Sexual harassment in online videogames: What we found so far

Sexual harassment is an important issue besetting our society, in particular to how the online and physical worlds are more and more intertwined crossing online platforms and neighborhoods (Citron, 2009; Guardian, 2016; Pew, 2014; Geek feminism timeline of incidents). Nevertheless, there are social scientists, including myself, who examine sexual harassment in that not-so-little online neighborhood called videogames. Thus, I offer a non-exhaustive overview of the sexual harassment literature and what insights researchers have found for online videogames.

There are upsetting language and details in this blog post. Continue reading

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The punishment and rehabilitation of the convicted in prison video games

I bought Prison Architect from Steam’s Holiday Sale, although that was shortly after I saw a study on Prison Tycoon written by Anna Oleszkiewicz (University of Wroclaw) and company. A few weeks later, another academic article on prison video games showed up, written by criminologists Steven Downing (University of Ontario Institute of Technology) and Kristine Levan (University of Idaho). The article specifically examined Prison Architect’s alpha development. Piqued by these articles, I started playing Prison Architect before I delved into the articles and I needed a lot of rest after serving a sentence called the dissertation.

The Alpha phase of Prison Architect

Downing and Levan got interested in Prison Architect when someone posted this question in the game’s forum: “Is supporting it by buying this game really ethical? Not to mention the whole victimless crime issue?” To the authors, the question prompted the idea that video games could potentially engage people on social/political issues. Specifically, Prison Architect players could play it seriously and critically discuss about incarceration and of the current prison system in the US.

The authors decided to analyze the developers’ videos during the development stage, from Alpha 1 to Alpha 23 (September 26 2012 – July 31 2014). The researchers got to stop at some point, who could predict when the developers will complete the game? The alpha videos gave the authors insights about the developers’ thoughts about incarceration, their motives in adding or not adding features in the game, and responding to critiques from players and journalists. This is evidenced by Wesley Yin-Poole in Eurogamer (2012) and Paolo Pedercini in Kotaku (2014).

The authors examined the developer’s videos in how Prison Architect reflect the five pains of imprisonment theorized by criminologist Gresham Sykes. (1) Deprivation of liberty: Given that the prisoners’ freedom have been taken away, they can be even restricted further into their cells, by the presence of armed guards and solitary confinement at the discretion of the player, making the prisoners’ compliant, but moving more slowly and less likely to complete reform programs. Another reflection are contacts with the outside world, such as telephone calls, mail and famil visitations, lessening the deprivation of liberty. I should point out that prisoners’ needs for freedom and family reflect such deprivation.

(2) Deprivation of goods and services: The players’ decisions in attending or not the prisoners’ needs, such as bowel, clothing, recreation, exercise among others, reflect such deprivation. The basics in Prison Architect is to provide shelter/incarceration, food, and toiletry. Anything beyond these needs are perceived as privileges, which is reflective when I noticed that certain random events in the game would have the mayor ordering players to remove certain items because of public opinion. These random events point out how prisons face political pressure and its impact on prisoners, something worth to expand on in the game with other political forces, such as prisoners’ rights groups or scientific groups. The authors’ noted that the developers want to give players freedom in how they run their prisons reflective in the policy reports, such as how much time in solitary confinement. An interesting observation from the authors are inmates who are paroled or finished their sentence, they leave in their prison clothes. Although, the developers had earlier thought of having inmates leaving in their civilian clothing, the authors noted that leaving in prison clothing is symbolic of their continued identity as convicts from the community.

(3) Deprivation of heterosexual relationships: The authors found very few mentions of heterosexual relationships, such as relationship with a heterosexual partner. It seems to be a very contentious area for the developers IMO. When asked by Wesley Yin-Poole in Eurogamer (2012) about the inclusion of sexual assault, the developers did not include as it might be a step too far. The authors noted that homosexual relations were not directly discussed in the developer videos. Nevertheless, the developers made the game with good modding capabilities that lets players address these issues, such as a modded conjugal room.

(4) Deprivation of autonomy: The surveillance and the concept of the panopticon in Prison Architect reflect the deprivation of autonomy. The surveillance impacts prisoners’ sense of autonomy as they’re being watched, leaving little room for privacy. The prisoners’ activities are controlled by prison regime set by players. The regime can be used to punish or provide rehabilitation through workshops, education, or therapy. Pedercini (2014) remarked the use of prison labor as a contemporary form of slavery, but from a different perspective, the developers argue that workshops provide skillsets when prisoners are released.

(5) Deprivation of security: This relate to whether the prisoners feel safe from each other, the most salient are prisoners’ reputation that makes them targets of violence (i.e. snitch, ex law enforcement, ex prison guards and cop killer). The authors mentioned gang affiliation as a factor and Prison Architect implemented such feature in Alpha 34. An interesting observation from the authors is how cell blocks are structured, certain designs may foster greater sense of security through a better relationship between prisoners and their guards.

The authors noted how well the game pay details to rehabilitation in the game, they suggested further exploring into other real life prison practices. First, the exploration of restorative justice practices. The practices involved rebuilding inmates relationship with the community, such as visitations from victims and the community at large. Another suggestion is form the Alternatives to Violence Project which are workshops on conflict resolution and communication skills. Given how moddable the game is, these real life practices would be interesting for players to create and share in the steam workshop.

I have contacted Downing and Levan on their thoughts of the recent inclusion of female prisoners in the game. Downing praised the inclusion as more than a re-skin and that the developers have tapped into some of the real life issues for female prisoners. Furthermore, I would be interested in how the developers deal with long-term incarceration and aging. As of this writing, the inmates do not age, thus they fully serve their sentence and return to the community. How do players deal with elderly inmates who die in their prisons and to have not step back into the community is something worth to talk about. Levan rightly added that prisons would have to deal with increasing medical care and costs as a reflection of caring aging inmates.

Levan posed an interesting question is “What is a successful prison?” Levan thinks that many would say success is from rehabilitation of inmates and providing meaningful opportunities. But the realities of US prisons of warehousing large numbers of inmates makes rehabilitation more difficult and expensive.

Downing posed an interesting question is whether Prison Architect could evoke sympathy to prisoners? “Would it be better to have students, for example, play a game that is graphically realistic and involves more role playing – would this evoke more empathy?  What about teaching people to consider structural and institutional problems – could a macro-level, top-down perspective, like in PA, be best for this?  We don’t know, but these questions could be empirically explored.” Continue reading

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.

Abstract

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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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.

Abstract

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

A “Dry Eye” for William Carver: playing a violent videogame on pupil dilation (Arriaga et al., 2014)

clementine-dryeyelook

Clementine’s dry stare (The Walking Dead: Season Two)

Last Sunday, I finished The Walking Dead: Season two’s third episode. At the second last flag, I decided that Clementine should stay and watch Carver. Watching Clementine’s stare, it reminded me of Patricia Arriaga, Joana Adrião, Filipa Madeira, Inês Cavaleiro, Alexandra Maia e Silva, and Isabel Barahona study on players’ pupil dilation after playing a violent videogame. The study was published in the Psychology of Violence.

Abstract

Objective: The present experiment analyzed the effects of playing a violent video game on player’s sensitivity to victimized people by measuring the involuntary pupil dilation responses (PDRs) during a passive picture viewing paradigm and examining the mediating role of PDR on aggression. Method: Participants (N = 135) were randomly assigned to play a violent video game or a nonviolent video game. The participants’ PDRs were then recorded while they were exposed to pictures of alleged victims of violence displayed in negative, neutral, and positive contexts. A competitive reaction time task was also used to measure aggression. Results: Participants in the violent game condition demonstrated both a lower PDR to the victims of violence in a negative circumstances and greater aggression than participants in the nonviolent game condition. Lower PDR to victims displayed in negative context mediated the relationship between violent game play and aggression. Conclusion: The negative effects of playing violent games are a societal concern. Our results indicate that a single violent gaming session can reduce the player’s involuntary PDRs to pictures of victimized people in negative context and increase participant aggression, a new relevant finding that should encourage further research in this area.

I play one episode every Sunday to pace myself. I should be done in two weeks. Spoiler alert for those who did not play the Walking Dead. Continue reading

The game world is violent, I must be careful who to trust (Rothmund et al., 2014)

The study was presented during ICA 2014 annual meeting by the fourth author, Christoph Klimmt (Hanover University of Music, Drama and Media).

Tobias Rothmund (University of Koblenz-Landau), Mario Gollwitzer (Philipps University Marburg), Jens Bender (University of Koblenz-Landau) and Christoph Klimmt published this study in Media Psychology. The study is also continuation of their previous study published in 2011 of which I have previously blogged on.

Abstract

Two studies investigate the psychological processes underlying short- and long-term effects of video game violence on interpersonal trust. Study 1 demonstrates that interacting with physically aggressive virtual agents decreases players’ trust in subsequent interactions. This effect was stronger for players who were dispositionally sensitive to victimization. In Study 2, long-term effects of adolescents’ frequent exposure to video game violence on interpersonal trust and victim sensitivity were investigated. Cross-lagged path analyses show that the reported frequency of playing violent video games reduced interpersonal trust over a period of 12 months, particularly among victim-sensitive players. These findings are in line with the sensitivity to mean intentions (SeMI) model, and they suggest that interpersonal mistrust is a relevant long-term outcome of frequent exposure to video game violence.

With recent events happening on the internet, I am just wondering if I should stop until it calms down. Continue reading

To feel like the good or bad guy: The role of empathy (Happ et al., 2014)

Matthew Grizzard (University of Buffalo) used “University Press Release” for his videogame study on moral sensitivity that was published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. It was super effective, many news media picked up the study. In response, I am blogging on Christian Happ (University of Trier), André Melzer (University of Luxembourg) and Georges Steffgen’s (University of Luxembourg) study on the role of empathy in antisocial and prosocial gaming in Psychology of Popular Media Psychology.

Abstract

Evidence suggests that violent media influence users’ cognitions, affect, and behavior in a negative way, whereas prosocial media have been shown to increase the probability of prosocial behavior. In the present study, it was tested whether empathy moderates these media effects. In two experiments (N 80 each), inducing empathy by means of a text (Study 1) or a video clip (Study 2) before playing a video game caused differential effects on cognitions and behavior depending on the nature of the subsequent video game: The induction had positive effects on participants’ behavior (i.e., decreasing antisocial and increasing prosocial behavior) after a prosocial game (Study 1), or when participants played a positive hero character in an antisocial game (Study 2). In contrast, empathy increased antisocial behavior and reduced prosocial behavior after playing a mean character in an antisocial game (Study 1 and 2). These findings call attention to the differential effects of empathy depending on game type and game character, thereby questioning the unconditional positive reputation of empathy in the context of video game research.

I noticed that many people see me as a great resource and I must disagree because I don’t know everything, I just know what I read from the abstracts. Continue reading