Wednesday 20 April 2016

Do Violent Games Cause Misogyny?

See Breitbart, the noxious US import that has kept James Delingpole's career on life support? You can? Okay. Now imagine taking the Breitbart concept: unhinged right-wingery, stupidity, and dishonesty, and sticking it in the food processor. Get a face, say Louise Mensch, to front it up. And then people said product with content too dumb and churnalists too lazy for Breitbart. The end result is the political comment equivalent of what my cat has just visited upon her litter tray.

Heatstreet is Murdoch's latest go at being "relevant" to the tech-hungry, celeb-bothering, video-gamin' 20-somethings heavily into rabidly right-wing politics. Uncle Rupers might be happy to have Vice on the balance sheet as long as the cash keeps flowing, but he'd much prefer a successful brand that can do the business hawking repellent views similar to his own. Still, I'd managed to ignore this doomed venture until my Twitter feed tossed up this: No, Grand Theft Auto Doesn’t Make You Sexist. Video games and sociology, right up my street.

In a scholarly paper, 'Acting Like a Tough Guy: Violent-Sexist Video Games, Identification With Game Characters, Masculine Beliefs, & Empathy for Female Violence Victims' (read it here), the authors say "We hypothesized that playing violent-sexist video games would increase endorsement of masculine beliefs, especially among participants who highly identify with dominant and aggressive male game characters. We also hypothesized that the endorsement of masculine beliefs would reduce empathy toward female violence victims ... We found that participants' gender and their identification with the violent male video game character moderated the effects of the exposure to sexist-violent video games on masculine beliefs. Our results supported the prediction that playing violent-sexist video games increases masculine beliefs, which occurred for male (but not female) participants who were highly identified with the game character. Masculine beliefs, in turn, negatively predicted empathic feelings for female violence victims. Overall, our study shows who is most affected by the exposure to sexist-violent video games, and why the effects occur." They go on to argue in the paper itself that lack of empathy is the most significant predictor of violence against women, and so games that depress empathy could well be problematic. More specifically, broken down into variables there were statistically significant relationships between reported "masculine beliefs" and level of violence, and more specifically between those values and identification with a masculine player-character in what the research team classify as 'violent-sexist' games.

Now, remember, correlation isn't causation. At best it indicates that a relationship *in all likelihood* exists, but it doesn't necessarily point to the direction of these relationships. Was it the case that the young men reported a more sympathetic attitude toward masculine values after playing the likes of Grand Theft Auto because these views were already in place, or that they had been "caused" by the game they had just played. In all likelihood, as the authors claim, the former is more likely to be the case. At best the sorts of tropes on show in GTA would merely confirm and reinforce pre-existing dispositions. Nevertheless, there are some problems, not least being that the observed correlation only involved the 22 who played GTA (out of a total sample of 154 Italian high school students who played a variety of games). Because the group is so small it's not wise to draw any sort of conclusion beyond "more study needed".

None of this makes it into the dimly-lit consciousness of our HeatStreet writer. Instead of addressing, or even polemicising against the results, he writes "Is Grand Theft Auto sexist? Is killing a woman in a video game somehow inherently worse than killing a man? Well, maybe this is an unpopular opinion, but if women are tough enough to be president, fight in war and kick my ass ... they’re probably tough enough to be included in video game carnage, just like the men." This is not so much as missing the point as doing a very deliberate body swerve to avoid it. Where women feature as video game adversaries, historically speaking there is a tendency to represent them as overly-sexualised. In 1990s beat 'em ups, like the otherwise wonderful Streets of Rage 2, women typically appear in fetish wear as you smack them in the mouth. When things moved into three dimensions, Lara Croft of Tomb Raider fame led the way in svelte bodies and generous hips and boobs, and so did the baddies. And today there is not much variation in female body types available. How often do you spot overweight or small-breasted women in a game?

This isn't to suggest portrayals of women in games cause sexism. They don't, they reflect, feed back, and naturalise already existing views and assumptions - an effect that's quite subtle but nevertheless real. If there was no effect whatsoever, then why would a mainstream game centered around Nazi battlefield exploits, such as my Call of Duty: Heroes of the SS thought experiment, be hugely controversial? Might it have something to do with normalising and rendering banal a regime long-associated with truly foul crimes? 

In the real world, it is rarely a matter of something causing something or not, it's a matter of degree. If it applies to the in-your-face, it's also the case with the commonplace.


BCFG said...

Does this study highlight a problem that doesn’t exist? I.e. is ‘misogyny’ being overplayed? And if so, why? These are more interesting questions I think.

We are in an era where traditional masculinity is on the decline in one sense, e.g. more men moisturise, share housework etc. But we also see an obsession re men working out to gain muscle tone. This is not the fault of video games but of female desire for a particular type of man. If women found weedy, scruffy men attractive more men would aspire to be weedy and scruffy.

Blaming video games for human behaviour is not without foundation but I reckon it is marginal, most of the time video games reflect the culture, they do not create it. This may change if video games replace the media as chief mind control mechanism, which may be happening but I don’t think so.

But what this article excludes is how women contribute to the character of men. So if you want to change the character of men you have to start by changing the character of women. This is the problem with all studies of this type, it always assumes the problem is with men (masculine belief) and never with women (feminine belief). It locates the problem in the mind of man and restricts the study accordingly. Which tells me it already comes with a certain and hopeless bias.

With that in mind I would also seriously question any study that claimed:
• We found that participants' gender and their identification with the violent male video game character moderated the effects of the exposure to sexist-violent video games on masculine beliefs
• Our results supported the prediction that playing violent-sexist video games increases masculine beliefs
• Masculine beliefs, in turn, negatively predicted empathic feelings for female violence victims

Really! This is the sort of pseudo bollocks that can create an entire worthless industry and misunderstanding on a grand scale. It is the sort of ‘academic’ accompaniment to the politics of Hilary Clinton. The most rotten politics of all!

Personally I am more concerned with how respectable TV cookery, talent and reality shows, along with the unrespectable tabloid media, suppresses intellect of the masses.

Lidl Janus said...

"It is the sort of ‘academic’ accompaniment to the politics of Hilary Clinton. The most rotten politics of all!"

Uh-huh. Tell us more.

That said, I'm not even going to pretend to stay on topic, because it should be asked: Tory Battlebus spending kerfuffle - is this likely to go anywhere? Because if true, it feels like it should be a bigger scandal than it is.

BCFG said...

I think the Ched Evans case highlights the hysteria quite well, if you look at the internet the moralising is quite jaw dropping as are the moral certainties. No allowance for any doubt or any questioning. In fact those that did raised questions were immediatley shouted down as rape apologists!

We are living through liberal tyranny, which is a product of the war on terror to my mind. We see the same with criticism of Israel. Imperialism is using a successful feminism, anti racism for its own greedy and supremacists ends. And the ruling class are using it as just another divide and rule tactic.

In the case of Ched Evans it looks just as likely that the so called victim made the whole thing up in order to make some money.

If true, this is worse than rape!

But you won't see endless articles being written telling us about the problem with feminine beliefs!

Phil said...

Dipping into the comments boxes sometimes feels like Dagenham never happened. It's all very well applying a historical materialist analysis to class and class relationships, but heaven help anyone who does the same to gender and all those other inequalities deemed (mostly by guys, and white guys at that) inessential.

Anonymous said...

One of the complexities of GTA is that it is arguably the most liberal game ever made, given the whole thing is one giant piss-take of masculine consumerism. But this is also clearly a satire that has gone over the heads of many of its players.

However, I think there is one issue that needs to be unpacked. If you are arguing that games are cultural artefacts like books and movies, then fine, I would agree with you (read your SS idea post, fyi). However, the video game hysteria was based on the claim that games are much more capable of such influence than "mere" static media.

The defence of video games, then, has mostly been centred around the charge that games are unusually influential, rather than the claim that they are utterly innocent. I've long been a defender of games, but not to the point of claiming outright cultural neutrality.