February 27, 2006

Prof Clarifies Gender Gap in Video Gaming

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Have you ever wondered why so few females play first-person shooters?

Prof. John Sherry, communications, Michigan State University, tackled this question last Friday in a lecture about the influence that gender has in video game play. He discussed possible reasons why males and females tend to gravitate towards different genres of games.

“I told you I was going to have something more sexy than violence,” Sherry said.

As a member of the video game-ignorant, 35-and-over category, Sherry tried to think of an educational use for video games. However, he soon found that it would be difficult to create an educational game that would appeal to both sexes equally.

While there are exceptions, females tend to prefer puzzle games such at Tetris, quiz games and video games that are modeled after classic board games. Males prefer sports, fighter, action and shooter games. Both genders enjoy simulation games such as The Sims, massive multiplayer online games like Everquest or World of Warcraft and racing games.

Males tend to play video games longer than females, playing about 68 minutes a day and 7.6 hours a week compared to females’ 53 minutes a day and 7.4 hours a week. However, in self-reports, females reported playing video games less than males even when play time was the same. Females also perceive that they don’t play video games as well as males.

The gaming industry often ignores the problems that arise from gender differences. They make enough profit off of stereotypical males’ games that they do not have to gear games towards females. The gaming industry also suggested two other possibilities: to design different games for different populations, or to make everyone play female games.

“My preference is to figure out what’s going on here. Why do males and females like different games?” Sherry asked.

There are several proposed causes for the differences in game play between genders.

Some believe that differences are the result of environmental influences. They say that males are encouraged to play with computers more than females are. Others argue that females don’t play games because many don’t have female characters or themes. However, the addition of a female protagonist does not significantly increase the number of females who play a game.

It is possible to see trends in the way males and females play. Males are directly competitive and tend to play games that have clear goals. Females are generally more focused on fair turn-taking and don’t assign each other specific tasks.

The games that each gender prefers directly parallel these early-age trends.

Sherry explained that “boys and girls are different.” Biologically, men use some parts of their brain more than women do and vice versa. Different hormones might even have an effect on the types of games preferred by each sex.

He conducted a study that compared cognitive skills to video game play. Women are generally better at verbal fluency, object location memory and color memory.

“Their brains are highly tuned to detail. Male brains tend to miss detail,” Sherry said.

Those male brains, however, are better at processing 3D rotation, targeting, and disembedding, or the ability to spot patterns within patterns. These skills in which men tend to excel are often the basic principles behind video games.

In his study, Sherry wanted to see if individual differences in cognitive skills and predicted game scores outweigh gender differences. He tested 3D rotation, targeting, verbal fluency and object location memory.

“It’s neat how they were stripping away factors until they came down to the cognitive skills involved,” said Erica Olsen, one of the event’s attendees.

According to Sherry’s results, cognitive skills were most important for verbal fluency and object memory location. However, the most important factor for 3D rotation was the amount of exposure subjects have had to video games. Gender was the most influential factor for targeting accuracy.

“I like that he didn’t get the results he wanted, and told us about it,” Olsen said.

Sherry is planning on conducting further studies that will further explore the influences of gender and cognitive ability on video game play.

Tonglin Xu grad said, “I’m interested in how [his findings] could be applied in creating future software.”

Once enough information is gathered to design a game that will appeal to both sexes, Sherry hopes that fun, educational video games will be developed which will greatly enhance learning.

“[Video games] allow you to be engaged in a world where variables are coming at you from all different directions,” Sherry said.

Because video games allow multiple things to happen at the same time, they would be ideal for explaining the complex interconnectivity of biological concepts.

Archived article by Sara Gorecki
Sun Staff Writer