Video game trolls really are, in fact, losers

23 Jul 2015

Men with low gaming skills behave more hostile when female players enter the zone

Men who behave in a sexist way in video game culture towards female players tend to be crap at video games, a new study claims. It’s a status thing, apparently.

Following on the heels of the #gamergate saga that saw widespread trolling of female commentators such as Brianna Wu, a study published in scientific journal PLOS One by professors Michael Kasumovic and Jeffrey Koznekoff found that male trolls live up to the image.

“We hypothesised that female-initiated disruption of a male hierarchy incites hostile behaviour from poor-performing males who stand to lose the most status.”

To test this theory they used an online first-person shooter game that removed signals of dominance but provided information on gender, individual performance and skill.

“We show that lower-skilled players were more hostile towards a female-voiced teammate, especially when performing poorly.

“In contrast, lower-skilled players behaved submissively towards a male-voiced player in the identical scenario. This difference in gender-directed behaviour became more extreme with poorer focal-player performance.”

‘We hypothesised that female-initiated disruption of a male hierarchy incites hostile behaviour from poor performing males who stand to lose the most status’

Higher-skilled players, in contrast, were more positive towards a female relative to a teammate.

“As higher-skilled players have less to fear from hierarchical reorganisation, we argue that these males behave more positively in an attempt to support and garner a female player’s attention.”

Evolutionary theory meets video game culture

They say the results provide the clearest picture of intersexual competition to date.

They gathered their data using anonymous gamers who had agreed to the terms of Xbox Live and focused on video recordings of players of Halo 3.

Three Xbox Live accounts were created – control, male and female. The control account played in matches without giving any hint to gender, however, the male and female accounts used the real-time voice channel to transmit roughly a dozen phrases in male and female voices.

“These prerecorded phrases were identical in the male and female condition, harmless in nature, and designed to be inoffensive. Phrases included: ‘I like this map’, ‘nice shot there’, ‘I had fun playing that game’, ‘I think I just saw a couple of them heading this way’, and ‘that was a good game everyone’.”

They then used the Halo 3 XBL matchmaking system (eight individuals with four on each team) and competed across various skill levels.

“We found that skill determined the frequency of positive and negative statements spoken towards both male and female-voiced teammates. 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 that 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,” the researchers found.

Video game loser image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years