Although women now make up almost half of all video game players, the gaming community remains, in some ways, hostile toward women.
For example, the GamerGate controversy, which began in 2014 and involved a harassment campaign against prominent female gamers, journalists and designers, reflected a longstanding undercurrent of misogyny and sexism in the community. In some cases, those who challenged the sexism found themselves threatened with rape or death.
There’s also the long-held stereotype that men are simply better gamers than women. Women gamers are often perceived as incompetent players who aren’t genuinely interested in the games but rather sign up to get attention. If a female gamer does play well, she’s often derided as a hacker – someone who cheats to gain an advantage – because “there is no way a girl can be that good.”
In a recent study, we set out to examine whether men really make better gamers than women and, if so, what drove the gender performance gap. Specifically, we wanted to compare how quickly men and women leveled up in Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games, which are online worlds where thousands of players develop characters, make friends, join groups, complete quests and slay dragons together.
If men are actually better gamers than women, they should advance to higher levels within the same amount of play time. But if they don’t progress any faster, this finding would help refute one of the most pervasive stereotypes that continue to exist in the gaming community.
Getting to the next level
Our research used anonymous server data from over 10,000 men and women in two MMOs, “EverQuest II” in the United States and “Chevaliers' Romance III” in China. We knew each player’s actual gender through their account registration information.