Women play less videogames because it is meant for men: A third-person effect explanation (Cruea & Park, 2012)

Gender equality in videogames starts at childhood, but when does it end?

As a videogame researcher, I found the lack of videogame skills and motivations among my female participants quite distressful. Despite the many voices praising videogames as a great creative outlet and a medium that liberates one’s self into a sea of identities, girls and women don’t play videogame as often and as well as the boys and men and this betrays this sense of liberalisation. Here is some related posts from Kotaku and from the Escapist.

Mark Cruea (Ohio Northern University) and Sung-Yeon Park (Bowling Green University) offered an explanation as to why women don’t play videogames using the third person effect as a basis.

Abstract

This study took a close look at the mechanism behind gender disparity in video game usage by examining two perceptual variables: perceptions about others’ video game usage and perceived influence of unrealistic video game character images on others. Both men and women perceived that young women play video games far less frequently than young men and also considered themselves less influenced by the unrealistic images than others. In addition, women, in comparison to men, perceived the video game images to have stronger influences on others. Furthermore, regression analyses revealed that perceived frequency of other women’s video game play and perceived influence of the images on other women explained women’s actual time spent on video games, but not men’s time spent on video games. A discussion of these findings was provided, along with suggestions for video game developers, parents, educators, and video game researchers.

I have a very difficult time reading this article and the intricacies of the analyses often confuse me.

The authors mentioned an interesting statistic from the Entertainment Software Association that stated that 40% of gamers were women. Critics argued that the ESA’s definition was intentionally vague and broad, and I must side with the critics as there were clear videogame differences between the genders in my study. The women quite often listed Facebook games or videogames they played as a child in my questionnaires. This lack of videogame engagement posed significant disadvantages for women as the authors noted that videogames improve spatial skills, positive attitudes towards technology, and career choices towards computer science.

On a side note, Cheryan and company (2009) noted how objects in a room can influence female undergraduates from joining a computer science major. A room filled with objects that were stereotypically associated to nerdy men made the women felt they did not belong in there. Imagine if guys invited their girlfriends to play videogames with them, in a room full of beer, posters of hypersexualized women, energy drinks, videogame posters, discarded food, etc. Not a welcoming place for women.

The authors argued two reasons that women would perceive videogames are not for them. The first reason is their perception of other women’s videogame usage. There are some explanations found in the prior studies: Videogame marketing targeted boys and men and the lack of videogames that target women. Videogames are often hoarded by boys by pushing away the girls from the consoles. The social stigma associated to girls playing videogames in public. Videogames don’t satisfy social interaction needs as they are environments of competition, even though most videogames are played with others online women are not treated fairly in most cases.

The second reason why women would perceive videogames are for boys and men is the hypersexualized images of female videogame characters. Content analyses found that female characters are often portrayed hypersexually (i.e. big boobs, skimpy clothing, impossible figures and curves, etc.; For a list of studies in that area see my library). Brenick and company (2007) interviewed college students about gender stereotypes in videogames and found that women did not like them whereas the men found them just fine. The authors based their reasoning from two qualitative studies (Kerr, 2003; Yates & Littleton, 2001) that these hypersexual female characters interfere with women’s enjoyment of videogames.

I have some ambiguities about the second reason because of the mixed messages I get from the internet (i.e. Kotaku, Reddit, Critical Distance) and its apparent clash with the academic literature. The first complication is that videogame characters are the interactive agents of players where the players would start forming parasocial relationships with the characters. How these characters’ personalities, behaviours, and attitudes developed over the course of this parasocial relationship would either confirm or disconfirm gender stereotypes (see Bailenson & Fox, 2009 as a lead). The static images of hypersexualized characters or even playing them like hypersexualized empty puppets might well enough to cause concern (see video Chipman, 2012), but just as Bayonetta can subvert those female stereotypes on its head made me pause and reflect.

The Third Person effect posits that people perceive greater influence of media effects on others than on themselves (see my library on third person on videogame effects). In the case for violent videogames, individuals usually perceive that violent videogames affect other people than themselves. In terms of gender differences, there were no differences for violent videogame effects. But, internet pornography, a medium usually attended by men, has women perceive men to be affected more greatly by it. Conversely, when looking at thin media effects, it is the men who perceive that women are more affected by it. Following these results, the authors argued that a perceived difference in gameplay time is likely to show between men and women.

A second interesting difference is the perceived likelihood of exposure to certain media. People have some idea to what kind of medium is usually attended by certain demographics. For example, cartoons are likely to be watched by children or Fox News is likely to be watched by conservatives. Following this logic, people would generally perceive that videogames are most likely to be played by men and boys than women and girls in terms of time. This perception would create a third person effect as reflected by the perceived time gap between men and women.

With the rationale explained along with interesting observations, they formulated the following hypotheses:

First, individuals are likely to perceive that the hypermascular and hypersexualized videogame images are more likely to influence others than on themselves.

Second, women, as opposed to men, are more likely to perceive videogames to have a greater effect on others (both men and other women) than on themselves.

Fourth, the perceived likelihood exposure effect is related to the perceived third effect for the former hypotheses. I skipped the third hypothesis because it was not significant in the results, so I won’t mention it and go read the article yourself.

They also posed two research questions on identifying which variables (i.e. gender, perceived frequency of videogame play) are associated to the third person effect of videogame influences and videogame playtime.

Method

Participants: 147 undergraduate students were surveyed. They were recruited from introductory courses in communication and they were surveyed before they introduced to the third person effect topic. Average age is 19.9 years old, there were 67 women and 80 men.

Measures

Time spent on videogames: one item asking how many hours, on average, they spent playing videogames per week.

Perceived frequency of video game play by men and women: Two items for each gender. “How frequently do you think an average adult male (or female) plays video games?” The response scale is a 7-point frequency scale.

Perceived influence of video game images on self: Two items for each gender. “How much influence do you think the male (or female) images in video games have on YOUR perception of the ideal-body for men (or women)?” The response scale is 11-point quantity scale.

Perceived influence of male and female video game images on men and women: Two items for each gender. “How much influence do you think the male (or female) images in video games have on the perception YOUNG ADULT males (or females) in relation to the ideal-body type for men (or women)?” The response scale is a 11-point quantity scale.

The authors used videogame characters images for the latter questions as examples. The female characters used were Christie Monteiro (Tekken), Dixie Clemets (Rumble Roses) and Lara Croft (Tomb Raider). The male characters used were C.J. (GTA: San Andreas), Duke Nukem (from the original?) and Cyclops (X-Men).

Results

All these Third Person effect variables in the result section are giving me a headache, sometimes I can’t tell whether it makes sense or not. At least the authors are explaining everything in English in the discussion section, but there are some disconnect between what is said or shown in the results section and the discussion section.

A repeated-measures ANOVA supported the first hypothesis in that individuals perceived the images of male videogame character images to have a lesser influence on themselves (M = 3.84, SD = 2.83) than on other men (M = 5.72, SD = 2.23) and other women (M = 4.80, SD = 2.4). As for female videogame character images, the same is true where the self is perceived to be less influenced (M = 4.56, SD = 2.82) than on other men (M = 6.39, SD = 2.26) and on other women (M = 5.42, SD = 2.59).

They conducted another repeated-measures ANOVA with gender as the between-subjects factor. They found that women scored much higher than men in that women perceived the influence of videogame character images to be greater on other men and women than themselves. Thus, the second hypothesis was supported. This puts the third person effect into perspective that certain relevant identity aspects are more likely to result to a perceptual gap than other aspects. Violence, for example, is a general concept that people would believe everyone is affected. However, investigate something that is closely related to an identity aspect, such as gender, then a perceptual gap between genders is apparent. I suspected the same third person effect can be applied to ethnic stereotypes where African Americans would perceive other White Americans to be more affected by stereotyped African American videogame characters than other African Americans.

The fourth hypothesis was partially supported in that perception of men’s high videogame play is associated to a greater increase of the perceived influence of videogame character images. However, there were no associations for women’s perception of videogame play.

They conducted regressional analyses to determine which variables are associated to the third person effects. They found that gender and the perceived frequency of men’s video game play is significantly associated to the perceived greater influence of female videogame character images among men than on the self.

They conducted another regressional analysis to determine which variables are associated to individuals’ videogame playtime. For men, none of the perceptions of videogames influence were significant. However for women, they found that perception of other women’s playtime was significant and that the perceived influence of female videogame characters on other women is also a significant factor. The latter is quite interesting to think how women who play a lot of videogame would see other women as being more influence by the hypersexualized images of female videogame characters. However, they found that among women who don’t play videogames at all, these associations are non-significant.

The authors argued that women are relying on their perception of other women’s videogame playtime as a guide to how much to spend on their own. However, the alternative can be that women based their own videogame playtime onto other women’s playtime as the study is a survey and thus everything is correlational. In regards to men’s playtime, the authors argued that men’s videogame playtime are less influenced by the perception of other men’s playtime as they don’t possess the same normative influence as those of women’s. IMO, perhaps those men are given greater largess in the amount of videogame playtime as it invoked less social anxiety to men relative to women..

The authors raised some recommendations that have a common theme being repeated time and again from academics to the game critics: make videogames and its surrounding environments more gender neutral. This recommendation is directed towards game developers, parents, educators and, IMO, other gamers. However, it is difficult to tell whether there are positive changes towards gender and ethnic diversity among the videogame character population, and once in a while, some backlash flares up against diversity shows up in gaming news. Their second recommendation is to make videogames a part of girls’ regular media diet or at least, raise your daughter to play videogames. However, this is rather difficult in that changing a homosocial milieu treasured by man-boys will meet fierce resistance, although I feel that many do not understand or perceive the social progress as a process in maturing their art form. Perspective taking is a rather difficult task for someone whose part of the majority…

This raised an interesting question between boys’ and girls’ development and their media diets. Some videogames, like Pokemon, are enjoyed by both genders that are rather encouraging interest in technology among girls. But, I must ask when did girls diverged away from the boys in terms of computer technology and became aware that they are less welcome in videogames? I recall some statistics from Grand Theft Childhood studies that gender differences in videogame preferences are already apparent among twelve to fourteen year olds. When did videogame developers and by extension, television, film and other media producers decided that girls and boys consume gendered media content?

Cruea, M., & Park, S.-Y. (2012). Gender disparity in video game usage: A Third-Person Perception-Based explanation. Media Psychology , 15 (1), 44-67.doi: 10.1080/15213269.2011.648861

2 thoughts on “Women play less videogames because it is meant for men: A third-person effect explanation (Cruea & Park, 2012)

  1. Pingback: Women play less videogames because it is meant for men: A third … | Game Review Guide

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