Debunking the Video Game Academics

gold163gold163 Posts: 4,852
edited July 2015 in Off-Topic Discussions
Video games are a hot subject in academia right now. It seems that you can't go two months without hearing about some new study concerning the psychological effects of video games on the audience that plays them. The results of a study published a few weeks ago on July 15th, 2015 entitled "Insights into Sexism: Male Status and Performance Moderates Female-Directed Hostile and Amicable Behaviour" was quickly championed by a number of press outlets as demonstrable evidence that poor performance by male video game players correlated to an increase in hostile behavior towards female players.

From the study's abstract:
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.
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From Forbes (link to the article later in the post):
Here’s the long and short of it: The study used Halo 3 to test whether skill and performance impacted frequency of negative comments toward both men and women.

It found that men who performed worse were more likely to make negative comments than men who performed well.

Notable among those to report on this study were articles from outlets such as PsyPost, Gamasutra, UK Business Insider, and the Washington Post among others, with such Pulitzer-winning headlines as "Sexists are worse at video games, study suggests" and "Men who harass women online are quite literally losers, new study finds".

This shoddy journalism was thankfully met by articles from cooler heads, questioning not only the awful, biased reporting on the study but the importance of the study results themselves:

"More Terrible Journalism Erupts Over New Video Game Sexism Study" by Erik Kain, 7/21/2015 ... ism-study/

The gaming community was also quick to rebut the findings of the study, directly addressing the methodology and conclusions:

"Harmful Opinion - Proof Gamers Are Sexist" by Harmful Opinions, 7/29/2015, 5:52 minutes duration

"TL;DR - Sexist Gamers are Losers: The "Science"" by TL;DR, 7/28/2015, 20:39 minutes duration

"Re-Used Halo 3 Study Completely Skews Results to Frame Sexist Agenda" by Cody Gulley, 7/31/2015 ... st-agenda/

Excerpt from NicheGamer article:
To start with, the data that this study used was not current in the least. It was obtained from a study on Halo 3 conducted back in 2012, a point in time where the game was already five years old. While using the data from older studies is a perfectly acceptable practice, the researchers misrepresented the older data in such a manner as new and original. This is reflected in their results page which stated, “we played” rather than the more accurate “we obtained from the original data”. Due to the wording, readers are left with the false notion that this information is a current and accurate depiction of today’s gamer, rather than a reflection of the Halo 3 gaming community in 2012.

Without the necessary demographic information, it is not possible to determine the significance of the data in relation to the general public. Without factoring in other potential causes for the sexist behavior, or even attempting to control for such factors, the author has attempted to convince the public that the only reason for such sexist attitudes is the fact that a woman is performing better than a man in a game, and nothing else.

This necessary information meant only looking at the participants that actually spoke, which ended up being 189 participants. While it is easy for a casual reader to assume the fact that people didn’t talk meant this information wasn’t useful, it is critical for researchers to publish all of the information that they obtained. The importance of including such “unnecessary” information means the difference between a figure of 1.9% or 13.4% of participants using sexist comments once it is stripped of context such as in media coverage, a figure which is seven times greater than initial findings.

Statement from Brandon Orselli, NicheGamer's EIC:
A big thing here is that the study being parroted isn't available to the public

Our writer, Cody, has access to scientific articles, and thus, the actual data ... 3110609921

To the casual observer who only reads about this from several news websites, this study would purport to be a definitive account of the sexism against females manifested through the act of performing poorly in a video game. However, investigations into the study by even casual observers would prove otherwise. If a couple of YouTubers and a Psych student can point out the gaping flaws with this study, why can't the journalistic outlets reporting in the public's interest more accurately represent it?

It would be bad enough for the study to merely be flawed and its results misrepresented, but unfortunately the hijinks do not end there. This is academia, remember? Who is paying for this type of study? Why, the taxpayers, of course. Government money. The author of the study, Kasumovic, was compelled to reveal information regarding the cost of conducting this research:

The Australian Research Council permitted a $375,000 AUD grant to fund the study.

Considering how deeply connected games media and games academia are, it would not be surprising if numerous studies such as Kasumovic's were being funded using government money in several different countries, justified almost unopposed with unilateral praise from the press, scrutiny absent.

The strange thing here is that the sentiment that video games are related to harmful behavior is espoused by media outlets such as Gamasutra, an influential website/network for game developers owned and operated by UBM TechWeb, the company that organizes the annual Game Developer's Conference. The GDC happens to have close commercial ties to the International Game Developers Association (which is listed as a "Media Partner" on the GDC website). The IGDA, as you might recall, was instrumental during the video game moral panic of the 1990s thanks to the need for a professional association to represent game developers when lobbying Congress regarding violent video game legislation in the United States.

How ironic then, that the networks meant to represent professional game developers in fighting against the moral panics of decades past are complicit in agitating the modern day moral panics surrounding video games and their culture, the attitude that reduced "ethics in games journalism" to a punchline being deeply rooted in the actions of Gamasutra and their ilk. Only this time, instead of assuring the public that video games are responsible for violent behavior, the popular thing to do is to tell everyone that video games are responsible for violent AND sexist behavior.

Surely, though, none of this is important. It's just games journalism and academia, after all, and none of that is of any consequence, taxpayer money notwithstanding.


  • BrianWBrianW Posts: 2,310 admin
    In my personal life, I've tried to stay about as far away from Gamergate as possible. I am now taking this opportunity to extend that ban to our forums. We've got our limits and this is one of them.
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