"Sexist representations saturate advertising, television, and cinema. Video games are no exception," Laurent Begue of Grenoble Alps University, one of the authors of the paper, told AFP.
"Content analysis has shown that women are under-represented in popular video games. They have passive roles, they are princesses who need to be saved or secondary, sexualized objects of conquest."
The authors, whose study has been published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, randomly sampled answers from 13,250 students in schools in the French cities of Lyon and Grenoble, who agreed to participate in the survey.
As well as measuring how many hours a day the children, aged between 11 and 19, played games, the study also asked them about their TV viewing habits and attitude to religion and church attendance.
While watching TV seemed to have no impact, avid gamers were more likely to display sexist attitudes and those who are religious even more so. Boys were significantly more likely to exhibit misogyny than girls.
“The video game industry may find it appropriate to encourage an evolution in the way women are represented, because sexism on screen can have consequences which are not limited to the virtual world,” write the authors in their discussion of the results.
“Today, 48% of video game players are female and in addition to the development of sexist attitudes, the repeated exposure to biased female models on games produces body dissatisfaction among women, self-objectification, and eating disorders.”
The authors admit that the inquiry has “limitations in terms of assessing causality. It may be that individuals with sexist orientations spend more time playing video games.”
The authors attempted to control for some factors, such as socioeconomic status, gender, and age, trying to isolate the relationship between gaming and sexism. But in the end, they were not able to match up the sample groups for every factor, such as, for example, social conservatism in the family, which could be a better predictor of sexism than children playing Grand Theft Auto.
The sample group — with most schools opting out of the study —presented its own problems.
“Another limitation is the underrepresentation of some categories of schools in our sample, with a deficit in schools with a reputation for excellence or ‘general curriculum’ and the private schools.
Studies suggest that sexism may be endorsed more strongly in lower social classes, which are usually less represented in such schools. Such a sampling feature may have affected the results of the survey,” the authors write.
The question used to determine the supposed sexism of participants was also of limited scope. Students were given the statement: “A woman is made mainly for making and raising children,” and the more strongly they agreed with it, the more sexist they were adjudged to be.
It is not obvious how many popular games — even ones with buxom figures, and heroic male archetypes — encourage women to stay in the bedroom and kitchen, and it is even less clear how games promoting a traditional family lifestyle would produce eating disorders or self-objectification among women.
The authors themselves conceded that the question “represents a very specific dimension of sexism that hardly captures all possible forms of sexist thinking."