Women are so bad at computer games…


But that’s the stereotype, that men are more competitive and better at playing games, so of course women are just naturally squeezed out of the gaming environment. The thing about computer games, though, is that performance is stored in digital data, so researchers can take it apart case by case and assess performance objectively. In a study of 11,000 players, researchers found no gender gap in performance.

Do men advance faster than women in MMOs? Prior research found a perceived gender gap in participation and performance, suggesting men as playing more and better than women. This article challenges this gender gap through a longitudinal performance analysis of men and women in two MMOs in the United States and China, EverQuest II and Chevaliers’ Romance III, respectively. Controlling for extraneous factors such as play time and guild membership, our results showed that women perform at least as well as men do. Perceived gender-based performance disparities seem to result from factors that are confounded with gender (i.e., amount of play), not player gender itself. The stereotype of female players as inferior is not only false, but it is also a potential cause for unequal participation in digital gaming.

However, while men and women are just as good at playing the games, there’s a huge difference in participation: the sample for this study was 18% women, 82% men. That’s something that has to be explained, but at least now we can throw out the old ‘girls suck at games’ excuse. As the authors suggest, it may be that the stereotype itself is self-reinforcing.


  1. says

    ‘girls suck at games’
    Maybe girls suck at wasting time?
    (I’ve never been into playing games—at least ones that didn’t involve foot/soccer balls)

  2. says

    That must be because you have poor spatial reasoning skills and lousy hand-eye coordination. That’s the only possible explanation.

  3. says

    By the way, I’ve got some asshole on Twitter nattering away at me with that explanation: it’s a horrible study because it analyzed MMOs rather than 1st person shooters, and as everyone knows, the women don’t have the fine motor skills needed for that.

    I’ve also got another guy explaining to me that women don’t do well at these sort of things because hormones. Too emotional, don’t you know.

  4. says

    Husband plays Go on his little notebook computer. I like to make things go *boom*. Husband is good at matching colors (it was part of his job). I’m good at math and spatial relations. I guess we’re just freaks of nature [snicker].

  5. says

    I haven’t seen this stereotype in game, at least not the games I played, like Guild Wars 2. Quite often PvP was run by some of our women members simply because they were damn good at it and kicked ass. Sex was never an issue.

    Maybe it exists in other games, maybe other guilds, I don’t know… but I wonder how much of this is an “outside looking in” thing or perhaps tied to the style of game, for example shooter vs MMO. I’d be curious to see how the stereotype breaks down further by type of game and whether or not the people holding the stereotypes are actually gamers.

  6. cartomancer says

    Also, surely the metric that really matters is not how “good” you are at games qua arbitrary sets of procedures but how much you enjoy the games and how much pleasure you get out of them? Surely the winners are the ones who enjoy themselves the most, even if they’re not very “good” at the game.

    Of course, some games just aren’t to some people’s tastes. So how much one enjoys one’s overall gaming experience depends just as much on which games one chooses to play.

  7. dianne says

    I’ve also got another guy explaining to me that women don’t do well at these sort of things because hormones. Too emotional, don’t you know.

    Kind of semi-off topic, but if women are more “emotional” than men, how come it’s men that get upset at rejection and start shooting everything in sight? Plus, that guy you’re arguing with sounds a little overly emotional to me. I wonder if his testosterone is acting up?

  8. says

    @9 dianne
    It’s not that women are more emotional, it’s that men aren’t supposed to show their emotions (at least the non-manly ones) in public. (Speaking stereotypically, of course.) You try to cram too much into a bottle, it’s going to burst.

  9. says

    Zhang Shan beat the men for gold in the 1992 mixed skeet shooting Olympic event (and set a world record) – in the next Olympics they split out women’s events from men’s.

    And I agree that MALE CENTERED performance measurements mean very little when it comes to games.

    I’m male – when I played Ultima Online I dedicated myself to playing a blacksmith so by these inane measurements I would have done ‘poorly’. Fuck that. I had 1000’s of people who trusted me and I had a blast.

    I also played Americas Army extensively and often got accused of cheating… Until they played alongside me (I never ONCE cheated). But my ability was born of practice & knowledge of the map and how people behave in the map, rather than raw ‘hand/eye coordination”, ridiculous to think that’s all that matters even in a FPS.

  10. lanir says

    The women I played MMOs with generally did just fine for the amount of time they played. To me the main issue with MMOs is the caustic attitude some people have. Although they’re built to be cooperative games, these jerks make it into one big personal ego trip for themselves at everyone else’s expense.

    I was about to say real world females seemed to have less of that attitude when I realized I didn’t really know. I tried not to spend enough time around such people to figure out anything personal like their real world gender.

  11. redwood says

    One of the foreign students at my Japanese university is a Chinese woman who happens to be a professional gamer. She said she plays at least six hours every day. I have no idea where she finds time to study, eat, sleep, meet friends and such, but she’s doing fine in my class.

  12. Siobhan says

    My thing is MOBAs–I can confirm that I perform worse than my male teammates, because the moment I say anything at all I am subjected to a torrent of misogyny and verbal abuse. So I block them, which in a team game is a massive liability. It would be like playing with bots except the AI is erratic and unpredictable. The alternative is to say nothing, which again, makes me a liability because I might be privy to info the rest of the team needs. So I’mma add this to the “self-fulfilling prophecy” business.

    Incidentally, I did much better when I found a team that wasn’t sexist. Three months in to a pseudo-pro career, Ferguson happened, and then I found out they were racist instead.

    Not many woke MOBA players, it would seem.

  13. qwints says

    I’m pretty surprised by the demographics of the sample. I thought MMO’s were much closer to parity.


    Weird. This study looked at 2006 data from EQ II. Out of everyone who played during one week on one server and reported their gender when registering, 17% were women. Similarly, this 2008 study found 19% survey based on respondents recruited from four servers. [Bizarrely, a 2008 BBC article on that study says “female players now make up about 40% of the gaming population.” and that article got cited a lot)

    A 2016 industry report says that the split is 59/41 overall for male/female, while a 2014 market report apparently found that market segments ranged from 34% to 57% female.

  14. Knabb says

    @16, qwints
    That would explain the disparity.

    @4, PZ
    So what I’m hearing is, the definition of “videogame” is being subtly altered yet again to support a factually inaccurate claim of videogames being a male thing? I’m shocked, shocked I tell you.

  15. multitool says

    One thing I never grasped was the territorial *pride* of guys about being authentic(tm) gamers.

    Gaming is like masturbation. It’s fun and I approve of fun, but I don’t consider myself superior to others because of my wanking skills. It doesn’t fix cars, cure cancer, write music or feed anyone.

    If gaming or wanking was at the top of how I identify myself, I’d be one sad mf-er.

  16. freemage says

    qwints: I suspect a greater share of women do not report their gender in their profiles, for well-documented reasons. It’s just easier to pretend to be a guy online for many of them.

    I’ll also note that the games that women are definitely more frequent players on–such as Facebook games like Farmville and so forth–are actually Excel spreadsheets with graphics. The best players can adeptly time their various production schedules to maximize whatever final output it is they desire. So the single most mathematically based game out there is totally dominated by women.

  17. hotspurphd says

    I’m not a gamer but this article raised the question again for me as to whether there is any innate difference between men and women in skill at chess. I then found this really wonderful article:http://daily.jstor.org/chess-grandmastery-nature-gender-genius-judit-polgar/
    which seems to show pretty conclusively (or almost so) with the example of the Polgar sisters,that there is no innate difference in chess skill between the genders. Truly remarkable story with great implications for education and the nature-nurture controversy.
    The article is long and includes discussion of the gender gap in the hard sciences.

  18. Anton Mates says

    By the way, I’ve got some asshole on Twitter nattering away at me with that explanation: it’s a horrible study because it analyzed MMOs rather than 1st person shooters, and as everyone knows, the women don’t have the fine motor skills needed for that.

    I see. And it’s not that 1st person shooters might be less interesting to the average female gamer, statistically speaking? Call of Duty’s player base, for instance, is around 80% male.

    Also, it’s wrong to say that MMOs generally require less motor skill; they just require different facets of it. 1st person shooters often require quicker reaction times and more spatial visualization skills. (And, by the way, one study indicated that playing 1st person shooters can actually erase gender differences in spatial reasoning performance.) MMOs often require faster perception speed, finer position adjustments, and complex sequences of hand movements, because of the emphasis on triggering many abilities in the right sequence with the right timing…and synchronizing all this perfectly with your teammates, of course.

    Anne @6,

    P Z @4, so women don’t need fine motor skills to, say, thread a needle? Too silly, too silly.

    Yeah, I think the gamerbros are confusing the actions of the character with the actions of the player. My big manly avatar may have superhuman axe-wielding skills or gun-firing skills or whatever—but as far as operating the keyboard/mouse/controller, I’m moving more like a seamstress. Those kinds of dextrous finger & wrist motions are traditionally considered a key part of “women’s work,” aren’t they?

  19. DLC says

    Some of the best MMO players I’ve played with were women. They knew the game better than I did, and developed strategies and solved quests without having to refer to outside resources.
    (oh come now, if you’ve played WoW you’ve used WoWhead, admit it )
    I’ve also had women players tell me that the idiotic level of misogyny was one of the reasons they quit — it was taking too much away from their enjoyment of the game. But I haven’t seen as much of that in recent years. Perhaps I just learned to filter it out, or maybe my server “Grew up” some.

  20. fernando says

    Everyone knows that women can’t work in the military…
    … in the College
    … in the Academy
    … in the courts
    … in the Governement
    … in the banks
    … in the public transportation system
    … in the Police
    … in sports
    … hmmm! Oh wait…

  21. says

    In a study of 11,000 players, researchers found no gender gap in performance. […] [T]here’s a huge difference in participation: the sample for this study was 18% women, 82% men.

    It’s high school science class all over again. The attitude of male teachers and male students was the biggest factor in whether outnumbered girls succeeded.

    MMOs rather than 1st person shooters, and as everyone knows, the women don’t have the fine motor skills needed for that.

    Motor skills may not be the only consideration. MMOs and FPSs (and many auto racing games) inundate players with information overload. Gameplay is not just about keyboard and mouse control. Players must mentally assimilate increasing amounts of constantly changing information.

    A good comparison for this is the airline industry where pilots must cope with both information overload and learning motor skills. As it turns out, neither gender is significantly better or safer.

    Comparing Pilot-error Accident Rates of Male and Female Airline Pilots

    Results are based on data of aviation accidents in the years 1986–1992, obtained from the Federal Aviation Administration. The study found that females employed by major airlines had significantly higher accident rates than their male counterparts overall. However, female airline pilots, on average, were less experienced and much younger than males. Male pilot-error accidents were modeled using logistic regression, regressing on age, experience (total flying hours), risk exposure (flying hours in the last 6 months), and employer (major/non-major airline). The male model provided a good fit for female airline pilots as well as for males. After adjusting for variables included in the model, accident rates of males and females were not significantly different. These findings suggest that neither males nor females are a safer pilot group.