The role of gender in video games

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University of Alabama Libraries

The research presented here examines gender roles associated with gaming, a multi-billion-dollar industry, in which there is a large gender gap in participation rates (Entertainment Software Association, 2016). Using social role theory (Eagly, 1987) and role congruity theory (Diekman & Eagly, 2008) as theoretical frameworks, it is proposed that attitudes and beliefs related to traditional gender roles account for differences in the rates at which women play, as well as differences in the way that games are played and experienced by women compared to men. World of Warcraft (WoW), one of the most popular, best-selling computer games (Entertainment Software Association, 2016), was chosen to investigate gender roles in gaming. Two studies were conducted. Study 1 (N = 1,353, 54% female) examined gaming preferences of gamers and non-gamers in an online survey. Results indicated that female gamers hold less negative stereotypes about other female gamers compared to female non-gamers. Study1 further found that both men and women enjoy and play more often in same-gender roles, although gender role attitudes did not explain these preferences. Using controlled observations of actual WoW gameplay, Study 2 (N = 269 observations) examined the amount of negative feedback player characters received from other online players based on the character’s gender and role type. Findings indicated that female characters playing in masculine roles did not receive more negative feedback than comparable male characters, counter to role congruity theory. However, female characters in feminine roles received significantly less negative feedback than female characters in masculine roles. Together, these results suggest that stereotypical gender roles have an impact on gameplay and future research needs to examine the explanatory factors behind this.

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Social psychology