Global Game Industry News Blog

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Biological Determinism, Gender, and (Video) Games

[Cross Posted from]

Well, I’m supposed to be revising my dissertation, but now that the New York Times has blindly picked this up, I can’t really help myself. I first stumbled upon this article a while back on Joystiq.

Joystiq - Science Says: Men’s Brains get More ‘Reward’ from Gaming

The study, which looked at 11 men and 11 women, asked participants to play a simple territorial point-and-click game while hooked up to an fMRI machine. The men in the study showed much great activity in the brain’s “mesocorticolimbic center,” which is associated with reward and addiction. … Yeah, yeah … tell it to the Frag Dolls.

Yeah, and tell it to the ladies I coach hockey for. “You just can’t enjoy it on the same level as us boys.” Not a good idea. I love the fact that the NY Times doesn’t even manage to pick up on a fatal flaw in this study, which even Joystiq commenters notice: sample size. I INTERVIEWED more people in my dissertation research and my research is qualitative. They managed to examine only 22 people, 11 boys, and 11 girls, all, “young adults.” Not to mention that fMRI research is one of the most unproven areas of brain research.

Which instantly begs the question: Isn’t the brain a complex feedback driven device? Wouldn’t age and training impact this? How do young children differ from young adults and adults from young adults? How do the brains of self described “gamer girls” differ from those of the other young adults? Perhaps to be addressed in a future project, but state those limitations NOW.

This study really becomes an excuse for letting women and girls slip through the cracks. “They just don’t get it. Add more bouncing boobs!” Think I’m reading into this to much? Check out the lead researchers comments:

Science Daily - Video Games Activate Reward Regions Of Brain In Men More Than Women

The findings indicate, the researchers said, that successfully acquiring territory in a computer game format is more rewarding for men than for women. And Reiss [the lead researcher], for one, isn’t surprised. “I think it’s fair to say that males tend to be more intrinsically territorial,” he said. “It doesn’t take a genius to figure out who historically are the conquerors and tyrants of our species-they’re the males.”

Reiss said this research also suggests that males have neural circuitry that makes them more liable than women to feel rewarded by a computer game with a territorial component and then more motivated to continue game-playing behavior. Based on this, he said, it makes sense that males are more prone to getting hooked on video games than females.

However, the brain is a social organ. It’s “neural circuitry” is both biological and social. It’s circuitry is developed over time through experiences with an outside world. Yet, this argument falls back on a biological deterministic argument. Boys are just better wired for this. Go cook and gather girls. Women were flayed if they acted like boys when all the conquering was going on big guy.

What about girls and women who are raised in environments where it is OK to be competitive? I suspect there is a reason that the majority of the women on the USA Women’s Olympic Ice Hockey Team grew up with brothers that played hockey and parents that encouraged them to pursue it. Just this weekend my ladies had referees telling them that, “If they weren’t careful they might hurt themselves,” because they were skating too fast and playing too hard.

But, “science” says they just don’t get it, their neural circuitry isn’t right.


NY Times - “Patterns: A Video Game, an M.R.I. and What Men’s Brains Do”

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