all around you. Just because you don’t know they are there doesn’t mean they aren’t. If you don’t hear women’s voices, it only means that the environment is toxic enough that many women choose to stay silent rather than have to deal with it.
  2. The men who harass women in games are not doing it mindlessly or randomly. They are not equal-opportunity dirt-spewers but target women specifically because they are trying to reassert their position in a hierarchy. The people most invested in any hierarchy are not the ones at the top but the ones who are afraid of falling to the bottom.
  3. If you are a male gamer and you want to look like you’re at the top of your game: don’t spew crap at the women around you. Good gamers are decent to their fellow players. The only ones who feel the need to put others down are the scrubs who can’t cut it.

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.