Brains and method

Medical researchers at Stanford have shown that the areas of the brain associated with 'reward and addiction' are more highly activated in males than females when playing videogames. The researchers suggest that this is due to a more pronounced instinct for 'territoriality' in men.

The researchers designed a game involving a vertical line (the "wall") in the middle of a computer screen. When the game begins, 10 balls appear to the right of the wall and travel left toward the wall. Each time a ball is clicked, it disappears from the screen. If the balls are kept a certain distance from the wall, the wall moves to the right and the player gains territory, or space, on the screen. If a ball hits the wall before it's clicked, the line moves to the left and the player loses territory on the screen.

Now, this is hardly an example of the cutting edge of game design, nor is it (in my opinion) representative of videogames, as it assumes that all games are based on this notion of territoriality. Indeed the lead researcher seems to contradict himself a little:

Reiss said this research also suggests that males have neural circuitry that makes them more liable than women to feel rewarded by a computer game with a territorial component and then more motivated to continue game-playing behavior. Based on this, he said, it makes sense that males are more prone to getting hooked on video games than females.

"Most of the computer games that are really popular with males are territory- and aggression-type games," he pointed out.

Reiss said the team's findings may apply to other types of video and computer games. "This is a fairly representative, generic computer game," he said, adding that he and his colleagues are planning further work in this area.

If 'games that are really popular with males' are based on territory and aggression, then surely using a game based on the same is like asking a leading question in a survey? And by the same logic, the game used in the study can't be held to be representative of videogames that aren't based on territory and aggression.

I suppose it's important to remember that this is medical research and so the team seems to be working with some received notions of what a videogame is - but perhaps they could do with a game designer or a game academic on their payroll?

They could also probably do with a bigger sample size.

And less weird generalizations based on sketchy evidence?

What surprised me about this study was the fact that they didn't seem to ask the participants whether they were gamers or not. As game studies scholars, we are all well aware of all the cultural factors that go into whether girls game or not - I wonder if girls who had grown up succeeding at games would have felt a lot more rewarded by this game than the 11 girls they asked to play for this study.