Monday, July 16, 2007

From Virtual Dolls to Grand Theft Auto

Last week, the game industry was all abuzz about a new study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health that found "no corresponding increase in violent or anti-social behavior" among young teens who played M-rated or violent video games (you can read some of the coverage at The Escapist or GamePolitics.com). Much less coverage was given, however, to the primary purpose of the study, conducted by Cheryl K. Olson et al. (2007), which was to explore gender differences in the game play patterns of young adolescent males and females, with a special emphasis on violent games. Among their key findings:
Of 1254 participants (53% female, 47% male), only 80 reported playing no electronic games in the previous 6 months. Of 1126 children who listed frequently played game titles, almost half (48.8%) played at least one violent (mature-rated) game regularly (67.9% of boys and 29.2% of girls). One third of boys and 10.7% of girls play games nearly every day; only 1 in 20 plays often or always with a parent. Playing M-rated games is positively correlated ( p < .001) with being male, frequent game play, playing with strangers over the Internet, having a game system and computer in one’s bedroom, and using games to manage anger.

Conclusions: Most young adolescent boys and many girls routinely play M-rated games.

Another interesting discovery, (found on p.82): "[T]wo in five boys and one in five girls like to “mod” games, e.g., by downloading new characters, weapons, clothing, or story lines from the Internet."

While gender differences persist, it would seem that they are no longer as marked as they once were (or at least assumed to be). It's worth noting, however, that there are still some noticeable differences in terms of which M-rated and other games female and male players reportedly prefer...an aspect that the study does not really explore. Check out the tables on pp.79-80, where the article provides a comparison between the "five games played most often" by the guys and girls surveyed in the study. What I found most interesting about these lists was the diversity of content and themes (genres) found in the games listed by the female players. While the guys' list was fairly predictable:

1 Grand Theft Auto (M)
2 Madden (football) (E)
3 Halo (M)
4 NBA (E)
5 Tony Hawk (skateboard) (T)
6 NCAA (E)
7 Need for Speed (racing) (E or T)
8 ESPN (E)
9 Medal of Honor (T)
10 Lord of the Rings (T)

The girls' list is much harder to define, esp. in gendered terms:
1 The Sims (T)
2 Grand Theft Auto (M)
3 Super Mario (E)
4 Solitaire (E)
5 Tycoon games (E)
6 Mario games (unspecified) (E)
7 Tony Hawk (skateboard) (T)
8 Dance Dance Revolution (E)
9 Mario Kart (racing) (E)
10 Frogger (E)

I'm also struck by the fact that although violence games and M-rated games are enjoyed by (some) players of both genders, E-rated games dominate in terms of games most frequently played by both girls and boys (if you count Need for Speed as E-rated).

You can access the full article on the journal website by clicking here. Thanks to Jade Reporting for linking to a post by Mighty Pony Girl which brought this to my attention.

Full Reference: Olson, C.K., Kutner, L.A, Warner, D.E., Almerigi, J.B., Baer, L., Nicholi II, A.M., and E.V. Beresin (2007). "Factors Correlated with Violent Video Game Use by Adolescent Boys and Girls", Journal of Adolescent Health 41 (1), pp. 77–83.

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