Social evaluations of stereotypes in video games (Brenick et al., 2007)

Gamepolitics.com featured a Fox News show called Live Desk where they talked about the sexual scenes in Mass Effect. What got my attention is the study that Cooper Lawrence had mentioned.

“Darling, I gotta go with the research. And the research says there’s a new study out of the University of Maryland right now that says that boys that play video games cannot tell the difference between what they’re seeing in the video game and the real world…”

So, I went googling and sent e-mails to Cooper Lawrence (actually to her show’s e-mail) and to Dr. Melanie Killen at the University of Maryland whom she’s the closest match to Lawrence’s descriptions. Dr.Killen responded that it sounds like that Lawrence is referring to one of her study (which I’m going to talk about later), but she wasn’t sure. I’m not sure either, starting from the article’s title. Perhaps, a case of exaggeration? No response yet from Cooper Lawrence, but then I think my e-mail wasn’t comprehensible, had severe stomaches. So, here’s the closest article, unfortunately it’s 25 pages long and I’ve got lots of lab work to do…

Until Cooper Lawrence confirm that this is indeed the study she referred to, there’s little point in analyzing to counter her arguments. The reasons are that her statement might be interpreted in many ways or that she might confused. One possibility is that Mrs. Lawrence might be referring to the death cases of MMO addicts.

 Update (25/01/08): I googled around to get some more info and there’s seems to be some confusion over this journal article, some blogs ( like this one at destructoid) had made some references to news article (1), (2). Apparently, they are all talking about the same study which it was presented in conferences years ago, but is recently published in an academic journal. (A little insight: studies don’t get published right away until the reviewers and editors are satisfied, this could take between 1 month to who knows. And distinguished journals like Nature, have very strict quality control.)

 Update (31/01/08): an MTV article about Cooper Lawrence following the Mass Effects sex scenes had made a direct reference to the journal article that I had suspected. HOWEVER, it is still not clear whether Cooper Lawrence provided the reference or not. In any case, I decided to write my ‘summary’ of the study. However, I advise anyone to read the journal article itself, if possible.

Abstract

The aim of this study is to assess late adolescents’ evaluations of and reasoning about gender stereotypes in video games. Female (n = 46) and male (n = 41) students, predominantly European American, with a mean age 19 years, are interviewed about their knowledge of game usage, awareness and evaluation of stereotypes, beliefs about the influences of games on the players, and authority jurisdiction over three different types of games: games with negative male stereotypes, games with negative female stereotypes, and gender-neutral games. Gender differences are found for how participants evaluated these games. Males are more likely than females to find stereotypes acceptable. Results are discussed in terms of social reasoning, video game playing, and gender differences.  

This article specifically looks at gender stereotypes, not racial and individuals’ evaluations of stereotypical video game characters. (going off track) I recall someone who wrote a paper about racial stereotyping somewhere in British Colombia. Oh speaking of gender, I should link that website about sexual orientation in video games. I’m sure most gamers recognize the fact that female characters are mostly shown in sexy attire and supermodel-type bodies. But then again, so does the general media and yes being bombarded with such images affect our standards of beauty in women. The same goes for male characters with big muscles, rugged physiques and handsome face.

Historically, stereotype influence has been researched in other media, such as television. This study examined whether video games have such influences as well. This would prompt future studies on the extent of video games effects on stereotyping, whether it is equal or greater than television and such.

Their findings are basically on participants’ evaluations and opinions of video game gender stereotypes. What I could say in few words are: female players than male players are more likely to say that games promote gender stereotypes. Male players are less likely to think that way.

Method

Participants: 87 undergraduate students (46 females (mean age=19.46, SD=1.05) and 41 male mean age= 19.38, SD= 1.11)), mostly first-years students. In the data analysis, participants were classified into the following: high (42 particip. Mostly men) vs. low (44 particip. Mostly women) video game users. High vs. low approval of adolescent boys and girls playing games with negative gender stereotypes. IMO, I am confused on how they get their numbers for the approval stereotype games.

Measures

Screenshots from three games were used for participants’ evaluation of stereotypes of video game characters. Surfer was used as the gender-neutral game, Terrorist Hunt was used for the male stereotype, and Extreme Golf was used for female stereotype. In case some are wondering why they use screenshots from obscure games. IMO, if you show game characters that players are very likely to encounter, say Aerith Gainsborough, reactions from these shots would be so wide, possibly personal and does not generalize to stereotypes. Second, the images have to be CLEARLY gender stereotyped, so game characters are not in a neutral position, but shown in gender stereotypical fashion. A representative picture of video game characters would be a matter for another study. What is puzzling to me was the games mentioned in the study were ungooglable. I surmised that the names of the game were also part of stereotype variable or possibly a confound since they made no mention of controlling. Or these games simply don’t exist commercially and are made to be simply stereotypical and representative of gender stereotypes in video games.

Why not have the participants play these games instead? That’s besides the point and this is a matter for another study. IMO, if participants were to play games with gender stereotypes then they would be cognitively primed to these stereotypes.

An interview measure specific for this study is used, the Social Reasoning About Video Games Interview. This interview is designed “to assess attitudes towards and evaluation of gender stereotypes in video games”  (p.400) and for participants’ opinion on the regulation of video games.

The interview consisted on 20 questions per game, which they are categorized into the following:

1- knowledge of who would play such games
2- awareness of evaluation of gender stereotypes depicted in games
3- influences of video game playing on behaviours, attitudes, and judgments.

16 questions were asked about regulation on video games, so who should decide on what games to play and what influences does authority have on game playing.

Participants’ answers, using the justification coding scheme, were then classified into several categories:

Answers for knowledge of game usage:

1- appeals to interest/disinterest in violence
2- appeals to interest/disinterest in sexual appearance
3- appeals to interest/disinterest in sports
4- appeals to interest/disinterest in gender neutrality or lack of stereotypes

Answers for awareness of evaluation of gender stereotypes depicted in games:

1- video game are harmless entertainment
2- stereotypes in video game are negative influences
3- player traits, such as maturity, are defining factors

Answers for influences of video game playing on behaviours, attitudes, and judgments:

1- encouragement of gender counterstereotypes
2- reinforcement of gender stereotypes
3- behavioural changes of the player to be like that of the characters
4- rejection that video game play changes attitudes, expectations, and behaviours
5- blamed the players for any changes in…
6- impact of video game play as positive, harmless, smaller than other media
7- video games affects players’ perception of reality in a negative manner

Answers for who decides and what influences does authority have in video games:

1- personal choice
2- harmless entertainment
3- parental responsibility

(Note: most of the categories are taken word by word from the article)

Answers that do not fall into these categories are not entered into the data analysis.

A questionnaire was given to assess their game play experiences on a 4-point likert-scale, their approval of playing games with negative gender stereotypes on a 5-point likert-scale.

Procedure

Participants were shown screenshots of games in the same order, first the gender-neutral [Surfer], ask questions, then on to the male stereotype [Terrorist Hunt], ask questions and then female stereotype [Extreme Golf]. The interview is one-on-one and lasts 45 minutes. Finally, they are given the questionnaire.

Results

Univariate ANOVAS were used to analyze the data. So a 2 (participant gender) X 3 (game) mixed ANOVA was used. The between-subject factor is the participant gender, and the within-subject factor is the game. There are more statistical analyses, but I’ll just stop here.

 WARNING: the result section in the journal article is long and I may have made some confusing remarks.

So survey says… participants judged that Surfer is played by both genders, most appropriate to play for adolescent boys and girls, and reasons for playing it are interest in sport and gender neutrality. Nothing further will be said about Surfer.

Terrorist Hunt was judged that it is mostly likely to played by male players, second most appropriate, reasons to play it was the violence.

Extreme Golf was judge to be played by guys and least appropriate for adolescents and participants believed that players play this game because of sexual appearances (do they mean sex appeal?).

Digging deeper, female participants judged both Terrorist Hunt and Extreme Golf as inappropriate for adolescents in comparison to Surfer. While male participants do judged Terrorist Hunt and Extreme Golf as inappropriate for adolescents, albeit less harshly than female participants. In addition, male participants judged Extreme Golf significant less appropriate than Terrorist Hunt, while female participants made no discerning judgment.

Reasons for such differences are female participants are more unfavorable of the unrealistic depiction of stereotyped video game characters than male participants do; female participants were more likely to justify their judgment in terms of negative influences of video games, while male think of it as harmless entertainment.

What about video game influences on gamers, what do you think, sir or madam? Female participants are more likely than males to judge that video games have an influence on gamers on the matter of promoting gender stereotypes, regardless if the gamer is an adult or adolescent.

High video game users were found to be approving gender stereotypes than low users. They are less likely to judge that video games have any negative influences. Actually, I’m a bit surprised on the first sentence, but when I looked at the measures and procedures section, I think they may have worded in the wrong way or I’m missing some information. Furthermore, it broke the flow from the rest of the paper, so it somehow caught my attention. Well, I’m not an expert in this, maybe it is worded right.

Now I’ll have to stop here to rest and reread the article to make my ‘report’ clearer. If there’s anyone who read the article and wishes to contribute please leave a comment.

Brenick, A., Henning, A., Killen, M., O’Connor, A., & Collins, M. (2007). Social evaluations of stereotypic images in video games: Unfair, legitimate, or ‘just entertainment’? Youth & Society, 38(4), 395-419.

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3 thoughts on “Social evaluations of stereotypes in video games (Brenick et al., 2007)

  1. Pingback: Speaking of Puke Bowls… « CHOPSTIX

  2. Pingback: Violent video games studied as a teaching tool (Gentile & Gentile, 2008) « VG Researcher - Psychology

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