We’ve all been placated by the same stories about bullies — it’s not you, it’s them with the problem. And now, we have science to back it up. According to a recent study on the landscape of cyberbullying and online abuse, men who target women for misogynistic, sexist, and otherwise horrific comments and threats are losers, literally. In their research, scientists found that men who were bad at video and computer games were far more likely to create hostile environments for female players. Terrified of the age-old insult of “losing to a girl,” these less-adept players expressed their anger by becoming monstrous bullies, subjecting female players to nasty remarks and insults.
In conducting their experiment, study authors Michael Kasumovic and Jeff Kuznekoff observed 163 sessions of Halo 3 and noted how men behaved towards one another and towards women. They found that regardless of outcome, by and large men behaved civilly to one another. More skilled players, or those who were performing well at the time, even went so far as to compliment their fellow players — male or female. But when it came to male players who met with less success, they became rude and abusive towards (here’s the kicker) female players and female players only.
“We show that lower-skilled players were more hostile towards a female-voiced teammate, especially when performing poorly,” the study states. “In contrast, lower-skilled players behaved submissively towards a male-voiced player in the identical scenario. This difference in gender-directed behavior became more extreme with poorer focal-player performance.” Talk about an inferiority complex.
As the author’s noted in an explanatory piece in The Conversation, male players “behaved according to a social hierarchy. When they were performing poorly – i.e., they were lower status – they did not challenge a male-voiced teammate, but they did challenge a female-voiced one.”
And in another interesting corollary, while highly-skilled male players tended to be more polite and more positive in their behavior towards women, their attitude towards other men remained the same.
So why the extreme negativity towards women, but not other men when it comes to the losers of the game? Researchers surmise that the desire for the maintenance of a male-dominated space, coupled with the fear of being emasculated not only by losing, but worse yet, but losing to a woman, makes men behave particularly aggressively and unkindly. Ultimately, the authors say, gamers (especially bad gamers), may be trying to maintain some strange status quo. “One way to ensure that a man doesn’t lose to a woman,” they wrote, “Is to keep women from competing by making them feel unwanted in that environment.”
While we may applaud the more skilled gamers for their chivalry and politeness, Kasumovic and Kuznekoff wonder if their general niceness stems from a place of condescension rather than legitimate kindness. After all, if women became the top dogs in the game, would everyone suddenly turn hostile? While no definitive conclusions have yet to be drawn, the research for such a project (involving playing and watching a whole lot of video games) will most likely draw a willing crowd of participants.