Video games always seem to have a rough time of it in the media. From the unsubstantiated scare stories that they promote violence or concentration issues in young people, to the dismissal that they are 'just for kids' - it's not been an easy path for the industry.
Fortunately, there are some cracking examples of superb video games fighting the good fight for the medium. Whether it's the interactive storytelling of Undertale, the impossible simplistic beauty of Monument Valley or the excellent writing of Portal - there are some real winners to drown out the dull repetitive brown World War II shooters.
Now it appears that video games are proving their worth in other areas too, specifically highlighting and examining sexism between men and women.
A new study published in by PLOS One, claims to have found evidence that men who attack women online are actually, literally losers.
Insights into Sexism, authored by Michael Kasumovic and Jeffrey Kuznekoff, examined interactions between gamers during 163 plays of the Xbox 360 game Halo 3.
The sci-fi first person shooter was played in a multiplayer competitive mode - with teams cooperating in order to kill members of the opposing team outside of the main story line. During the study's play through, Kuznekoff and Kasumovic examined how individuals behaved towards a male or female-voiced teammate in both the positive scenarios (the number of kills they managed to wrack-up) and negative scenarios (the number of deaths they experienced), as well as player status (the maximum skill achieved).
According to the study, the men who were worse players tended to level more abuse at female gamers, while guys who were more skilled at the game were generally more pleasant to both female and other male players.
The research states:
As higher-skilled players have less to fear from hierarchical reorganisation, we argue that these males behave more positively in an attempt to support and garner a female player’s attention. Our results provide the clearest picture of inter-sexual competition to date, highlighting the importance of considering an evolutionary perspective when exploring the factors that affect male hostility towards women.
The pair argue that their findings support an "evolutionary argument" that low-status, low-performing males have the most to lose, and as a consequence lash out more at women who threaten their position in the hierarchy.
The study goes on to reason:
As men often rely on aggression to maintain their dominant social status, the increase in hostility towards a woman by lower-status males may be an attempt to disregard a female’s performance and suppress her disturbance on the hierarchy to retain their social rank. This idea is reinforced by the fact that higher-skilled males that should not feel threatened by a female increased their number of positive comments.
Despite using video games to highlight issues of sexism in every day life, the research warns that in some scenarios the platform might be helping perpetuate sexism in young people.
The idea that videogames may be reinforcing such gender segregation as the norm for many teenagers is troubling given the fact that a significant proportion of them are gamers. Such ideas have the potential to spill over in real-life interactions and promote socially unacceptable behaviours such as sexism.