A new study has found evidence that men get upset about women outperforming them in games. News? Maybe not entirely—and I have some quibbles with the study itself, as always. But what’s interesting about it is that it wasn’t just women beating men that set players off, it was even women on the same team outperforming men that touched some nerves.
First of all, the study. Only 189 players were involved, and only in the game Halo 3 over the course of 163 matches. It’s a pretty small sample size. Construing these results to apply to all gamers or even all games is one step further than I’m willing to go, though it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if it ended up being the case that this study was applicable across genres and groups. (Also notable: players spoke in only 102 of the games, and all of the players who spoke were male.)
The researchers conducting the study took note of both negative and positive comments and who they were directed at. They found that the rate of negative comments increased substantially in cases where a female player bested a male player. They also discovered that a female player’s skill level had a great deal of influence on the negative and positive comments they received. If a male player felt he was at a superior skill level to a female player, he would offer substantially more positive comments, whereas if their skill levels were closer together—or if she surpassed him in skill—the positive comments dropped off quickly. This was not nearly as much the case for male players.
Finally, I’m not entirely sure that this evidence supports the researchers’ conclusion—that this all occurs because sexism is an inherited quality, and that all this posturing is simply a result of ingrained urges to—ahem—engage in romance. It seems to me far more likely that ideas about male vs. female skill and dominance have been culturally imposed on us for a long, long time, and that when we are exposed to evidence that those ideas may be unfounded, it makes us uncomfortable.
Men who have been told all their lives that to lose at something is to “be a girl” or that being beaten by a girl makes them weak and unmanly will, of course, be upset when they are bested by a woman in a game. It’s something we can, and will, overcome as a society if we acknowledge it and bring those faulty ideas to light.