Monday, November 9, 2009

The Study

The focus of this project is on issues of gender, identity, norms, and communication in an online virtual environment (Halo 3). At this point it is rather clear that video games have become a popular pastime for millions of people across the country. Past research on video games has primarily been focused around the violent content of video games and the link between this violent content and aggressive behavior. Another research area has been issues of gender in video games. In particular, women are typically portrayed in stereotypical roles and are overly sexualized. It is between these lines of research that we see some interesting interactions taking place that this study focuses on.

Theoretical Foundation

Several theories can help to explain the interactions occurring in virtual spaces, in particular negative interactions. For the purposes of this study, Social Identity Theory and the SIDE model are used to frame issues of gender voice in multiplayer games of Halo 3. Social Identity Theory (SIT) points out that, in general, people will classify each other into different social categories (e.g., gender, age, religious affiliation). From this classification, individuals will begin to identify with a particular group(s) that they are a member of. They may then judge others based on group affiliation and the categories the other has been placed in. In addition, “individuals tend to choose activities congruent with salient aspects of their identities, and they support the institutions embodying those identities”.

The SIDE model is an extension of SIT, essentially adding the concepts of deindividuation and anonymity into the model. This theoretic model posits that in online interactions one has a degree of anonymity and many social context cues are stripped out by the medium used. Whatever remaining cues exist take on particular importance. In addition, the lack of identifying information leads people to treat others not as individuals but as belonging to particular groups or categories.

In the context of the current study, namely gender in multiplayer gaming, SIT and SIDE model would predict that, in online contexts, individuals will categorized themselves and others into categories or groups based on whatever social context cues are present. Given that past portrayals of women in video games have been of a stereotypical manner, women may not be seen as competent gamers and in turn treated in stereotypical fashion based on the context cue that identifies them as a female (typically voice communication).

More Information

If you are interested in this project, please feel free to visit the project website. That site contains more information, as well as audio and

video examples.


  1. Jeff, I found your presentations today really interesting. I've played Halo a couple of times but never got into it. I did get into World of Warcraft for a bit, and found that I rarely got crap for being a girl--maybe because a lot of men played female characters, so they didn't know I was a girl. Criticisms of other players seemed to be more skill-oriented.

    But, I did wonder with your study, if it was even possible to make a female character? What if you repeated the study with both voices in a female form? Just wondering. It was really eye-opening, though. I can't imagine being treated like that when I was trying to play a game for enjoyment!

  2. I liked the presentations too. I could relate to this because I have played this before and I remember some of the similar derogatory comments made towards female players!

  3. Elyse, thank you for the comment. It is somewhat possible to make a female character. When you customize your avatar you can select male (default) or female. But the ONLY thing this changes is the death groan your character makes when it dies, it does not change the physical appearance at all (we did select female for the female condition). In their new game, Halo 3:ODST, you can play multiplayer as a female character, but you need to unlock her by beating the single player campaign on the highest difficulty. Perhaps in their next game, which they announced as a teaser trailer, they will have a female avatar option built in.

  4. This is all very interesting in the sense that Halo seems to operate on the basis of male as default player, not simply in avatar form but real life males. I do hope Halo could evolve to somehow be more acccepting of females. Your presentation was very interesting to me because my brother plays this game, but he never explained to me the gender dynamics. I am glad you chose to explore this and I sure do hope these rude fellows can learn to play nice!