A new study that looks at whether video games influence sexist attitudes towards women among teenagers has found a “small but significant link” that suggests they do.
Exploring the idea that video games are saturated by the frequent and stereotypical portrayals of females as mainly being attractive and sexy, with generally limited roles, suggestive behavior, and frequently appearing underdressed, the researchers wanted to explore whether this cultivated sexism in real life.
Their findings, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, suggest that those who repeatedly play video games in the company of these stereotypes are more likely to agree with a statement that implies a sexist attitude towards women. Of course, it’s not quite as simple as that – of the three influences they looked at, video games weren’t actually the most likely to garner sexist attitudes.
"Many different aspects of life can influence sexist attitudes. It was surprising to find a small but significant link between game play and sexism,” said Douglas Gentile, one of the authors from Iowa State University, in a statement. “Video games are not intended to teach sexist views, but most people don't realize how attitudes can shift with practice. Nonetheless, much of our learning is not conscious and we pick up on subtle cues without realizing it."
The study involved 13,520 French young people between the ages of 11 and 19 years old who spent on average around three hours a day watching TV and two hours playing video games. The researchers asked the participants whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement “A woman is made mainly for making and raising children." The results showed those who played video games agreed more often.
"What kind of samaritan are you?"
The researchers didn’t just look at video games, however. They also looked at the influence of religion and television, too.
Although they did find a correlation between repeated game play and sexism, the authors themselves stress it had a limited impact on the teenagers’ attitudes. They found that the relationship between sexism and those with a religious upbringing was actually three times higher. Television, however, didn’t appear to influence sexism among the teens, with the authors suggesting TV offers up a far wider and varied spectrum of female characters.
Of course, reactions to this study are proving mixed. Some are arguing this proves sexism is rife in the gaming industry, while others are calling the link tenuous at best.
A quick Google search on strong female video game characters will offer up the “10 most badass female warriors” and the “top kick-ass females in games”, but what if you don’t want a female character whose main characteristic isn’t how well she can violently wield a weapon whilst keeping on her improbably gravity-defying scrap of tiny clothing?
Many stereotype-defying female leading characters do of course exist in popular games. Elena from Uncharted, Chell from Portal, and Alyx from Half-Life 2 spring to mind. And if the tide has turned for TV, perhaps it is too for gaming.
Another recent study showed there was no evidence that playing video games makes you less empathetic in the long term. Perhaps it’s not just video games’ attitudes to women that should be updated, but our attitudes towards video gaming that needs to be reconsidered too?