Reactions to a woman’s voice in an FPS game: The moderating role of status and skill (Kasumovic & Kuznekoff, 2015)

Michael Kasumovic (University of New South Wales) is an evolutionary biologist, has posted his write-up of a study at The Conversation and even has a comic version. Its data is quite familiar though.

In early 2013, I blogged about a field experiment on players’ reaction to a woman’s voice in an FPS game. Its popular take home message was that a female player received three times as many negative messages as male players do. There was some press attention and I believe the study is mentioned quite often in sexual harassment panels at videogames conventions.

The field experiment’s data was once again explored with a different perspective and a fine-tooth comb on particular variables previously explored in the 2013 study: in-game skill, performance and status. Michael Kasumovic provided an evolutionary perspective of the data and Jeffrey Kuznekoff (Miami University) is the communication scientist who originally conducted the field experiment.


Gender inequality and sexist behaviour is prevalent in almost all workplaces and rampant in online environments. Although there is much research dedicated to understanding sexist behaviour, we have almost no insight into what triggers this behaviour and the individuals that initiate it. Although social constructionist theory argues that sexism is a response towards women entering a male dominated arena, this perspective doesn’t explain why only a subset of males behave in this way. We argue that a clearer understanding of sexist behaviour can be gained through an evolutionary perspective that considers evolved differences in intra-sexual competition. We hypothesised that female-initiated disruption of a male hierarchy incites hostile behaviour from poor performing males who stand to lose the most status. To test this hypothesis, we used an online first-person shooter video game that removes signals of dominance but provides information on gender, individual performance, and skill. We show that 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. Higher-skilled players, in contrast, were more positive towards a female relative to a male teammate. As higher-skilled players have less to fear from hierarchical reorganization, we argue that these males behave more positively in an attempt to support and garner a female player’s attention. Our results provide the clearest picture of inter-sexual competition to date, highlighting the importance of considering an evolutionary perspective when exploring the factors that affect male hostility towards women.

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Beta testing/replication on videogame cognition research

People learn from the news on recent science and these studies are often breakthroughs. Sometimes, a study would ‘contradict’ long held beliefs or even another study or they fascinate us with some novel idea or perspectives. These ‘breakthrough’ studies would often gets press attention, although when examined closely they may be overstated. This happens when academic journals are likely to accept studies that has found breakthroughs rather than studies that could not find breakthroughs or is ‘old news’ science. This is called publication bias.

Science is self-correcting by repeating the studies and reaffirm or disconfirm the original findings. This is quite similar to game testing, game bugs are identified, game testers repeatedly replicate the conditions leading to the bug in order to figure how it happened and where it can be remedied in the programming. Unfortunately, beta testing scientific findings is not on every scientists’ mind as they are pressed by a lot of people to push the boundaries of the unknown. This results in the audience trusting scientific findings unknowing that it is not been beta tested enough. Without beta testing for video games, it is quick to spot game breaking bugs in the final product. For science, it is not obvious to spot the ‘bugs’ in the findings, so it is up to the scientists to replicate them.

It is commonly thought that videogames improve hand-eye coordination among other cognitive benefits and these seminal findings were published by Dr. Daphne Bavelier’s lab at the University of Geneva. However, Walter Boot and his colleagues (2011) critiqued these findings’ methodological shortcomings, putting the conclusions into question. Recently, three studies were published with the purpose of beta testing the original findings. Their results came out not as advertised as the original findings. Continue reading

The Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory: A social identity approach

Via Jamie Madigan (Psychology of Video Games), I watched two GDC 2015 talks about anti-social behaviours in video games. Jeffrey Lin (Riot Games) on the science of shaping player behavior (GDC, 2015) and Ben Lewis Evans (Player Research) on how game design influence social behavior (GDC, 2015). Both touched on parts of Internet lore, the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory (GIF; Penny Arcade, 2004). The GIF theory is often associated with the Online Disinhibition Effect (Suler, 2004), however Lin and Evans did not made any indications of applying Suler’s work. As a communication scientist, I recognized hints on a different theory: the Social Identity model of Deinidividuation Effects (SIDE). Continue reading

Longitudinal relation between videogames use and sexist attitudes among German video game players (Breuer et al., in press)

Just today, I’ve been alerted from Johannes Breuer (University of Cologne) that his paper on the longitudinal relationship between videogame use and sexist attitudes has just been published online at Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking. Along with the mention of twitter exploding like crazy, so I dropped everything and reviewed it. The paper is co-authored by Rachel Kowert, Ruth Festl and Thorsten Quandt.


From the oversexualized characters in fighting games, such as Dead or Alive or Ninja Gaiden, to the overuse of the damsel in distress trope in popular titles, such as the Super Mario series, the under- and misrepresentation of females in video games has been well documented in several content analyses. Cultivation theory suggests that long-term exposure to media content can affect perceptions of social realities in a way that they become more similar to the representations in the media and, in turn, impact one’s beliefs and attitudes. Previous studies on video games and cultivation have often been cross-sectional or experimental, and the limited longitudinal work in this area has only considered time intervals of up to 1 month. Additionally, previous work in this area has focused on the effects of violent content and relied on self-selected or convenience samples composed mostly of adolescents or college students. Enlisting a 3 year longitudinal design, the present study assessed the relationship between video game use and sexist attitudes, using data from a representative sample of German players aged 14 and older (N=824). Controlling for age and education, it was found that sexist attitudes—measured with a brief scale assessing beliefs about gender roles in society—were not related to the amount of daily video game use or preference for specific genres for both female and male players. Implications for research on sexism in video games and cultivation effects of video games in general are discussed.

The good news is that the paper is published in Cyberpsych and thus is quite short for my review. Continue reading

Computer science stereotypes as barriers to inclusion for women and how they extend to videogames

In my previous blog post, I reviewed a study on the associations between career interests and videogames preferences of which I argued the need to go deeper than just looking at associations. The study piqued my curiosity about why so few women major in STEM careers and how this affect women’s career interests with videogames (see Wikipedia). To my knowledge, most universities offer videogames design courses through computer science, a major predominantly populated by men. There are many researchers who studied the underrepresentation of women in STEM careers and they found different kinds of barriers (i.e. cultural, psychological, etc.). I will summarize studies focused on a single aspect and consider its relation to videogames, which at this point referring to interests in gaming and careers in videogames. Continue reading

The relation between videogame preferences and career interests (Giammarco et al., 2015)

There was a reddit AMA from someone associated with Kerbal Space Program that female kerbals will be included in the game. It’s quite a pleasant surprise and this relates to issues about how videogames influence youth’s career interests. Kerbal Space Program, Guitar Hero, America’s Army among many others had influences on youth’s career aspirations. Of course, this influence varies and it was not quite clear how big of an influence videogames have on career interests.

I came across a study by Erica Giammarco (University of Western Ontario), Travis Schneider (UWO), Julie Carswell (Research Psychologist Press) and William Knipe (Lucas Secondary School) examined the relation between videogame preferences and career interests.


The current study used an mTURK sample to determine if there is a relation between video game preferences and career interests. Previous research has found that individual (e.g., personality) differences influence gaming preferences (Zammitto, 2001) and we sought to extend these findings to the domain of career interests. In addition, we examined the potential moderating role of gender. Since researchers have found that gender disparities in spatial attention can be reduced by playing certain types of video games (Feng, Spence, & Pratt, 2007), and it has been demonstrated that spatial ability is an important predictor of success in careers where women are typically underrepresented (Blickenstaff, 2005), we predicted that women with a preference for these types of games (versus a general preference) may have more interest in these careers. We found that gaming motivations were differentially associated with career interests. In addition, gender was found to significantly moderate a number of these relations, such that the association between gaming tendencies and career interests was stronger for women than for men. Findings from the current study should help guide future research that aims to increase the representation of women in STEM careers.

I started playing Team Fortress 2 and am really getting into it. Continue reading

Can clans protect adolescent players of massively multiplayer online games from violent behaviors? (Ybarra & boyd, 2015)

A recent study by Michele Ybarra (Center for Innovative Public Health Research) and danah boyd (Microsoft Research) has been published for February 2015 in the International Journal of Public Health. The study examine how adolescents’ membership in MMO clans or guilds affect their violent behaviors.


Objectives To examine whether clan membership mediates observed associations between violent game content and externalizing behaviors among youth who play massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs).

Methods Responses from 486 11- to 18-year-olds who: live in the United States, read English, have been online at least once in the past 6 months, and have played MMOGs in the past year were examined. Generalized estimating equations were used to estimate the population-averaged incident rate ratio of aggressive, delinquent, and seriously violent behaviors among MMOG players given one’s self-reported exposure to in-game content depicting violence.

Results Twenty-nine percent of all youth respondents played MMOGs in the past year. Rates of aggressive, IRR: 1.59, 95 % CI [1.11, 2.26], and delinquent, IRR: 1.44, 95 % CI [0.99, 2.08], behaviors were significantly higher for MMOG players who were in clans versus not in clans. For females, clan membership attenuated but did not eliminate the observed relation between exposure to in-game violent content and both aggressive and seriously violent behavior (16 % and 10 % reductions in IRR, respectively); whereas for males, clan membership was largely uninfluential (i.e., less than 2 % change).

Conclusions Clan membership is neither associated with lower rates of externalizing behaviors for youth, nor does it affect the likelihood of reporting externalizing behaviors among male players. There is some suggestion that clan membership may attenuate the concurrent association between in-game violent content and some externalizing behaviors for females.

Due to circumstances, I intend to enter the industry, preferably focusing on  players/gamers online interactions or user research. Continue reading