I was a tomboy as a child and was always looking for ways to invade boys’ spaces because that’s where I wanted to be. While the other girls played hopscotch and jumped rope at recess, I crashed the boys’ soccer games. I maintained the most enviable baseball card collection in the neighborhood.

Of course, this was at the age where boys hadn’t been socialized to sexually harass just yet; girls were just icky. And, if I met with any protest, I could just issue a good whooping and earn boys’ respect or have them cower in fear. As I grew up, however, I realized it was becoming more and more difficult to be a part of male spaces. After all, I wasn’t allowed to join Boy Scouts or the baseball team. Boys evolved from being my friends to having their own groups, their own birthday parties, their own shared experiences and secrets and rituals that no longer included me.

Nowadays, those exclusive spaces have changed to include online video games, as Taylor (2006), Yee (2006), Gray (2012), and Salter and Blodgett (2012) have established. In online VGs, however, there are additional factors, notably deindividuation (in part through anonymity) and the lack of punishment. Although some have pushed back against the idea of anonymity, the social identity model of deindividuation effects (SIDE) makes an argument for its role in the part of harassment although it is not required. Essentially, SIDE argues that due to the lack of individualized cues in computer-mediated communication (CMC), we defer to group identities. Additionally, social identity theory suggests that we elevate our own ingroup at the expense of the outgroup. In the gaming world, masculinity is valued and thus men promote this salient aspect of their identity. Elevating the masculine identity means demoting and demeaning outgroups, particularly anyone that can be stereotyped as unmasculine (e.g., women, non-hetero men).

Following several publicized incidents of harassment of female game players, graduate student Wai Yen Tang (check out his blog here) approached me to discuss the nature of masculinity in gaming spaces. He was awash in study ideas, and after launching an experiment, he was interested in gathering survey data from a broad sample of gamers.

With the help of several game players and scholars, we developed a list of sexist beliefs and stereotypes about women who play video games. For example, many players don’t believe women have the skills to play at a high level, so they insist that women have had their boyfriends level up characters for them or have exchanged sexual favors for game currency. Others believe that women only play video games to socialize or to make pretty avatars rather than to dominate, kill things, or earn achievements.

In our survey, we asked participants to complete a number of items relating to game play and personality traits. What we discovered is that the amount of game play and even the respondent’s sex was irrelevant to the degree to which they endorsed sexist beliefs about female game players. Rather, the respondent’s social dominance orientation (i.e., how much they believe that some groups are superior and others are inferior) and level of conformity to some types of masculine norms (the desire for power over women and the need for heterosexual self-presentation) predicted video game sexism.

The Video Game Sexism Scale is available in the article.

Fox, J., & Tang, W. Y. (2013). Sexism in online video games: The role of conformity to masculine norms and social dominance orientation. Computers in Human Behavior.