Research suggests unskilled male gamers who perform poorly may verbally attack female teammates to save face.

Study Shows Unskilled Players More Likely to Be Sexist

Research suggests unskilled male gamers who perform poorly may verbally attack female teammates to save face.

According to new data, unskilled male gamers are more likely to become hostile toward female players. The study, titled “Insights into Sexism: Male Status and Performance Moderates Female-Directed Hostile and Amicable Behavior,” was conducted by researchers from the University of New South Wales and Miami University, and published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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Using Halo 3 to look at interactions between the sexes in team-based competitive gaming, researchers found that unskilled male players who performed poorly in a match were more likely to berate their female teammates, while acting submissively toward more skilled male players. From the abstract:

We show that lower-skilled players were more hostile towards a female-voiced teammate, especially when performing poorly. … 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.

The study’s participants were all anonymous and unaware that they were being observed, thanks to Xbox Live’s policies allowing game footage and chat audio to be recorded at any time. Because of its complete anonymity, “Insights into Sexism” is an unbiased look at gender dynamics in the gaming world, showing the harassment female players endure at the hands of insecure men.

Although the men who engage in these harmful behaviors are 100% accountable for their attitudes and actions, hostility toward women – particularly from underachieving men – is a sociocultural problem created by the gendered expectation that men should dominate women in finance, academia, and sport, among other arenas. For more information on the subject, check out Dr. Nerdlove’s blog post on toxic masculinity in the geek world.


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K.W. Colyard
I'm a freelance writer and editor from the rural American South. I write. I read. I play video games. I also sleep sometimes. Talk to me about ampersands, blankets, and the Oxford comma.