A new study has found that sexualization in video games does not lead to negative outcomes for players. The work, which was published in the Computers in Human Behaviour journal, concluded that "playing video games does not lead to misogynistic views or detrimental mental health outcomes."
To reach their conclusion, the researchers used meta-analysis to assess and dissect the findings of many other studies on the topic, which spanned the course of the last two decades. The subject of sexism, and particularly the portrayal of women in games has long been discussed in the space, with gender-based discrimination an issue at some of the biggest gaming companies in the world.
Christopher J Ferguson, the author of the study, also pointed out the inconsistency between our thoughts on violence in games and sexualized portrayals of characters, having spent two decades researching the topic.
"I think most people have come to accept that there’s no relationship between violent video games and aggression or violent crime," he is quoted as saying in PsyPost.
"However, people still ask a lot of questions about sexualization and whether games either make male players more sexist toward women or whether women players experience more body dissatisfaction and other well-being concerns," he continued. "It’s a much smaller research field than the violence field, so we hoped to bring some clarity to it."
The team working on the research conducted a meta-analysis of 18 relevant studies, all of which had some degree of exposure to general or sexualized video games included. Of the 18, 15 of the studies were seeking to gauge aggression toward women or sexist attitudes, with 10 studies looking into issues like depression, body image, or anxiety.
However, much like the violence in video game studies that have been carried out, there was no statistically significant link between gaming and sexism, according to Ferguson and his team. Likewise, there was no connection provable between gaming and mental or psychological states.
These results don’t seem to have come as a surprise to Ferguson, who told PsyPost that "Overall, the 'moral panic' over video games and sexualization is pretty much following the 'paint-by-numbers' pattern of the video game debate. Lots of hyperbole and moral outrage, but very little evidence that video games are causing any 'harm' to either male or female players."
He was quick to point out that this was not designed to silence calls for better representation in gaming spaces, but simply to remove what seem to be factually inaccurate claims about the potential harm gaming can cause.
"As a purely 'public health' issue, this doesn’t appear to be much of a concern at all. That doesn’t mean people can’t advocate for better representations of females in games."
Ferguson also claimed that many of the studies were not "very good," and that there was some correlation between the quality and the findings, with the better work more likely to show no connection between gaming and sexism. His theory for why this is was fairly simple, stating, "In some cases, scholars probably interjected their personal moral opinions into the studies."