Gender and the Xbox game

Are we really making progress on the gender equality front if most of the games boys tend to play are about killing people or football?


A few years ago we bought a second-hand Xbox 360 with a dodgy disc drive which we had to open and close very, very carefully. It gave up the ghost a few months ago and is now unopenable and has lain on the floor, gathering dust.

A couple of months ago someone mentioned that it records the dances people do on Just Dance. I’ve retrieved all the disc drives from all possible computers of my daughter, but the thought of finding more images of her in action [although not very much action – she had mastered the art of doing the absolute minimum to get the top score] brought a rush of conflicting emotions because seeing her lovely face always used to lift my spirits. We have pictures of her all over the house. I am never more than a few paces from a photo of her.

The whole Xbox 360 affair reminded only son that all his friends have Xbox or Playstation and he doesn’t. He wanted an Xbox for his birthday, but totally understood if it was too expensive. The upshot is that I found a second-hand Xbox One which doesn’t have a dodgy disc drive and got him that for his birthday. But we had no games. So we went to the local games exchange.

There was a rack of games on display. Almost without exception they were about killing people or football or fast cars. “Not much progress here on the gender stereotyping front,” I said. “I guess the ones for girls are about shopping and beauty.” Maybe I’m making assumptions and the girls are as into the killer games as the boys, but all the people I know with sons say they are on these things fairly regularly whereas many of the girls seem to be on their phones checking social media and doing Youtube tutorials – at least they are in our house, although they are also checking for news and vegan tips and much, much more.

The games titles were along the lines of evil incarnate 1, evil incarnate 2, even more evil 3, death to allcomers 4. The only alternative was Minecraft so we bought that, but it was one game amid about 50 or 60. The general direction was certainly not in Minecraft’s favour. I’m not saying all games are bad and, God knows, I don’t know much about them. In fact, this week I’ve been listening to a mental health talk about using gaming to promote positive mental health, although these are not the games that most young people are accessing and I’d be interested in a study of the mental health impact of particular types of games.

Who knows? Perhaps if I go again the shelves will be full of Minecraft and games that tell you about how to save the planet or some such. Maybe I’m biased. I’ve been followed by people on Twitter who seem to spend all day on Call of Duty and I don’t think they were following me for the news on gender equality…

The argument about whether films, games or other media affect behaviour has been raging for years in any event. I’m not sure that one particular game or video can be blamed for one specific act, but surely a slew of similar stuff directed mainly at one particular group has a general impact. Take porn. The teenage girls I speak to seen to think all the boys in their school are on it and that many of them consider it the norm. The rising up after the Sarah Everard case that took place in schools around the country was in response to harassment and abuse they had, in many cases, personally experienced.

It’s nice to think that progress on gender equality proceeds in a linear way and that things are getting better, but we’re way past that now, surely. We are all too aware that things can go backwards, and quickly, as we are seeing with Covid-19. The internet has brought many good things such as greater connectivity among people around the world, but also many not so good things – misinformation, violence, threats and conflict.

My kids have grown up at a time of great technological change. You can chart the different stages in their different experiences. Only son is a total tech nerd [mainly Pokemon], although he is also into the Harry Potter books and romcoms. He’s very shy too, which is potentially a bad combination when it comes to acquiring people skills. He may avoid face to face encounters, but he wants to link up with people around the world on games chat forums. I’ve warned him about paedophiles and the fact that people online might not be who they say they are. But it’s not just the physical danger – what about the kind of insidious chat that goes on, the incels and the like, trying to spread daily hate messages and seed division?

It’s all a minefield and I’m sure in the old days there were similar types of worries in different forms. It’s just that everything and everyone is so accessible these days and trying to keep up with the speed at which it moves is exhausting. I can’t say I am overly optimistic. However, all progressive movements encounter backlash. The important thing is to keep pushing through it.

Comments [1]

  • marianne says:

    Exposure to violent games definitely desensitises a person to violence, I’m certain. I worked in an abattoir and at first I was shocked. But it was more shocking how quickly I got used to working amid blood and body parts. It was the shock on my sister’s face when she collected me from work one day that brought me up short and made me get another job. I remember thinking, This Must be how Concentration Camp Guards managed to do their jobs. Watching violence might not make one commit violence, but I feel sure that it stops you feeling horror when you witness it in Real Life.

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