a view through a gun of a first person shooter game

Games, Training and Gender Bias

There are a lot of ways to interpret this study and I want to touch on one or two of the ones that can be very valuable to HF/E practitioners.

The study looked at how male and female characters were accepted by other players as a function of their conformity with stereotypical gender roles. They used a first-person shooter game and measured acceptance by having these stereotypical players send friend requests to other players and measuring which ones were accepted.

The results showed that males who displayed aggressive behavior were accepted as friends; females who displayed nurturing behavior were accepted as friends. On the other hand, males who displayed nurturing behavior had their friend requests ignored. Females who displayed aggressive behavior also had their friend requests ignored.

There are many explanations for this. Evolution taught our ancestors that it is important to be able to predict what someone else might do. If the person conforms to stereotypes, we have confidence in our future predictions. If not we don’t. It is therefore logical to prefer those who conform in a very practical sense that has lasted beyond its evolutionary relevance.

Of course, we have seen similar results as these in many other domains. Some research studies send equivalent resumes to HR managers and see which candidates get call backs. The IAT test from Harvard looks at implicit tendencies. How is this finding any different or more useful?

Here is where my HF/E implications come in. In the IAT, the results are very hard to use as an intervention. Subjects who are shown the results find it easy to discount them. Same thing with the HR studies. The overall data is telling but for each individual HR manager they can point to a variety of differences between the candidates that better explain their choices other than gender.

But in games, it turns out to be a little different. In the games, people are less likely to fake inclusiveness. There is no legal issue and much less societal pressure. But game behavior are more overt and explicit than the IAT so participants might recognize the impulses they felt when making their friending decisions. It is by hitting this middle ground that might make it an effective management training tool to confront individuals with their personal reactions and decisions and hopefully to start the process of changing them.

Does this make sense to you, or not?

Image credit: “Red Orchestra 13” by Tripwire Interactive used under CC BY 3.0

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