Last year, a study by Italian researchers provided “evidence” that Grand Theft Auto makes male teenagers have less empathy towards women. The research was picked up by outlets like The Daily Beast and uncritically spread around the web.
It fit neatly into the narrative that gamers are sexist and the media they enjoyed were contributing factors. But as with most sociological studies, it has been debunked by yet another sociological study.
Two researchers, Christopher Ferguson and M. Brent Donnellan, reanalyzed the data and published their results in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence. They found there was “little evidence” for video games affecting empathy towards women.
“Our reanalysis raised concerns about the strength of the evidence,” wrote Ferguson and Donnellan. “Thus, our reanalysis joins an increasing body of literature that suggests there may be little link between sexism in games and sexism in real life.”
They also mentioned that prior studies did not conclusively find a link between video games and sexism.
Ferguson and Donnellan took issue with the varying, inconsistent age groups present in the study. In the original study, participants played either a sexist/violent game, a violent, nonsexist game or a nonviolent, nonsexist game. For some reason the players playing the sexist/violent category games were “significantly younger” than the other two groups.
The types of games across categories varied greatly. Grand Theft Auto is an open world sandbox game with huge levels of player freedom, while the games in the other two categories were not. Considering how big the world is in GTA, participants in the study may have not even run into any of the games “sexism.”
They concluded that there was simply not enough evidence to conclude that games can make young men sexist, especially when sexist is already a subjective standard.
“This perspective does not mean that moral concerns about sexism in games are unimportant,” Ferguson and Donnellan wrote. “Our concern is that claims about the power of scientific evidence to support moral agendas may backfire, especially when the evidence is equivocal.”