Gamers, Abuse, and Anxious Masculinity: A Tale of Two Studies


A lot of my work has to do with charting how feedback loops between consumers and producers have created a distorted idea/ideal of the gamer in the public imagination.  Early in games history, geeky, highly educated white males were for the most part the only ones who had access to computers and so they created games for an imagined audience quite like themselves.  Audience members who conformed to that image felt validated and clamored for more content geared even more explicitly towards them.  Producers saw a pathway to profit and obliged them.  And so on.  The result was a games culture that was very insular and that catered to a kind of exaggerated cartoon stereotype of the excessive desires of adolescent white boys.

But as gaming grows up and starts to appeal to different demographics and try out more complicated narratives, the idea game developers have in their heads about what their audience wants is starting to look skewed.  They’ve been competing against one another to see who can make the most outlandish straight white boy fantasy for so long that they haven’t looked up and realized that even their core demographic is starting to get squicked out over what they are offering.

According to The Guardian,

In the study of about 1,400 US youths, 47% of middle-school boys and 61% of high school boys agreed that women are treated as sex objects too often in games.

The findings, gathered by education consultant Rosalind Wiseman and games writer Ashly Burch, counter familiar assumptions that boys will voraciously consume media images of scantily clad women without a second thought.

For many years in the mainstream games industry, there has been an apparent assumption that the male teen demographic was the only one that mattered. Much of the time this meant beefy male protagonists (to identify with – or aspire to) and sexualised women (to gaze at or rescue).

In other words, the overblown vision of gender and sexuality presented by games is so far fetched that even adolescent boys are rejecting it, as are scores of games critics, journalists, and indie game makers who are getting harassed by #GamerGate for their trouble.

And speaking of harassment, another study recently came out confirming something that women in competitive gaming have known for a long time: that trolls and harassers who target female gamers are doing so to cover over their own poor play.

According to the study,

lower-skilled players were more hostile towards a female-voiced teammate, especially when performing poorly. In contrast, lower-skilled players behaved submissively towards a male-voiced player in the identical scenario. This difference in gender-directed behaviour became more extreme with poorer focal-player performance. We suggest that low-status males increase female-directed hostility to minimize the loss of status as a consequence of hierarchical reconfiguration resulting from the entrance of a woman into the competitive arena.

This is the same scenario as a couch potato with all thumbs who sneers at the WNBA.  These jerks just wish they had your 1337 skills.


3 thoughts on “Gamers, Abuse, and Anxious Masculinity: A Tale of Two Studies

  1. I searched the word “leet” in Reader and ended up here – best search result ever. That was a brilliant article, thanks for sharing!

    You also design games, I see. Oh, and you’re a published writer, too. Aaaaaand you wrote a post about arcades with a picture of fucking Gauntlet in it. GAUNTLET!

    So yea, this is awkward…but I think I just fell in love with you. Where do we go from here? Is there a form I fill out?

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