A study was published in the Journal of Communication and has gotten significant media attention, at least in blog form (the paper is available for free here). Like many studies that end up in articles, particularly on somewhat controversial subjects, the conclusions being reported are not strongly supported by the study. On the other hand, it is interesting to watch what aspects of the study are appealing to bloggers and which are ignored, as well as which articles were clearly based off other summaries of the article, rather than reading the original. The researchers themselves appear to have an agenda, though, of emphasizing the “hardcore”-ness of female players, and in doing so perpetuate some of the value judgments described in Diamonds in the Rough and Those Other Girls: Conflicts Between Female Gamers
The article ignored anyone with non-binary gender or sex; I will be speaking here about the people surveyed the way they self-identified on the survey, though some of them may have only chosen to identify as male or female because of a lack of other options.
The article itself used data from a survey of Everquest II players and data about their playtime from Sony (which was accessed with the player’s permission). The researchers were Communications professors. Only one of them, Mia Consalvo Ph.D, appears to have a background in gender studies. She taught Women’s Studies at the University of Iowa. Many of her publications have be about gender or sexuality in games and gaming, though her degrees are in Communication. The data reported in this paper asked about gender, sexuality, income, happiness, loneliness, exercise, BMI, playtime, motivations for playing and whether or not people played with a spouse or partner. It appeared that they ignored people who did not report gender, and didn’t report data about race, disability or whether people considered themselves gamers, and conflated weight (classified by BMI) with health. It interpreted all this data through an extremely limited and simplistic gender role lens. They had a moment when they conflated gender identity and sexuality, speculating on “the potential androgyny that may be driving the bisexual players.” Within their limited, kyriarchal description of gender roles this might make sense, but they ignore much simpler explanations that rely only on sexual identity (like that these particular bisexual women may enjoy looking at the sexualized women in Everquest II) and feels unnecessary, particularly since the speculation is uncited and has no data behind it.
The finding that has been widely reported was that women played more hours than men and were less likely to be thinking about quitting, from which the researchers assert: “Our data suggest that female players—not males—are the real ‘‘hardcore’’ MMO players.” Of course, women also had significantly lower yearly salaries than men (despite higher education) and they didn’t appear to control for employment, so the extra time they play *could* be explained by more women not working in paid employment outside the home, or working part-time, and having more time to squeeze in an hour or two in the virtual world. It could also be explained by motivations; more women reported that their motivation involved socializing with other people in game, which presumably is more open-ended than progressive game content (I haven’t played Everquest II, but this is certainly true of WoW at the moment). Women were also likely to have played fewer other games, and men might have spent more time per week playing other games instead. That women were less likely to be thinking about quitting could be the result of women quitting more quickly when they did think about it, having begun playing more recently, enjoying the game more, or being more committed to the game than men. The researchers don’t seem to have made any particular effort to entertain other possible explanations for their findings, which I think is lazy science. Anyway, I digress, but my point is beyond the data they’ve collected I don’t hold this paper in particularly high regard. However, probably because it’s a paper that includes information about female gamers, it’s gotten a reasonable amount of digital ink.
How does “women play, on average, 17% more than men”, “women who play the game less likely to be considering quitting” and “Everquest II players underestimate their playtime” turn into a headline? (Warning: some of these articles are accompanied by borderline work-unsafe pictures of women playing video games in their underwear):
Study Finds Girl Gamers Are Seriously Hardcore, from Escapist Magazine
Girl Gamers Lowball Their Geekiness, from Edge
Study: Female Everquest II Players Still Logging More Hours, Still Not Honest About It, from Kotaku
Gal Gamers Geekier Than Guys, from Scientific America
So the finding that women played slightly more hours, described by the researchers as them being “hardcore”, also makes them as “geeky”. The fact that they “lied” by underestimating the hours played also appears to make a good headline (playing into the stereotype of women as deceitful, or ashamed of being geeky), despite the fact that men also underestimated time played. Many of the actual posts make this clear, but it’s presumably less eye catching than the implication that women are unwilling to admit that they are “really” hard-core geeks. The articles don’t always make it clear that this definition of “geeky” is simply how many hours per week someone remains logged into Everquest II and whether they are ambivalent about continuing to play.
Are there women who are also hardcore gamers? Of course! Absolutely! No doubt! The fact that that seems to be news to some people is unfortunate, but not unexpected. However, this study isn’t talking only about hardcore gamers, especially since no one involved seems to define the word (which the researchers get around by consistently using quotes around it, though bloggers and reporters don’t.) I would have been more interested if the researchers investigated whether there was another group of committed women who play games many hours a day and don’t intend to quit. Perhaps members of this group don’t think of themselves as “hardcore” and might “only” play because their romantic partner does. These are women who don’t have blogs, don’t wear t-shirts proclaiming their love of the game, and are ignored or discounted by the gaming press, by game companies and by gamers. They may, though, be playing just as much and with at least as much enthusiasm as visible gamers.
This data doesn’t go far enough to come to that conclusion, however, and the researchers don’t seem to ask that question. It almost seems like they are so excited to demonstrate the existence of a group of women who play Everquest II that they erase the possibility of heterogeneity within that group, particularly since bimodal distributions within their data might muck up some of their other conclusions if they are comparing hardcore apples to committed, enthusiastic, non-geek oranges. It’s nice to see data being collected on people who play games. The reports on that data, both published and in the blogosphere, leave something to be desired and overgeneralize egregiously.