Carly A. Kocurek, PhD - Games, Scholarship, Media

Casual Thinking. Serious Gaming.

What Video Gaming Does to Women

Category : Gender Oct 17th, 2011

One of my all time favorite quotes about video gaming comes from Nikki Douglas, Grrl Gamer, in the classic From Barbie to Mortal Kombat:

Maybe it’s a problem … that little girls DON’T like to play games that slaughter entire planets. Maybe that’s why we are still underpaid, still struggling, still fighting for our rights. Maybe if we had the mettle to take on an entire planet, we could fight some of the smaller battles we face everyday.

While digging through some ’80s-era journal articles a few days ago, I came across some research that may add weight to Douglas’s assessment. Summarizing an early study of the effects of videogames on players, Gary W. Selnow had this to say (emphasis is mine):

In what appears to be the seminal study of the impact of videogames on their users, Gibb et al. measured 280 videogame players on the personality dimensions of self-esteem/self-degradation, social deviancy/social conformity, hostility/kindness, social withdrawal/gregariousness, obsessiveness/compulsiveness, and achievement motivation. In nearly every instance they failed to find any significant relationships between these measures and the amount of time spent per week playing videogames. They found only that females with longer experience at videogames scored higher in achievement motivation than females with less experience.

Selnow is referring to the study “Personality Differences Between High and Low Electronic Video Game Users,” by Gerald Gibb, James Bailey, Thomas Lambirth, and William Wilson, which was published in Journal of Psychology 114 in 1983. Granted, much research on gaming has been completed in the intervening years, but these early findings do seem to resonate with Douglas’s assessment of the potential of games to encourage competitiveness and achievement motivation in women. Whether or not that is inherently valuable is still up for debate, and as someone who greatly values collaboration, I’m hesitant to give a blanket endorsement. But, the empirical evidence backing one woman gamer’s reading of the value of competitive gaming for women is certainly worth note.

[The Selnow article I am referencing is: Selnow, Gary W., Playing Videogames: The Electronic Friend, Journal of Communication, 34: 2 (1984: Spring) pp. 148-156]