Unfortunately, sexism is common place in much of society. From wage equality to health coverage for birth control, women seem to have to justify to men why they are deserving of all these things. Given this uphill battle women have, you would think that we could all just play games together in peace. Unfortunately, it is exactly the opposite. Apart from the sexist portrayal of women in many games men demonstrate some of the most unabashed sexism towards female gamers (here, here, here and many many more examples). An industry that is built by men, largely employs men and makes games that seem to be primarily for men isn’t really keen on sharing their fun with women.
There are a few studies that discuss the representation of women in most games and the consequences of these perceptions (examples here and here), but very little data on how different genders are treated by gamers. In this study, the authors examined whether players (read males) respond differently to a male and female voice when in a multiplayer environment–data that is necessary and difficult to come by.
The game they chose was Halo 3, a first person shooter with a strong online multiplayer component. They had a single individual play all the multiplayer matches to control for gameplay, but used either a male for female voice, with a control treatment that consisted of no voice. The voices were limited to a few key phrases that were non-inflammatory (e.g., “nice job so far” or “that was a good game everyone”). They then measured the number of queries, positive and negative comments.
In short, the authors found something appaling. The female voice received 3 times the negative comments than the male voice, often being called a ‘slut’ or ‘whore’. The female voice also received only 3/4 of the positive comments of the male voice. Even worse, the female voice received significantly more queries and friend requests.
There is no question that men responded extremely negatively very rapidly when thinking they were playing against a female gamer. Granted, Halo is well known for its extremely aggressive players given the amount of homophobic slander in multiplayer matches, that Bungie decided to punish slanderous behaviour online in Halo 4, but such behaviour truly is disgusting. Although there is some evidence that things are changing ever so slowly, studies like this demonstrate just how bad it truly still is.
Kuznekoff, J.H., Rose, L.M., 2012. Communication in multiplayer gaming: Examining player responses to gender cues. New Media & Society, 10.1177/1461444812458271
The goal of this study is to determine how gamers’ reactions to male voices differ from reactions to female voices. The authors conducted an observational study with an experimental design to play in and record multiplayer matches (N = 245) of a video game. The researchers played against 1,660 unique gamers and broadcasted pre-recorded audio clips of either a man or a woman speaking. Gamers’ reactions were digitally recorded, capturing what was said and heard during the game. Independent coders were used to conduct a quantitative content analysis of game data. Findings indicate that, on average, the female voice received three times as many negative comments as the male voice or no voice. In addition, the female voice received more queries and more messages from other gamers than the male voice or no voice.