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.

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.


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.

Published Jul. 18th 2015
  • Durinn McFurren
    This isn't surprising. Not only from a theoretical perspective, but also from my own experience. In MMOs that I have played, there seemed to be a trend where the high-end raiders or raid guilds were the least likely to take issue with anyone's gender. That sort of behavior was much more likely from the 'LFR heroes' in WoW.
  • K.W. Colyard
    From personal experience, I've been verbally abused by players who thought I was a young boy, a gay man, and a woman. I've never represented myself as a child or a man, but players assume. This has mostly happened on Destiny and Gears, although I did have a few negative experiences with Halo and CoD as well. I stay in a party to avoid most of the harassment.
  • JoshCasts
    Good job, they went into multiple games and waited for guys to say something stupid to girls. Not all bad guys are like that. I'm terrible at video games and do nothing close to make crude remarks to girls. Seriously hate when organizations do these type of things.
  • Spyke_3447
    Nope, it was ONE game (Halo 3) they fail to give any sort of documented evidence of what was said or standards as to what would be considered a "sexist" response. Tiny sample size, no accounting for bias, no peer review etc etc. If you compare this with the German study on determining if competitive games promote sexism the difference is day and night.
  • JoshCasts
    I understand. I'm just saying, the entirety of their study was directs towards gamers with poor game skill or those that are not as good as others. I've been in plenty of games, including Halo 3, where a female player was doing better than I was, it shouldn't be determined by sexes of who can actually play the game, yes, but not all terribly skilled players will immediately jump to calling female gamers out and being "Sexist" in this case. But I see what you are saying, it is sad that guys do it, and it's annoying to be in a game where they are doing these sorts of things. Overall though, you can't say an entire sort of individuals do something that just a few "I'm going to act hard online" guys do.
  • K.W. Colyard
    You should go and read the study. They give plenty of examples. You can find the link above the tags, labeled as "source."
  • K.W. Colyard
    No one has said that all unskilled male gamers are sexists who lash out at women. The study showed that unskilled male players were more likely than their better-performing peers to engage in such behaviors.
  • JoshCasts
    The title does read "Study Shows Unskilled Players More Likely to Be Sexist", so you're right, but it's still false information.

    So I read through the two sources you posted. To be fair, those aren't "unskilled players", primarily you can see gamers that score a higher kill death than others still be a jerk towards females. Them stating it is unskilled players that are more than likely to be hateful obviously shows that they did not go into many games.And to be fair, I've played in more games with unskilled players who didn't show any hate towards other players, no matter their sex than playing in games where people were being jerks.

    It just shows that they didn't play many games. Just stating my opinions about this though.
  • K.W. Colyard
    The players' skill ratings were based on their in-game skill levels; performance was determined by K/D.

    And again, you're misreading. Unskilled male players were not "more than likely to be hateful." They were more likely than skilled male players to be hostile toward female players.
  • Si_W
    Personally I'm not so sure.

    I'm pretty unskilled despite over 30 years gaming on and off, and I've never felt the need to verbally abuse anyone for kicking my arse in an FPS - and I've played in and against clans with good female players in it.

    I suspect its more about insecure male players who, regardless of skill level, hate being beaten and therefore react negatively.
  • David Fisher
    Featured Columnist
    I don't think I need a study to tell me this. All you need is a day walking down the street, or a couple of rounds of a multiplayer game disguised as a female player (voice mods are fun). Interestingly, I found that players who believed I was female while playing a MOBA tended to listen to me more often - particularly if they were less skilled - than if I was a male saying the same things. I'm not entirely sure why... I'd love to do a study on that. Too bad I don't have a Masters in Psychology... :(

    I'm not going to hide it: I play as a girl in MOBAs to get my matchmaking rank up. If the team won't listen to me while I'm David, then they'll listen to me and we'll win while I'm Ariel. :P (Too bad my voice mod doesn't work anymore... My MMR in DotA2 is really starting to hurt...)
  • K.W. Colyard
    I'm not a fan of MOBAs, so I don't know much about the culture there. I do agree that that's interesting. Is the player base more evenly split along gender lines?

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