What do you get when you make dozens of boys and girls play video games? You learn a lot about making children play video games.
According to a study published in Psychiatric Quarterly, Dr. Christopher J. Ferguson and colleagues found video games did not increase the hostility level of these children, aged 12-18. But it did increase stress… in girls only.
Dr. Ferguson, an associate professor of Psychology at Stetson University, explained in a phone interview that the children in this study played two different games. One was the 2013 version of Tomb Raider, considered violent because Lara can and does kill non-playable characters. The other was FIFA, a non-violent soccer game, which, because sports have strict rules–and while tackling another player may be aggressive–it’s not considered “violent”.
“[The children] who played both FIFA and Tomb Raider were no more hostile than when they started,” Dr. Ferguson said. But when it came to stress, the children diverged on the gender line. “The girls reported more stress after they played Tomb Raider than when they played FIFA.”
But the reason isn’t because girls don’t like violent games.
Dr. Ferguson suggests, “If we find that people are stressed when randomized to play games but aren’t stressed when they choose, we know lack of choice [emphasis ours] was the issue. For the girls—who on average may be less inclined to play action games—some of them may have been miffed at being forced to play a game they did not really relate to.”
Dr. Ferguson says that any activity that we are forced to do causes stress if we don’t enjoy it: “It’s like asking me to watch Full House, a show I loathe with the fire of a thousand suns.”
“If violent content itself causes stress, we should expect to see it in both boys and girls. Because we saw this reaction only in some girls, I think the better explanation is that we’re seeing a mismatch between media content and user motivations for the girls.”
There you have it. Girls aren’t stressed playing violent video games because they’re delicate flowers of femininity. It’s because they want to choose whether or not they go in guns blazing.
Image Credit: SMI Eye Tracking via Flickr