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Reactions to a woman’s voice in an FPS game
by Wai Yen Tang on 02/08/13 07:06:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Cross-posted at VGresearcher.

As of this writing, it is technically "in press" and its permanent publication data is not yet formalized. So, I considered it as a possible 2013 publication. But, it was published online in Fall 2012 and emailed Jeffrey Kuznekoff (Ohio University) if he would doing anything more with the data.


The goal of this study is to determine how gamers’ reactions to male voices differ from reactions to female voices. The authors conducted an observational study with an experimental design to play in and record multiplayer matches (N = 245) of a video game. The researchers played against 1,660 unique gamers and broadcasted pre-recorded audio clips of either a man or a woman speaking. Gamers’ reactions were digitally recorded, capturing what was said and heard during the game. Independent coders were used to conduct a quantitative content analysis of game data. Findings indicate that, on average, the female voice received three times as many negative comments as the male voice or no voice. In addition, the female voice received more queries and more messages from other gamers than the male voice or no voice.

When I saw the numbers, this would require a tremendous undertaking to transcribe and code the messages.

Their literature review consisted mostly research on sexual content in videogames. The general gist of sexual content in videogames is exposure to such content leads to attitudes that is unfavourable towards women. For example, being more accepting of rape myths and tolerant towards sexual harassment in non-videogame social contexts. Some theoretical explanations are that exposure to sexual stereotypes, such as women being submissive and sexual objects would bring up these stereotypes at the foreground of our consciousness and see women that way for a short time. I say a short time because that's what current studies have found, although it is not unreasonable to say that there are long term effects if you look into the literature. The authors reasoned that such misrepresented exposure might affect players communication with other players, in particular with female players.

I'd like to complement another factor and this is from news observations (e.g. Kotaku, reddit, etc.). One observation is the misrepresentation of female gamers in players' direct experiences with them. Taking the spiral of silence perspective, I present hypothetical scenarios. An average women who starts playing videogames would be surprised and offended when she hears sexist language from players. When she starts using a microphone, she is bombarded by a lot of attention, creepy and hostile. One way to continue playing is to stop using the microphone. In effect, she becomes invisible to others, however we do not know what percentage of women who do that. Certainly there are others who persist, such as Jenny Haniver, and provides a counter-force to the "sexualized gamer girl" stereotype. Statistically, there will always be some number of women who are not bothered or enjoy such attention, thus they remain on the screen and speakers. However, we do not know if they are representative as researchers lack the means to assess this. Unfortunately, these women are what male gamers would meet and seek to shape and reinforce their beliefs about gamer girls. This is one of the possible reasons, albeit not a sociological causal force, why male gamers would treat gamer girls in a sexually degrading manner. On the other hand, stereotype research would suggest that playing with a counter-examplar or even an average game girl would greatly dispel the "sexualized gamer girl" stereotype.

Why do people say or do things on the internet that they would not normally do in real life? Most internet lore usually points at anonymity summarily depicted by a nearly-decade old Penny Arcade comic. The authors brought in the hyperpersonal model of computer-mediated communication which posits that users can use the affordances of their channel to exert control over their self-presentation. Not in the Kitchen Anymore provides many examples where men would harass Jenny Haniver because of their relative anonymity and the low chance of playing with her again since the matches are randomized in the games she played. Although, some ask for her personal information, it's interesting how sharing personal information plays in the hyperpersonal model. The authors focused on a component, hypernegative effects where time restrictions and no expectations of future interactions and given the relative efforts to communicate via computers, receivers would read overly negative interpretations and sources would spew out ill regards and hostile messages. The authors were interested in this due to past research toward women [example], given how women are depicted in media, the affordances of computer-mediated communication and the hostility of videogame environments.


The authors and with some technical help collected the data. First, they created three Xbox Live accounts for three conditions: one male, one female and one voiceless. They are represented by their gamertags and their voice, the three accounts have very similar gamertags.

The authors played Halo 3, Jeff Kuznekoff is an experienced player whereas Lindsey Rose was inexperienced, this allowed to collect data from players with a diverse range of skill levels. The authors use Halo 3's matchmaking system which pairs players with similar skill levels. Furthermore, there are ranked playlists so a player has a skill level for each playlist. The matchmaking system randomly assigns players to a match. The authors decided to use one playlist, Team Slayer, it was the most popular playlist where 25% of all online play occurs in that playlist.

To create the male and female voices, they pre-recorded phrases that were consistently used during data collection, kind of like those funny celebrity soundboards. They had three types of phrases: pregame lobby, gameplay and postgame lobby. The phrases were innocuous and designed not to provoke a negative reaction. Some examples written in the article are "hi everybody",  "nice job so far", thanks for the game, bye". These phrases could have been used in actual gameplay. Although, there were no prior content analysis of player utterances, but Jeff Kuznekoff played Halo 3 so that's fine and if you object, then email him.

With the help of Game Research and Immersive Design, the authors recorded their play sessions. The authors together played a total of 245 games. 82 in the voiceless condition, 81 in the male voice condition and 82 in the female voice condition. Each game had typically seven other players, which resulted 1711 players who players along with the researchers, 1660 were unique gamers, so quite a small chance of meeting the same player. Additional information include percentages of wins and losses, average skill and verbal communications between conditions, there was nothing particular besides that about 80% of games had verbal communications.


The authors hired three independent coders to pour over the data and were instructed to look for directed comments aimed at the experimenter. The coding scheme were simply three categories: directed negative, directed positive and queries. Why not a more complex coding scheme? Are you kidding? Data from 245 games with an average of 7 players per games which amounted to 1711 players and how many lines per player and per game? That could well exceed 5,000 lines. I am just glad that they got this published and in good time.

There were 163 games that had verbal communications and thus were in the analysis. The authors conducted ANOVAs. For directed negative, the female voice received significantly more (M = 2.82, SD = 4.79) negative comments than the male voice (M = 1.24, SD = 2.29) and the voiceless one (M = 0.61, SD = 1.79). Looking at the standard deviations, it seemed that there could be game sessions with no negative comments or tons of it for the female player. Numbers wise, the female player had received three times as many directed negatives than the male player or voiceless one.

For directed positive, there were no significant differences between the male and female voice. Both got more directed positive than the voiceless one. For queries, the female voice received more queries than the voiceless player, but she was not significantly different from the male voice condition.

The authors had some research questions regarding whether player skills have some bearing on the type of comments. One significant positive correlation was found between skill level and directed positive for the female voice condition. Another positive correlation was found between queries and directed positive for the female voice condition.


The take home message is that female players when heard are not treated as well as their male counterparts despite skill level, wins or losses. This also provides another sort of evidence that those who don't speak, are mostly left alone (verbally) which may seem a viable option for girl gamers and reasonable male players to stay playing videogames without hassle.

The authors noted in detail specific comments directed at the female voice and it is incredibly similar to the ones from Not in The Kitchen Anymore. With regards to the positive correlations between skill level, queries and directed positive comments among female players, the authors could not speculate any further from their correlational findings. My speculation would be pessimistic in that a girl gamer who demonstrate great skill would appear to break the men's low expectancies of female players which prompted them to ask questions and give positive comments, either to elicit further conversations and/or establish some sort of relationship.

With regards to theory and the hyperpersonal model of computer-mediated communication, they argued that the data provides supporting evidence in that the matchmaking systems makes it possible that players would not encounter the same players again, some measure of anonymity, although I am pretty sure some might try to find them and harass off-game. The authors cautioned against generalizing the results to different games as they only used Halo 3 as their sample frame. However, I would argue this occurs at least across all videogames, there will be not a single videogame that has no incidence of gendered discrimination. Nevertheless, the degree of sexual harassment differs across videogames based on my data and second-hand observations, although I couldn't get much data from Halo and CoD players, they are pretty much silent.

The authors noted an important implication regarding how gamers can influence game content in that developers may try their best to avoid sexual stereotypes, it is possible that gamers themselves will maintain and perpetuate these stereotypes in their gameplay via verbal communication as shown in this study and  mods (IMO).

Kuznekoff, J. H., & Rose, L. M. (in press). Communication in multiplayer gaming: Examining player responses to gender cues. New Media & Society. DOI: 10.1177/1461444812458271

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David OConnor
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Tremendously interesting and valuable research, thank you for sharing.

Nick Harris
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Having played over 10,000 games of Halo 3 multiplayer I am not in the least bit surprised by these results. The attitudes towards women and racial minorities have been so startlingly offensive and the Microsoft's system of reporting so apparently toothless that I long ago gave up on using my headset. There was only one game where it was used to coordinate team-play. After some thought I decided what needed to happen was for members of a team to only be able to speak to each other. This would abolish all pre-match trash talking that typically occurs between teams. I also see nothing good coming out of proximity voice. Indeed, Battlefield gets by with the Back button being used to spot enemies and direct your squad to conquer a flag. Maybe they will learn from their mistakes when they do Destiny, at present the only way around it is to use Party Chat and that isn't perfect.

Jimmy Albright
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I'd like to point out that it's not really effective for Microsoft to police online behavior. As much as I would like them to, Valve doesn't even do a solid job with that in DoTA2 and they even have a very quick reporting structure. I have well over 1500 hours logged into DoTA2, probably reported somewhere between 50-100 people and I've only gotten messages back saying a player I reported was reprimanded MAYBE 5 or 6 times.

I don't report people for trash talking, either. Only for being racist or bigoted remarks, something you would get banned from almost any place but 4chan for. I also have reported quite a few people for spamming the *n word* and doing game ruining things like feeding over and over and over and laughing about it.

Kujel Selsuru
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That was an interesting read.

Lewis Wakeford
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It's a shame they only played one game as the study doesn't really provide much useful data to help find the cause of the problem, it simply confirms there is one.

I think it's safe to speculate that most of the abuse comes from fairly young males though. I have no idea how to deal with it, though. Hopefully the LoL anti-anti-social behaviour methods turn out to work really well and we can apply them everywhere.

Bart Stewart
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I'd like to see this methodology applied to a much wider array of games before drawing any conclusions about "gamers" generally. You have to start somewhere, though.

Toby Grierson
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As for the research, a commenter above says it merely confirms what we know. This is important, though, because whether or not it's a real problem _is_ debated. It's debated because it needs to be distinguished from any observers' biases. Are we - for example - only paying attention to harassment if it follows a certain theme? If I read this right, the data shows there is a real problem, which means the discussion can move on ahead.

In practical terms I think the suggestions above to rejigger chat rules to avoid trash talking, improve moderation (better tools, more staff) are a winner.

Does it reflect a larger cultural problem? Probably, but to some extent I suspect it's that there's a lot of young people in the data. There is research suggesting that empathy and other emotional/intellectual capabilities are just not fully developed at that age.
Sex is one of the few things you can really quickly identify over voice and people like that tend to pounce on anything that can serve as a distinguishing feature. Like Stewart I strongly suspect it doesn't reflect on "gamers" as a unique group.

Jimmy Albright
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I'm 100% in agreement that sexual discrimination and bias doesn't reflect gamers as unique, but it's more prevalent due to the anonymity of the internet. While I can't make a "get back in the kitchen joke" at work I could certainly do it on XBL. (Not that I would, just using an example of course.)

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Toby Grierson
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And it can get worse when people notice the community acts a certain way and everyone who doesn't fit starts leaving and it begins to filter itself, kind of like a corporate culture.

I've known men from years ago who don't like Halo specifically because of this sort of thing. Not sexism per se, just trash talk.

Terry Matthes
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I think a lot of the harrasement women and minorities face online is one in the same. It's just something "different" about the player that acts as a loose thread for other less mature players to tug away on.

Mike Griffin
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Yep, combined with the perceived safety blanket of online anonymity, people will become vile and absurd creatures, living out fantasies of extreme bigotry or sexism that they can't perpetuate on any other social stage. People are lame like that. Internet gaming and voice chat gives them an audience to freely vomit ridiculous and reprehensible nonsense in the interest of being hurtful-without-guilt, or outlandish for the sake of being outlandish.

Way to go, humans.

Jimmy Albright
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Does anyone think having kinect required for the next xbox (a rumor going around today) could certainly cut down on a lot of the harassment people see on services like Xbox live? You could argue that if players had a bit of their anonymity peeled away, (a picture on their profile, life video feed during gaming?) they might be a bit less inclined to say things they wouldn't get away with outside of the service.

On the flip side you'd also open up to people making fun of others for appearances, etc.

Just food for thought, I would be surprised if Microsoft did something so bold.

Jonathan Jennings
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I heard this argument and agreed with it until I realize I have seen people who are just as disgusting, offensive and lewd posting to others from their facebook account as they would be in any other forum . it's actually a little disturbing , if it was the condition of anonymity you could just argue that people behave differently behind a mask but if the mask comes off and the person still behaves the same it's a personal decision and not the power of anonymity that makes people jerks .

Jimmy Albright
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The power of ignorance and bigotry? :P I think you're right that it probably wouldn't be eliminated, although it certainly would be discouraged and by extension hopefully lessened.

Ara Shirinian
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If you're going to use this level of rigor to conclude that females get harrassed much more than males in this context, then it's irresponsible to assert that "this occurs at least across all video games" especially when the study is explicitly cautioning against generalizing to _any_ other video games.

It would be much more interesting to study this to compare two different games, one of which is known to characteristically _not_ be largely played by lots of young males who are just starting to explore their sexuality and boundaries and suddenly have risk-free agency to do so when a female appears online.

Toby Grierson
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Indeed; these sorts of communities are self-filtering once they get a certain slant. Halo in particular has had a reputation for years, so players who don't fit have gone elsewhere.

That said, Halo is going to be like a _lot_ of other games.

Wai Yen Tang
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@ Shirinian

Can you name a game that is known to characteristically not largely played by lots of young males?

Vin St John
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@Wai Yen Tang - Plenty of online browser games have older-skewing audiences and have a more significant female audience.

I think that this article was intentionally targeting the stereotype of "what a video game is," though, meaning an Xbox shooter for young men. That's where the problem is generally prescribed to be and I don't have a problem with them limiting their search to or applying generalizations to that group.

Bob Johnson
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Not exactly earth shattering news here. I mean the ole Penny Arcade INternet dickwad theory has been around for awhile. Take that theory and add a female voice to every 100 young male voices and the results won't be pretty.

Next up female reporters in NFL locker rooms are harassed more than their male counterparts.

Caitlin Conner
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Agreement that no one is surprised by these findings and they'd certainly carry more weight with more data from different types of games. I agree with a good portion of your analysis, but the conclusion that "female players when heard are not treated as well as their male counterparts despite skill level, wins or losses. This also provides another sort of evidence that those who don't speak, are mostly left alone (verbally) which may seem a viable option for girl gamers and reasonable male players to stay playing videogames without hassle." Being forced into silence for the sake of not being harassed is absurd. The trolls are a minority, so as a community we need to step up and verbally protect the people being harassed. Not by adding to the harassment, but by calling out the trolls on what they are doing. Very likely it won't change their behavior, but for that one female gamer contemplating pretending to be male online just so that people will leave her alone it can make all the difference. It doesn't have to be like this and advising anyone to not speak for the sake of avoiding these humiliations is just allowing it to continue.

Matthew Calderaz
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XBL is IMO pretty much the worst possible representation of player maturity and etiquette. As has been stated, if the authors are attempting to draw general conclusions about all gamers from this pool; it's going to be a stretch.

In addition, I would be highly skeptical of an attempt to extrapolate these numbers to non-competitive game genres. I can't imagine this level of harassment would occur in a cooperative game, like left4Dead or Borderlands.

I also take issue with this statement:

"Their literature review consisted mostly research on sexual content in videogames. The general gist of sexual content in videogames is exposure to such content leads to attitudes that is unfavourable towards women. For example, being more accepting of rape myths and tolerant towards sexual harassment in non-videogame social contexts."

They need to be a hell of a lot more specific about what 'sexual content' they're referring to, otherwise it's the same argument that exposure to 'violent video games' leads to violent behavior. I don't buy the causality argument in either case.

Vin St John
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The authors don't draw any conclusions about 'all gamers,' they draw conclusions about the experience of female players versus male players in Xbox Live and similar online communities.

Wai Yen Tang
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For future replication studies, can you name at least 6 games that you would like to test?

Morgan Schouler
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Don't let this kind of people destroy your fun. I mean, most of people who have annoying verbal behavior when playing with me, they are just talking alone or to their screen. Why? Never heard of individual mute player option? You can find it in almost every online games now...

Grrr Arrgh
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What the hell is this 'female condition'?

Condition??? If anything it's being male that's a condition as all foetuses are female until external forces instigate a change from the default state.

So the misogyny extends to the language in this thesis too then?