Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Lack of Empathy in Sexist Video Games

Headline for today: sexist video games result in lower empathy towards female violence victims.

Before you clamor at me that this is feminist propaganda, the study was conducted by a team of men, with at least one woman from the University of Milano Bicocca Psychology Department. The lead author, Alessandro Gabbiadini has written several papers in the past on video games.

The focus of the study was on empathy, and how people would react to female victims after experiencing violent and sexist video games. Empathy is noted as one of the primary factors for how we respond to people, according to the study and the sources cited within. People can feel empathy for other humans, animals, and objects. But in a video game, that can change because the digital figure is not real. The study used Grand Theft Auto as a prime example on the negative implications gaming can have on our morality, thus affecting our empathy towards others (digitally and in the real world).

Time has a good summary of the study, and you can read the full article online. They even published their data spreadsheet so you can see exactly how people responded to each game and follow-up questions.

This is another one of those studies where you should take it under advisement, but try not to think too hard about it. The article gets a bonus cookie in my book for pointing out that their methods of research and testing are not perfect. Their sample size is too small, that there may already be bias against the games (as GTA is well known, even if a person hasn't played it before), and the game time was limited to 25 minutes of play. There are a number of ways they can improve upon it, and they are aware of their restrictions. Because we know how flawed these experiments can be... The authors encourage future study in this sector in hopes of creating more valid results.

As a whole though, it should not be a surprise that games who use female avatars as accessories or victims, could cause players to showcase less empathy towards them. The avatars become a virtual toy that can be thrown away on a whim. While I love my GTA, there are a number of instances where violence and exploitation against female avatars occurs and it gets to be too much. Having sexism on both sides isn't the answer (though I do support having male prostitutes and strip clubs, as it could completely alter the dynamic of the way you play the game). Game designers shouldn't be degenerating men or women virtual characters to sex objects.

So let this be a study that you simmer on. Don't take it as the hard, end all, be all, of facts. The authors took the time to make note that their study is flawed, and more research is needed. But given the content nature against female victims in day to day life, video games like GTA are not helping curb the issue.

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