A new study published in American Behavioral Scientist suggests that the gender gap in video gaming ability is eliminated when accounting for previous gameplay experience.
In the gaming community, the stereotype persists that girls and women possess inferior video gaming skills compared to boys and men. This stereotype is destructive, not only because it promotes sexism and harassment within the gaming industry, but because it discourages girls from participating in the gaming community, leading to reduced opportunities for them to gain gaming skills and thus reinforcing the gender gap.
As study authors Rabindra Ratan and colleagues say, the consequences of this discrimination against girls extend further than the gaming world. Studies suggest that gameplay helps cultivate an interest and skills in the Science, Engineering, Technology, and Math (STEM) fields. The gender gap in video gaming, therefore, contributes to a society in which fewer women seek and gain employment in these technical fields.
While studies suggest that spatial reasoning skills have sex-based biological underpinnings, there is also evidence that spatial-cognition can be influenced by practice. Ratan and associates were motivated to investigate whether the gender gap in video gaming ability might disappear with increased gameplay.
A study was conducted involving 3,227 male and 53 female players of World of Tanks (WoT), a spatial-action video game where players battle each other from armored tanks. Data from 31 days of gameplay was collected for each player, including each subject’s total earned experience points (XP).
As expected, female subjects had less experience playing WoT than male subjects. Specifically, women had played fewer battles prior to the study, played fewer battles during the 31-day study period, and had lower tank than levels than men.
Women also underperformed compared to men, earning lower experience points per battle.
However, when the researchers took players’ prior gameplay experience into account — controlling for the number of battles played prior to the study, the number of battles played during the study, and tank levels — the gender gap disappeared. There were no longer any differences between men’s and women’s game performances.
As Ratan and team note, these findings suggest that the gender stereotypes concerning video gaming skills are flawed, even when it comes to games involving spatial reasoning.
“Thus,” the authors say, “the present findings provide evidence that spatial-action video games—which some people willingly play for large amounts of time in their daily lives—might be helping to counteract the gender-performance gap in video games.”
“In other words, by playing more spatial-action games, women and girls may diminish the preexisting performance gap by improving their spatial-thinking skills at a greater rate than men and boys, and thereby offering evidence that the stereotype is false.”
Ratan and associates further discuss that to best support girls in cultivating these skills, the gaming community should step up and take action against sexism and antagonism toward female gamers.
“The present research provides empirical evidence that could help fuel such social support,” the researchers emphasize. “If gaming communities recognize that women and girls can compete at the same level as men and boys given a sufficient amount of gameplay time, then these communities will hopefully facilitate the opportunities for such gameplay.”
Importantly, including more women in the gaming community might help encourage more women to pursue STEM fields, thus reducing the gender gap in technical fields.
As the researchers address, the study was limited by a small sample of female subjects who may not be representative of the overall female population or of the overall population of female gamers. Stratified sampling was used to counteract this limitation.
The study, “Men Do Not Rule the World of Tanks: Negating the Gender-Performance Gap in a Spatial-Action Game by Controlling for Time Played”, was authored by Rabindra Ratan, Cuihua Shen, and Dmitri Williams.