A new study has found that when playing video games, men tend to get nastier about their losses when beaten by women. And not just your average trash-talking troll who hates women—they observed the behavior across teams in games of Halo 3 and found that, when outperformed by a female teammate, seemingly average dudes suddenly became hostile.
Yes, you read that right. The guys couldn’t even handle just not doing as well as a woman on their team, to the point that they became openly hostile about it. It’s important to note that the study only took place over 163 Halo 3 matches, and players only spoke in 102 of them, which is a very small sample size. But the researchers noted that while players’ negative and positive comments to teammates fluctuated reliably based on how well a player had performed no matter who they played with, they swung much more negative if the male player was bested by a female player.
They also found that the number of positive comments towards female players fluctuated drastically based on the difference in their skill levels (with male players offering tons of positivity to women they felt superior to), while positivity towards male players tracking relatively steadily with differences in skill.
Still, while they numbers match up to what we’d expect, I’m not sure I agree with the study’s conclusion:
In addition, poorer performance (fewer kills and more deaths) resulted in more negative statements specifically in the female-voiced manipulation. We thus argue that our results best support an evolutionary explanation of female-directed aggression. Low-status males that have the most to lose due to a hierarchical reconfiguration are responding to the threat female competitors pose. High-status males with the least to fear were more positive, suggesting they were switching to a supportive, and potentially, mate attraction role.
Not that I don’t think guys get mad when they feel inferior and thus believe they wouldn’t have a chance with a woman romantically, because I certainly think that men in traditionally male-dominated arenas tend to look at every woman who gets involved as little more than a romantic/sexual opportunity, but there are probably other factors at play here. I have to imagine that for some of these guys, it’s about being afraid of how women, and society in general, will perceive them.
It’s the same reason things like the movement that shall not be named happen: overreaction to women wanting to feel good about themselves. Of course women feel good and validated when they beat men at things they’ve been told they’re no good at. They’ve spent their whole lives hearing that they’re “less than” in that area, whatever it may be. However, since most men just can’t imagine what that’s like, they wind up taking it personally, and they become afraid that any time they lose to a woman, they’re being mocked and judged. “Will this woman then walk away and laugh with other women about how she beat some guy at a game?” they might worry.
And let’s be clear: I am by no means trying to excuse this line of thought. Understanding it is just an important part of cutting it off at its source, which is society setting up expectations for what men and women should be. That’s what this all boils down to, and it’s why we fight for things like representation in gaming. Even if the researchers are right in the overly scientific diagnosis that it’s an inherited trait ingrained in mating habits, I’d argue that it’s not passed down evolutionarily or biologically, but through societal norms that are outdated by several thousand years more than people realize.
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