How one researcher put sexist gamers in their place

Kasumovic's research shows the men most likely to harass women online are also most likely to have their own problems.

Kasumovic's research shows the men most likely to harass women online are also most likely to have their own problems. Photo: Stocksy

 Michael Kasumovic couldn't quite believe his Twitter feed.

From the moment his new research on how men treat women during video gaming was published, it was on for young and old. Or, in modern parlance, a pile-on.

Here was a bloke – nearly Australian – who completed a lengthy analysis into how men and women interact when playing video games; and he confirmed what every single woman who plays video games knows.

Men behave badly. Now, maybe #notallmen - but, in a competitive environment, when women are winning, the men who are losing start to get very very hostile.

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It's groundbreaking work – because it puts all those Gamergate whingers in their place. Right down the bottom of the new world pecking order.

Digital Australia 2016, new research released today by Bond University's Jeffrey Brand, shows that not only are women now making up nearly half the online gaming community, they are also now playing much more often. What used to be something women could only do on the odd occasion that they got to sit on the couch, they are now doing everywhere on their phones and on their phablets.

Brand says that when women were asked about how they played, they described it this way "in short bursts... ten minutes three times a day, in between the complex tasks of life".

He calls it the casualisation of games.

Which is why this research is so important. It's a contest over territory and no-one likes losing territory. While Kasumovic isn't disrupting the patriarchy on purpose, he is extremely interested in an evolutionary understanding of how men and women behave.

Kasumovic knew his study would get attention - but he didn't realise quite how much. The much-awarded evolutionary biologist (if you are at all interested in academic life, this bloke has won big money from the Australian Research Council), who moved here from Canada with his family, was suddenly the subject of a lot of attention.

"It got picked up by The Onion, for crying out loud. That's the best thing that's ever happened to me," he says. I argue that it's more impressive that the research is on every major news site in the western world but he says The Onion proves it's made it into popular culture.

And that might have been the best thing, but the worst was the same people – one or two dozen - who kept popping into his Twitter feed, arguing every single point, all day and all night. They hadn't read this paper – they just decided to claim he was wrong about everything. Like a real trouper, he engaged with them.

"As a scientist, it's important to communicate your research and I wanted to help them understand it." Apparently that wasn't good enough. "They responded by saying I was being aggressive." That was when he knew that "nothing I say will make it any better".

In case you missed it, the research finds that "female-directed hostility primarily originates from low-status, poorer-performing males".

Kasumovic, who is just so lovely, says it is far too harsh to call these men 'losers'. Instead, the focus should be on helping the weak adjust to life as we know it, such as "teaching young males that losing to the opposite sex is not socially debilitating".

Kasumovic himself has had quite a lot of Gamergaters criticise his work and his methodology – and he's been very quick to correct them by pointing out that the paper, written with Jeffrey Kuznekoff, is in an open access journal for everyone to see. He's also thrilled that those discussing his paper on Reddit didn't go down the usual Reddit rabbit hole.

He admits he might not have seen everything. "I think there are many threads - one that is linked directly to the paper - and I'm sure some are darker but I think these two show that scientific discourse can prevail when individuals have access to the original scientific study."

Kasumovic says that while his main focus has been on the mating habits of crickets and spiders, these days he is doing much more on video games. "They have a greater possibility of saving the world than anything else, I truly believe that."

And Brand, of Bond University, thinks the change is already coming: "I would argue that the space is already becoming less contested because the genres are diversifying... it is just a matter of time before we see some parts of interactive media dominated by women rather than by men."

 

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