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Abuse of female gamers linked to bullying ‘rather than misogyny’ according to study

Anyone who keeps up with Cybersmile’s work will know that we’ve committed to helping tackle discrimination against women and girls in the gaming community – for example through our work with Intel and their diversity initiative – so we were interested in this particular piece of research.

Women have previously been found to experience ten times the amount of negative comments in chat forums and three times more likely to experience negativity when gaming online. A common theory as to the reason behind this is the misogyny that women may experience as a result of entering into a male-dominated environment, as many game communities are.

However, an alternative view has been presented in a study by Michael Kasumovic and Jeff Kuznekoff:

“If we look at misogyny from another perspective, could it be a form of inter-sexual bullying that arises when women compete against men? Men who are afraid of losing their position in a hierarchy to a woman may be lashing out, leaning on the most stereotypical traits because they have the effect of reducing a woman’s power.”

For the study, researchers used the game Halo 3 as well as a software called Bungee, which is used to calculate a player’s skill level based on their performance in the game. While participating in the game in groups of four, players wear headsets to communicate – in this test the researchers used recordings of male and female voices and then studied the reactions they received. They found that when they used a female voice they got a lot more negative comments; and these comments most commonly came from players who were themselves doing badly.


The predicted relationship of the number of negative comments male players made towards a female- or male-voiced teammate as a function of their skill level.

Kasumovic and Kuznekoff tried to explain this using evolutionary theories, in summary:

“A woman outperforming a man is “usurping” his status, which makes him less attractive to a potential mate – especially if that potential mate is higher in the hierarchy than he is. […] The take-home seems to be that, just like bullies, the men most likely to have their position in a hierarchy usurped by a woman turned out to be meaner.”

If you have been affected by online bullying, you can find help and support by contacting us. Find out how: Total Access Support