Video games do not stop boys making friends – but girls who play struggle to make pals. That’s the headline from an article which popped up in my news feed a month or so ago. It was based on the results of a Norwegian study published in April 2019, for which 873 youngsters aged six to 12 were assessed to see whether gaming had an effect on their social development.
A quick internet search to find out more revealed a number of lengthy and similarly ‘shocking’ announcements. Here’s just one example taken from the Daily Mail: Boys can play video games for as long as they like without suffering any harm but girls who join in struggle to make friends, study suggests. Most of the headlines making up the results highlighted how young females who participated in gaming found it difficult to socialise and were harmed more than boys by their hobby.
This got me thinking about my own childhood. Did video games have a negative effect on my social development as a kid? It certainly doesn’t feel like it, although it’s possible the haze of 30 years’ worth of nostalgia may have altered my memories somewhat. Was it a case of me seeking out games because I found it challenging to make friendships then? This statement doesn’t feel right either. I played them because I enjoyed seeing their stories come alive, and that’s still a big factor for me today.
I was a quiet kid who didn’t have a huge group of mates when I was young, but I was very close to those I did have. Not much has changed now that I’m an adult: I’m still an introvert and much prefer a smaller social circle made up of ‘my kind of people’. Far from being an obstacle though, video games have given me an avenue to both be creative and meet a whole bunch of awesome bloggers with similar interests. In fact most of my real-life friends are people I’ve met through gaming and blogging over the years.
The headlines revealed by my internet search had piqued my interest though and I wanted to find out more. With a little further digging I unearthed the original source along with an article on the ScienceDaily website, to which the Postdoctoral Fellow who led the study had provided some comments. I was relieved to read it had actually found that ‘playing the games affected youth differently by age and gender, but that generally speaking, gaming was not associated with social development’.
It seems like this is yet another case of video game chicken-and-egg. News outlets want to report that they’re the cause and harmful to young females, because that’s what grabs their readers’ attention. But the research indicates gaming may actually be a symptom, and that ‘girls who play video games may be more isolated socially and have less opportunity to practice social skills with other girls, which may affect their later social competence’. What came first: the video game or the problem?
The worrying thing about the situation here isn’t so much the one-sided reporting and poor choice of headlines – although that’s definitely an ongoing issue – but the impact these have on the walls within our community. We’ve been working so hard on knocking them down and claiming an equal place for women, but salacious articles create an imbalance among gamers because of their sex. It gives confidence to less-accepting members of our group so they feel justified in building those divides back up.
Check out the comments left on that Daily Mail report to see what I mean. Among those calling the study ‘sexist’ and ‘BS’ (presumably added by people who’d read the newspaper’s coverage and not the research), here’s one from somebody called ‘a-male’: “They’re desperate to pour criticism upon anything guys enjoy doing. Some girls seem to enjoy video games, too, but that doesn’t stop the feminists from trying to have video games completely done away with (no, I don’t play them, but I don’t think others should be stopped from playing them if they wish).”
I’m not sure what I dislike the most about it. The implication that video games are for guys and women only seem to enjoy playing them. The incorrect assumption that the research’s conclusion is the recommendation they should be ‘done away with’. The belief that feminists are once again behind it. Or that all of this wisdom comes from someone who admits they don’t game themselves, and are therefore unlikely to understand the benefits and enjoyment that playing can bring.
Whenever an article about a new video game study is published, it’s important to take the time to really understand its results and trace back to the original source if you can. We shouldn’t jump to conclusions based on a badly-written headline, or make assumptions according to what a slow-news-day is telling us. And when we read BS, it’s up to us as bloggers to use our voices to highlight it and continue the discussion in a thoughtful and constructive way.
Don’t be a chicken – or an egg, for that matter – and keep knocking down those walls.
Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.