Violent video games linked to the endorsement of some traditional masculine roles

People who spend more time playing violent video games are more likely to agree with traditional masculine gender norms such as the belief that it is important for a man to take risks. That is the finding of a new study published in the journal Sex Roles.

“I’ve been interested in the intersection of the study of media violence and the study of stereotypes and representations in media since I began graduate school in the mid 1990s. My dissertation was on depictions of hypermasculinity among major male characters in police and detective programs on TV over time and the role of individuals’ own levels of hypermasculinity in aggressive responsive to media violence exposure,” said study author Erica Scharrer, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“Given the popularity of video games in today’s media landscape, more than 20 years after doing my dissertation research, I am still asking questions about the messages we receive from media regarding gender and aggression but in this piece in Sex Roles, I’ve shifted from TV to games. In general, I think the question of what and how we learn about gender roles and norms (in terms of aggression or otherwise) has only grown in social significance as ideas about gender evolve and as media occupy more and more of our time and attention.”

For their study, the researchers surveyed 246 male and female gamers between the ages of 18 and 25. Overall, there was no relationship between time spent playing video games and the endorsement of traditional masculine gender role norms.

But the situation changed when the researchers focused on video games that the participants described as violent. Time spent playing violent video games was associated with endorsing traditional masculine norms related to aggression, toughness, dominance, and restrictive emotionality among both male and female gamers.

It was unrelated, however, to gender norms regarding the avoidance of femininity, negativity toward sexual minorities, the importance of having sex, and self-reliance.

“The amount of use of video games that contain violence is statistically linked with holding views of masculine gender roles and norms that reinforce dominance, toughness, stoicism/restrictive emotionality, and aggression as ideals for men and boys among the sample of emerging adults,” Scharrer told PsyPost.

“Interestingly, among both the men and the women in the sample, the more they reported playing games that they themselves characterized as violent, the more likely they were to hold beliefs about masculine gender roles and norms that suggest men and boys should be dominant, stoic, tough, and aggressive. As I write in the study, the topic of ‘toxic masculinity’ and its potential role in violent crime has captured news headlines in recent years, and I think we need more social science data about these important issues.”

All research has limitations, and the current study is no exception. The study used a cross-sectional survey, preventing the researchers from drawing conclusions about causality.

“We cannot claim that violent games are causing these beliefs in masculinity to take shape and/or to be expressed. We can only show that the variables are correlated,” Scharrer explained.

“It is entirely possible that those who hold particular views of masculinity seek out violent video games, such that their beliefs are causing their violent game exposure instead of vice versa. I’d love to do a longitudinal survey to try to parse out directionality. I, personally, would prefer that approach over doing an experiment, since I subscribe more to a slow and cumulative development of views of masculine gender roles and norms rather than a short-term, immediate effect.”

The study, “Video Game Playing and Beliefs about Masculinity Among Male and Female Emerging Adults“, was authored by Greg Blackburn and Erica Scharrer.