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What came first: the female gamer or the problem?

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.

Hands, video game, controller, gamepad

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.

Kim View All

Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.

21 thoughts on “What came first: the female gamer or the problem? Leave a comment

  1. Yeah, the headline was a bit misleading. I’m not sure if the ‘problem’ came first in my case. I would’ve happily gone through senior school without speaking to anybody but I accidently made good friends with a close group (all girls) only because we got talking about kingdom hearts. ‬So the gaming encouraged me to be more social than I’d intended. The link between less social kids and gaming doesn’t surprise me but I didn’t expect the results to be so different for girls.

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    • I was looked at as something of an oddity back when I was in school, because I was the only girl who played video games and had an interest in IT more generally. It’s so good to see things are changing though; my stepson is now in secondary school himself and it seems as if most of the kids there play games in one form or another.

      It’s extremely difficult to prove a link between two things – like enjoying video games and ability to easily make friends – because there are just so many different factors at play (no pun intended!). Unfortunately though some people just see those headlines, and then take them as evidence. 😕

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  2. Always enjoy the more factual based narrative and glad you’ve gone to the effort of digging until you found the source. Suppose it comes down to interpretation, the suggested findings do imply there may be an impact on social skills as a consequence of gaming by gender but with a limited sample set and difficulty in providing an objective standard to measure results are enshrined and agree headlines based off the finds are misleading.

    Great investigating though, and just a sad state of affairs we’ve become so cynical in pulling apart the headlines and articles from the MSM to discover the ‘truth’ because of political or media bias.

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    • This type of headline worries me because it almost creates a distraction. If the news keeps pointing at video games as being the cause and creating hysteria around them as a result, it’s going to make finding out who those affected really are, what games they’re playing and exactly why they’re affected far more difficult!

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  3. This topic always interests me to hear about from different perspectives… so long as the discussion remains civil, of course, which, regrettably, it doesn’t always!

    When I think back to my own childhood, I only knew one girl who played video games: Laura King, who was my classmate in primary school. I went over to her house a couple of times to play Revs on her BBC Micro, and we always had a good time. (As I recall, we also got a bit politically incorrect regarding the name of one of the particularly tight corners, but in our defence we were, like, 10)

    I had another friend named Joanna around the same period who was into stuff like trading cards, sticker collecting and suchlike, too. She also played football. I don’t remember her being into video games, but I do recall, as a youngster, thinking that it was cool she was into stuff that I had, at the time, traditionally been conditioned to think were “boys'” activities.

    I don’t know what either of them are up to now. I think Joanna became a super-smart scientist. I was very much in love with her for a long time, but never told her. There’s your tragic backstory for the day!

    When I got to secondary school, things were different. I knew precisely no girls who had the slightest interest in video games. Of course, the groups of us smelly boys made no effort to reach out to the girls who might have been interested, but likewise none of the girls ever expressed any sort of interest, either. In fact, in sixth form, where I was one of a few people working on a sixth form fanzine, we actually got a bunch of complaints from some girls about the fact our main feature in the first issue was about video games (specifically, how cool it was to get people together for in-person multiplayer games of stuff like Mario Kart and GoldenEye; what a fun social experience it was, that sort of thing).

    As such, I still have a certain amount of that conditioning today, though I hasten to add it doesn’t manifest in any kind of “keep those filthy women out of my video games” sort of way! Rather, when I meet a woman who is interested in or involved with video games, my first thought is inevitably “cool!” closely followed by “I wish I had known this person while I was growing up”. And while I occasionally wish my wife would spend less time playing Final Fantasy XIV and a bit more time with me, my much stronger feeling is that I’m glad I have someone who respects and understands my hobby by my side.

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    • Yeah, there’s so many people I’ve met through blogging that I wish I’d known growing up too. I was ‘that girl’ in secondary school who played video games and, while I did have male friends who’d let me join in with gaming sessions, I never really felt part of the group because I was the odd-one-out. I’d have loved to have had a female friend who had the same interests!

      I count myself lucky that I’ve now found someone who’s always supported my blogging and plays alongside me, and a stepson whom we’ve been able to introduce to gaming responsibly. It’s seen as a ‘family’ thing, something we all do together, and I wouldn’t change that for the world. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I read a very interesting Twitter thread recently which talked about this phenomenon of smaller news outlets hunting clicks taking research from a bigger piece and adding interpretation to it – it’s unfortunate that the end result here is more dudes yelling “wOmEn ArE rUiNiNg OuR gAmEs,” because it seems like there is something to be said for how games can hurt or hinder kids who struggle with their social development, depending on how they are used. Interesting stuff for sure, and I appreciate you taking the time to look into it deeper!

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      • What a read! YouTube culture is in a sad state I think. A lot of people I used to follow are now using some of these same strategies – exaggerated thumbnails, covering every rumor and false leak as if it could be legit, all caps and fifty exclamation points in their misleading titles. I’ve seen a lot of folks shrug and say they have to play to the algorithm if they want to continue to succeed there; an “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” kind of mentality. It’s rough.

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        • It seems as though it’s reached the point where success is seen as being the ability to shout the loudest. I don’t tend to use YouTube just for browsing any longer as a result, and only if there’s something specific I’m trying to find out. 😦

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  5. This is such a great post. A lot of the time us gamers need more voices to stand up for our hobby and what we love to do. This was an enjoyable read for me. Thanks for the post!

    -TK

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  6. Well evaluated! I’m glad you came across these headlines and the original research paper. It’s so frustrating that research findings can be so misrepresented by journalists well-meaning and selfish writers alike). Most people won’t read the original papers because they’re boring, or hard to read, or they assume that the article accurately represents the intricacies of research. Thanks for sharing this post. Also, the quote form a-male makes me feel a flock of angry feelings too 😠

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  7. I think far more research needs to be done in this area. My personal anecdote is similar. I did play games as a young girl at school, and I also read copious amounts. So much so that even during school breaks I would sit and read. I was a social misfit until I finally left school for university. It did impair my social development, but not much else, I still managed to excel at both academics and sport, (not team sports obviously) and my natural introversion was enhanced. I entirely rejected the female cliques that formed in high school, though I did notice that as we reached the school leaving age, the cliques had slowly broken down as the girls matured and became reasonable human beings, not irrational teenagers. So some friendships began to form at this stage. No one ever said my excessive reading was problematic even though it was a coping mechanism to remove myself from underhanded girl-bullying, and the isolation became self-imposed rather than ostracization from the group.

    But gaming.. yes I did game as well though having only a family PC my time on it was limited. (At least until I got a shiny PSX, which was unusual, other girls knew of the console having brothers who played, but as an only child, it was unusual for me to have a gaming console, I think my Dad liked it since we bonded over Gran Turismo). Guys were interested and would occasionally chat with me about games (I had Lara Croft plastered all over my stationery case), but this declined again as they hit puberty and hormones raged, to see a girl was nearly impossible for them, so no LAN parties for me. Again this fixed itself later on when I got to university where the guys were very accommodating and happy to have girls along playing and joining in on the hobby. So is this also just a maturity thing, a teenage/adult version of “girls are icky and boys are yucky”? Because that’s how all this sort of feels to me.

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    • I certainly think there’s some of that involved. My stepson has just hit 12-years old and it seems as if most of the kids at his school – both boys and girls – play video games. But even though he regularly plays with his friends online, I can’t see any of his group wanting to play with ‘yucky’ girls right now!

      The strange thing is that he’s very open to the idea of women playing games. We started taking him to expos with us a year or two ago and it’s opened his eyes to the fact that all sorts of people enjoy gaming, and there are all kinds of titles to suit them. So I wouldn’t be surprised if hormones were involved somewhere. 😉

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      • That’s it after all, just exposure. And hopefully he’ll be like those guys at Uni who were happy to have someone of whatever gender join in on the gaming fun, because ultimately its not about what sexuality you are, its about sharing an interest and passion, and knowing there are others out there to share it with. (Isn’t that also ultimately one of the primary focuses of socialization, to share common interests?)

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        • Very true. And it’s great to see him pass some of the knowledge we’ve given him, about specific video games and the community more generally, to his best friend when he spends the weekend with us. 🙂

          Like

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