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Gender stereotypes keeping women away from online gaming – study


Although women’s participation in online gaming is on the rise, boys and young men are still the majority of those who participate in online video games. A new study, exploring the ideas online gaming promotes in terms of relationships, violence, and gender equality, shows that toxic masculinity and sexism is strongly upheld in online gaming.

The study by The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, the Oak Foundation and Promundo, titled “The Double-Edged Sword of Online Gaming,” examined masculinity and representations of different identities (gender, race, LGBTQIA+ individuals, disability, age, and body size) in the most popular video games and in the Twitch online gaming community. It analyzed 27,564 characters in 684 fifteen-minute gameplay segments from sessions with the top 20 Twitch streamers.

Overall, the results found that the experience is a double-edged sword for male gamers. On the positive side, streaming platforms are a vital space for connecting with male friends and sharing emotions and problems. But online spaces are also rife with identity-based prejudice, harassment, and bullying that are ultimately harmful to boys and young men, researchers warn.

Female characters are almost five times more likely to be shown with some level of nudity compared with male characters.

Video Game Characters Overwhelmingly Male and White

According to the study, male characters outnumber female by four-to-one (79.9% compared with 20.1%), while among leading characters, girls/women make up 27.6%.

Female characters are almost five times more likely to be shown with some level of nudity compared with male characters (12.4% compared with 2.5%). The study found that female characters are ten times more likely to be shown in revealing clothing than male characters (24.6% compared with 2.3%), and are far more likely to be visually or verbally sexually objectified than male characters (3.5% compared with 0.1%).

In terms of race and ethnicity, white characters outnumber characters of colour three-to-one (75.3% compared with 24.7%). This representation is less diverse than the US population, which consists of 38% people of color, but shows a notable improvement from the 20.0% of characters of color represented in the last decade.

Nearly nine-in-ten (89.3%) leading characters are white, while another interesting finding is that white characters are significantly more likely to display violence compared with characters of colour (51.7% of characters compared with 33.6%).

The study also found that LGBT+ representation is practically non-existent: just 0.03% of video game characters identified as LGBT+.

Toxic Masculine Norms Strongly Upheld in Video Games

The study found that masculine norms are strongly upheld in online gaming, with four-in-five (81.9%) male characters displaying at least one pillar of masculinity.

Seven-in-ten male characters (70.5%) are shown engaging in stereotypically masculine activities (i.e., taking risks, engaging in violence, getting angry, etc.), while nearly one-in-four (23.7%) male characters express anger.

man playing video game

Nearly one-in-four male characters express anger.

Violence is a major component of masculinity, with 63.6% of male characters enacting violence, and 84.8% of the time that violence is directed against other people. Almost half of male video game characters (48.9%) carry a gun during gameplay.

The study found that males perpetrate more violence (63.6% compared with 54.2%), carry a weapon (61.1% compared with 46.9%), and kill 10+ humans (12.5% compared with 4.2%) at a higher rate than female characters.

White male characters also perpetrate violence at a significantly higher rate than male characters of color (55.4% compared with 30.9%), and are twice as likely to carry a weapon as male characters of color (55.9% compared with 27.3%).

Sexist and Degrading Language

The study also shows that all of the top streamers are men, with sexist language being used in 37.7% of segments. Streamers used sexually degrading language in one-in-four (24.4%) gameplay segments.

Bullying and Harassment

Another alarming finding is that a majority of young gamers (ages 10–15) have witnessed cursing (54%) and name calling/ making fun of people (51%). One-in-three younger respondents (37%) have seen other players ganging up on one player.

Young gamers (ages 10–15) also experience bullying and harassment in online gaming spaces. Two-in-five (39%) have been the target of bad language/cursing and name calling and 25% have had other players gang up on them.

At least 40% of respondents in both age groups say they regularly witness sexism, ableism, ageism, and sizeism in online gaming spaces. One-in-four gamers ages 20–26 say they experience racism (27%), homophobia (26%), and ableism (25%) on a regular basis. One-in-five say they experience sizeism (23%), ageism (20%), and sexism (19%) on a regular basis.

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