Virtual Sexism Is Linked To The Real Thing

Virtual Sexism Is Linked To The Real Thing
Researchers say playing violent and sexist video games caused study participants to empathize less with a female victim of violence.

Researchers who've previously linked playing violent video games to aggression now say they've found a similar link between virtual sexism and real sexism.

A new study had 154 Italian high schoolers play one of three types of games: nonviolent, nonsexist puzzle games; the violent but nonsexist "Half-Life" games; or "Grand Theft Auto," which has apparently become the gold standard in virtual violence and sexism.

The participants were then shown pictures of a woman in physical pain and asked how much empathy they felt toward her. Male "Grand Theft Auto" players were more likely to say they had less empathy toward the woman; playing the other two types of games wasn't linked to any change in empathy.

What's more, the "GTA" players who closely identified with their in-game character displayed the least empathy. They were also more likely to agree with masculine statements like, "Boys should be encouraged to find a means of demonstrating physical prowess."

The researchers argue that link shows the act of playing as a sexist character can amplify the damaging effects of sexism. It's also possible sexist players feel more connection to a sexist protagonist.

This argument is usually leveled against violent video games, which have been blamed for real-world violence. The American Psychological Association does link virtual violence and increased aggression, but detractors say the research doesn't establish long-term effects or a connection to actual violence.

Still, harassment against women in games is proof enough for some that video games have a problem with sexism. How much of that is a product of the medium itself is still up in the air.