The hostility toward women gamers that was laid bare in 2014 during the GamerGate controversy extends to the stereotype that female gamers are inferior to their male counterparts. So researchers at the University of California, Davis, decided to track thousands of players in two multiplayer online role-playing games and compare just how quickly the players advanced to higher levels. And as Cuihua “Cindy” Shen, an assistant professor of communication, reports in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, when controlling for factors such as time devoted to playing, character choice, and membership in a player's guild, "The gender differences disappear." In fact, she goes on to write for the Conversation, "Women advanced at least as fast as men did."
Shen says the findings confirm certain differences in style of play, such as that men tend to focus on competing and gaining in-game status while women tend to play more socially and help others. But in terms of the bottom line: advancing to a higher level, the difference was nil among the 11,000 gamers they analyzed playing Everquest II and Chevalier's Romance III. Aside from one study in 2009, Vocativ reports that this is the first to figure out how to go about testing gender differences in gaming performance outside of a lab. Why does it matter? Nearly half the gaming population is now female, yet they are represented at even lower numbers in STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. "The stereotype that women are worse players at games could contribute to a self-fulfilling prophecy," Shen says. (Guys who are hostile to girl gamers tend to be poor performers.)