Anyone who ventures into the Wild West of online games will eventually run into loudmouth jerks spouting vitriolic insults over the voice chat channel. It comes with the territory, unfortunately. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that women are much more likely to be targeted for awful behavior than men.
A new study published by PLOS One looked into the problem of sexist comments in online gaming and found out exactly who is doing the bulk of the harassing. It’s not other women, and it’s not men who are good at the games being played. The gamers most likely to make sexist comments are men who perform poorly in the games.
In other words, sexist gamers are losers.
The researchers, Michael Kasumovic of University of New South Wales and Jeffrey Kuznekoff of Miami University, looked at 163 online matches in Halo 3. They chose the game in part because the characters presented in it wear armor that’s more or less gender neutral, and are color coded by team. The only way for players to know the gender of other players is by their voice.
During those 163 matches, the researchers tracked the positive and negative comments the players made to one another, identified the genders of the players, and looked at how they performed in the matches. They found that men tended to treat each other fairly well regardless of their skill level. But the men who performed poorly in the matches tended to say terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad things to the females.
According to the study:
We thus argue that our results best support an evolutionary explanation of female-directed aggression. Low-status males that have the most to lose due to a hierarchical reconfiguration are responding to the threat female competitors pose. High-status males with the least to fear were more positive, suggesting they were switching to a supportive, and potentially, mate attraction role.
In other words, men who make sexist comments in online games do so because they have inferiority complexes.
These sexist men feel bad about their lackluster gaming skills, so they make fun of women in order to bolster their place in the perceived hierarchy. Implicit in the sexist insults is a secret fear that the women will be better than them, which would further lower their place on the social totem pole.
On the flip side, men who are skilled at the game feel secure in their high status and don’t feel the need to denigrate others.
So what’s the solution? How can we make online games welcoming to everyone? It’s tough to say, particularly if the researchers are correct and this kind of behavior is coded into our DNA. But for starters, you can read our guide on not being a scumbag in online games. You can also chime in if you hear someone being sexist, and tell him to cool it. But the best solution for now might simply be to turn off voice chat.
There’s plenty of negativity in the world. We don’t need it in our games. So no matter how good or bad your kill/death ratio is, hold off on the name-calling. Take a deep breath, turn off your microphone, and make a better choice.