Years after Gamergate raised questions about misogyny in gaming, a study of the effects of sexualized female characters has made an unexpected discovery: Female gamers are more sexist than their male counterparts.
The findings were published in April in Aggressive Behavior, a peer-reviewed multidisciplinary scientific journal.
In the study, an international team of researchers set out to examine for the first time “the consequences of sexualized video game content on online sexual harassment against male and female targets.” A group of men and women were asked to play a version of the video game “Ultra Street Fighter 4” that featured highly sexualized female characters in provocative clothing.
After playing the game, each participant was given the option of “sexually harassing” an assigned partner by sending him or her sexist jokes. About half the “couples” were mixed-sex and the other half were people of the same sex.
The researchers predicted that relative to a control group, which played the game with more modest female characters, the experimental group would engaged in more sexual harassment. They controlled for potential confounding variables, like trait aggressiveness, ambivalent sexism and online disinhibition.
The results confirmed their hypothesis “that the level of online sexual harassment behavior, especially toward women, will increase after playing a sexualized video game.” Harassment of men did not increase after playing the sexualized video game.
However, in a surprise twist, the female gamers in both groups turned out to be significantly more likely to engage to send sexist jokes to their partner, and most of the sexual harassment was of men.
The admittedly surprised researchers came up with a theory for their findings. They posited that the women sent more sexist jokes because they saw harassing each other as harmless fun and harassing men as a form of revenge. Meanwhile, the researchers suggested, the men might have been chastened by #MeToo activism and “prevention campaigns.”
As the authors put it:
This might be due to the fact that sexual harassment is perceived as usually committed by men, and toward women. Therefore, among our participants, women are likely to have experienced sexual harassment. Therefore, when sent to the in-group (i.e. another woman), it might be perceived as a simple joke, but when sent to a man, it might be perceived as a form of retaliation.”
Sexual harassment has been an important topic of discussion lately, notably with the #MeToo movement. This may have increased awareness among men, which may have caused them to send fewer sexist jokes. Indeed, prevention campaigns about sexual harassment have been shown to reduce such behavior.”
Complicating the Gamergate narratives
Since it came to national attention in 2014, Gamergate has been widely dismissed as a sexist harassment campaign waged by men against women. However, members of the online movement have insisted they are not misogynists.
In keeping with male-led pushback in the broader culture, Gamergaters have cast themselves as simply resisting feminist and progressive bias, which they see pervading the gaming press and threatening to impose political correctness on their video games and culture.
The conflict has raged on in various forms to this day, most recently in the fracas over “Cyberpunk 2077.” Although the game has yet to be released, feminists, like Gamergate nemesis Anita Sarkeesian, have already raised concerns over its treatment of female nudity and gender.