Male gamers try harder when playing against female characters, new study reveals

By Mason Berlinka

Updated Jun 30, 2023 at 01:20 PM

Reading time: 2 minutes

It’s a well-known fact that the online gaming community has a problem with toxicity. From rampant trolling, to verbal abuse over microphones, gamers are often in hot water over their behaviour online. As you would expect in these often unmoderated, anonymous spaces, racism and sexism permeates the gaming sphere too, with the latter having long been one of gaming’s biggest hang-ups.

So, it should come as no surprise to learn that male gamers were shown to have exhibited an increased level of effort in their gaming during player-versus-player (PvP) battles when their opponent presented as a girl. Nothing like the fragility of masculinity, is there?

The study, which was published in August 2022 in the peer-reviewed journal Marketing Science, looked at a sample of 79,957 PvP fights among 20,144 unique players in an unnamed Chinese massive multiplayer online game (MMO), and found that that when men perceived their opponent as female, they tended to try harder and perform better.

Interestingly, female gamers seemed unaffected by their opponent’s gender. The study was keen to make it clear that its findings don’t point towards women being “submissive” as gamers, but rather that it is a problem with men feeling like they have to play better when against a female-presenting foe.

It’s such a shockingly hilarious statistic that I almost don’t know how to react. On the one hand, this is typical of the gaming industry, a world that has long struggled with making space for women, but it also manages to highlight something worse—a deep-rooted bias against women that I imagine a lot of the men playing these games aren’t even aware they carry.

It’s not easy being a woman online, and the study goes even as far as to suggest that women may have a better time in a competitive scenario if they disguise their gender. This should go without saying, but nobody should have to hide who they really are, especially when trying to relax with some video games.

The study aims to at the very least begin the conversation for developers to find ways to tackle the gender gap in gaming as well as dismantling gender stereotypes. The masculine urge to be stronger and more dominant over women is clearly at play, even when gaming. Beating a girl in a game isn’t going to make her fall in love with you. It’ll be:  ‘good game’ and everyone will move on with their lives.

As gaming moves to include everyone on the gender spectrum through the implementation of more female characters, as well as in-game cosmetics and content aimed towards women, we hope that men can remember to have fun while gaming, and not overexert themselves because of who they’re up against.

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