A new study was recently published by the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking published an article titled Sexist Games=Sexist Gamers? A Longitudinal Study on the Relationship Between Video Game Use and Sexist Attitudes (Breuer, et al., 2015). The abstract is the only bit that I can access at this time, and which I will quote below (emphasis added):
From the oversexualized characters in fighting games, such as Dead or Alive or Ninja Gaiden, to the overuse of the damsel in distress trope in popular titles, such as the Super Mario series, the under- and misrepresentation of females in video games has been well documented in several content analyses. Cultivation theory suggests that long-term exposure to media content can affect perceptions of social realities in a way that they become more similar to the representations in the media and, in turn, impact one’s beliefs and attitudes. Previous studies on video games and cultivation have often been cross-sectional or experimental, and the limited longitudinal work in this area has only considered time intervals of up to 1 month. Additionally, previous work in this area has focused on the effects of violent content and relied on self-selected or convenience samples composed mostly of adolescents or college students. Enlisting a 3 year longitudinal design, the present study assessed the relationship between video game use and sexist attitudes, using data from a representative sample of German players aged 14 and older (N=824). Controlling for age and education, it was found that sexist attitudes-measured with a brief scale assessing beliefs about gender roles in society-were not related to the amount of daily video game use or preference for specific genres for both female and male players. Implications for research on sexism in video games and cultivation effects of video games in general are discussed.
Although I have been unable to access the full article (please see note at the bottom), I have found sources that elaborate more on the study. First, the study was conducted with an initial 4,500 participants, and due to attrition, the final tally landed at 824. Second, the data was gathered via phone surveys over three periods, although only two periods were used (Time 1 & 3, respectively 2011 & 2013). Third, the survey consisted of only three questions related to sexist attitudes: 1) “The man should be responsible for all major decisions made in a family”, 2) “In a group of male and female members, a man should take on the leadership”, 3) “Even if both partners work, the woman should be responsible for taking care of the household”. All questions were answered on 5-point scale. Fourth, the results indicated a rather small negative correlation (-.08), which is a very small, and was only shown for men. Remember also that correlation does not equal causation. Fifth, the weaknesses of the study are that it is not generalizeable to other countries, it was conducted over the phone, and it included younger individuals.
To quote Wai Yen Tang’s blog post on Gamasutra:
“Furthermore, cultivation theory cannot properly account for videogame effects because of videogames’ interactive nature that makes each play experience unique for each player. The authors remind you that while they failed to find support of cultivation effect of sexist beliefs from videogame exposure, they have not found a repudiation of these effects. They proposed instead to examine certain genres or individuals series (Dead or Alive for example) and specific aspects of sexism, instead of the three general items used in their telephone survey, something along the lines of gender roles, sexual harassment, etc.”
Naturally, I find myself particularly frustrated with articles such as Suitably Bored‘s article A new study reveals that video games don’t make you sexist, for rather obvious reasons. The recently published article does not prove that video games don’t cause sexist beliefs. It simply gives results that support the conclusion that video games do not cause sexist beliefs according to Cultivation Theory among German video game players. More over, the three questions used in this study do not tackle the many other sexist beliefs that individuals like Anita Sarkeesian discuss in their work, particularly body image, and character roles. Using this study to rebut, or even attempt to suggest that it “proves” Anita Sarkeesian wrong, is a straw man argument, and therefore wrong.
Cultivation theory is a positivist social theory, and one of the most prevalent mass communication theories employed in social science research today. In effect, it deals with the cumulative effects of consuming media, but mostly stemmed from American consumption of television, and whether or not the violence portrayed would have an effect on people, most notably adolescents. One can read a summary here, and here. Several studies in the past have shown that exposing other countries (such as Belgum, Korea, and Australia) to US shows increased their fear of crime happening, even if there was no actual increased risk. Still, other studies have shown that watching television increases or changes perceptions on alcohol, and drug use.
Regardless of theory, it is important to understand that studies have shown causal links to increased aggression. Quoting one abstract from the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Video games do affect social outcomes: a meta-analytic review of the effects of violent and prosocial video game play (Greitemeyer, et al., 2014).:
“Whether video game play affects social behavior is a topic of debate. Many argue that aggression and helping are affected by video game play, whereas this stance is disputed by others. The present research provides a meta-analytical test of the idea that depending on their content, video games do affect social outcomes. Data from 98 independent studies with 36,965 participants revealed that for both violent video games and prosocial video games, there was a significant association with social outcomes. Whereas violent video games increase aggression and aggression-related variables and decrease prosocial outcomes, prosocial video games have the opposite effects. These effects were reliable across experimental, correlational, and longitudinal studies, indicating that video game exposure causally affects social outcomes and that there are both short- and long-term effects.”
More to this point, another article from the Psychological Bulletin, Violent Video Game Effects on Aggression, Empathy, and Prosocial Behavior in Eastern and Western Countries: A Meta-Analytic Review, (Anderson, et al., 2009), involving 136 articles and over 130,000 participants, found that regardless of research design, that there were strong causal links to aggression, and violent behavior. As quoted, the authors state:
“In sum, the only way one can “demonstrate” that the existing literature on violent video game effects does not show multiple causal harmful effects is to use an incredibly small subset of the existing literature, include some of the methodologically poorest studies, exclude many of the methodologically strongest studies, and misuse standard meta-analytic techniques.”
I encourage you to read the entire paper, which you can find here. It’s a great paper that outlines a number of strengths and weaknesses with respect to the literature concerning aggression, cognition, pro-social behavior, and a number of other factors. It reviews the different kinds of research designs, and also accounts for publication bias (of which they found none). In effect, there’s a great amount of support for the notion that video games can lead to short and long-term violence.
It’s this research, and subsequent accumulation of data, that has to led to the question of whether or not video games may cause, or influence, sexist attitudes and beliefs. It is only very recently that researchers have really attempted to delve into this question. As such, there’s not a lot of research, or homogeneity (i.e., consistency of results across research designs). It is not wise, or even worthwhile, to latch onto one study because the results are ones that you may fancy, or because it fits in line with your worldview. Politicizing science does nothing in terms of progress.
That having all been said, I highly encourage you to read the academic articles for yourself, become knowledgeable of the different designs, and what the results mean. If you don’t know, or have trouble, ask someone who might understand. Become engaged. Don’t make inferences based on data, and simply take the data for what it is worth in the context that they were found. My point concerning violence in video games was not to suggest that because research and data suggest that video games may increase aggression, that therefore there must also be a causal link to sexist beliefs, it was simply to highlight that along with cultivation theory, the research on aggression has led to an increase in studying sexual beliefs and attitudes, and that given the data on one topic, it’s not necessarily illogical to think it may occur in other areas. The important take away is that we need more research on the matter. More importantly, it’s important not to get sucked up into articles, similar to Suitably Bored’s, and others who would rather politicize science rather than assist it, all in the name of proving someone wrong.
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*UPDATE (4-13-2015): At the time that I posted this article, I was unable to access or read the full academic article. Thanks to Suitably Bored, who graciously responded to my critique of his stance, I have not a link to the article. I have since read the article, and my points still stand. For the sake academic and intellectual honest, here is a link to the full study, of which I highly encourage you to read. Other errors have been corrected as well in terms of grammar and structure.