Little Evidence That Games Make Gamers Sexist Towards Girls/Women, Says Researchers

GTA Sexism

Researchers Christopher J. Ferguson and M. Brent Donnellan took issue with with the research article from Allesandro Gabbiadini et al., entitled “Acting like a Tough Guy: Violent-Sexist Video Games, Identification with Game Characters, Masculine Beliefs, & Empathy for Female Violence Victims”, which was first published on April 13th, 2016.

The Italian research report was originally used by various media outlets to claim that violent, sexist video games such as Grand Theft Auto cause gamers to become less empathetic toward female victims. However, Fergurson and Donnellan’s latest report scrutinizes and breaks down some of the factual incongruities with the data.

Ferguson and Donnellan’s 14-page re-analysis of Gabbiadini’s report is available in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence and is also available online at Springer Link. Their brief summary of going back over the data revealed that they couldn’t quite seem to find the link between sexism in gaming and a lack of empathy toward women that some of the media had been promulgating, with the abstract briefly mentioning…

“We confirmed that there was little evidence for an overall effect of game condition on empathy toward girls or women.”

What’s more is that there were problems with the game selected for the original study. GTA: San Andreas and GTA Vice City were selected as the “sexist” games, while Half-Life 1 and Half-Life 2 were selected as the violent but non-sexist games, and Dream Pinball 3D and Q.U.B.E.  were selected as the non-violent, non-sexist games.

Ferguson and Donnellan had issues with this because they said the games being measured weren’t even, which is true. Dream Pinball 3D isn’t even in the same genre as the other games, and the two Half-Life games are first-person puzzle-shooters where-as GTA is a third-person sandbox game.

Additionally, Gabbiadini’s report seemed to skew the way the ages were handled in measuring exposure to “sexist” content in video games. Ferguson notes…

“During our reanalysis we found that the groups unexpectedly different significantly in the age of participants Participants in the “sexist” game group were significantly younger than in either the neutral group or violent game group.”

There were also issues with the way Gabbiadini et al., also selected an open-world game for the study, in particular GTA. Ferguson believed that using an open-world game where players can choose their activity in the sandbox game, it can distort the perception of sexist content given that players aren’t confined to just one activity…

“We also have one reservation about the use of sandbox games such as GTA to expose participants to “sexist” content. Although we agree with Gabbiadini et al. that the GTA series has sexist content, given that players have considerable freedom to shape their own experiences, it is harder to determine the strength of the manipulation on each person and the general flow of the causal arrow. Determining that exposure to sexist content is relatively constant in sexist game conditions may be one challenge for this research field in general.”

The conclusion was basically that after the re-analysis they couldn’t agree that some content in games deemed sexist could cause gamers to lose empathy for women. They also argued what is considered “sexist” in games, as some people considering rescuing women in games as “sexist” and some people consider strippers in games as “sexist”. Nevertheless, they feel as if there’s just not enough data to justify the conclusion that sexy women in games will instantly turn gamers into sexists…

“our reanalysis joins an increasing body of literature that suggests there may be little link between sexism in games and sexism in real life. However, this perspective does not mean that moral concerns about sexism in games are unimportant. Our concern is that claims about the power of scientific evidence to support moral agendas may backfire, especially when the evidence is equivocal.”

Ferguson does warn, however, that the re-analysis of Gabbiadini’s work is not meant to be taken as a be-all, end-all on the discussion and that it also doesn’t address or account for other hot-button topics regarding the social and psychological factors of gaming on gamers, such as addiction.

Nevertheless, for now, this new re-analysis joins other reports that so far seem to suggest that playing violent games with sexy avatars won’t turn you into a raging sexist.

(Main image courtesy of Heilige Frucht)