The exclusion of girls from gaming discourses was not dangerous during early days of video games because game competency was not a necessity and the lack thereof was not a detriment to the development of young women. Yet, as schools struggled with the need to revamp education systems in order to reach students, gaming technologies became popular tools for teaching and the digital gender divide was further aggravated. The math education computer and video game industry has now become a multi-billion dollar industry and most primary schools use digital math games frequently in the classroom. Unfortunately, the effects of computer games in math education are not identical for all students. If a child has computer skill deficiencies and anxiety when using digital devices, their ability to learn material may suffer.
Researchers found that female students were the most frequent victims of computer anxiety and illiteracy. The awareness of these statistics coupled with the preexisting inequality between the attendance of male and female gamers within the industry led to the notion that computer and video games could, in fact, be very gender biased tools that were causing struggles for females in educational and working environments. Continuing research has shown that there are a number of factors that account for this inequality.
Games Talk to Boys
Video gaming has, in fact, become more accessible to all potential game players as home systems become more advanced and less expensive. 83% of American homes have at least one video game console and approximately 49% of American teenagers have a console in their room. There is also a wider variety of games in circulation today, including those made for a female audience and supposed “gender neutral” quest games such as the Final Fantasy series, which includes a multitude of girl characters.
However, the underlying structure of game technologies was conceived with the notion that the consumer of the content would be a male because gender stereotypes have continually enforced video games as the essential “boy-toy.” Educational video games are often built within a fun audiovisual setting to make the content more pleasurable to learn. Yet, these settings are typically those most attractive to young boys – Space, battlefields, NFL games, and the Wild West, for instance. Doing well in the game means racking up as many points as possible, competing with oneself, the game, and the scores of previous players. Flashing lights, and rapid graphics accompany the mission as explosions bombard the screen.
While these bells and whistles may inspire boys to attain better scores and subsequently, more knowledge, girls feel overwhelmed and intimidated by the extra distractions. Cooper and Weaver write in reference to this finding, “They (girls) wanted the programs to help them with their learning through direct and frequent feedback, and they preferred that this feedback be communicated in words rather than exploding icons.” (Cooper, Weaver 2003 pg. 16) A study performed by Barbierri & Light in 1992 followed male and female students as they learned mathematic concepts through two computer games, one of which was a male-oriented learning game called King and Crown, the other, a gender neutral game. Boys attained a 49% success rate after using both games. Girls, on the other hand, only finished with 8% success when using King and Crown, as opposed to a 50% success rate after playing a gender-neutral learning game.
Frequently, teachers rely too heavily on math games such as Demolition Division and Space War Math, and then further reference these games during lessons. Girls who have realized their discomfort with these games believe that the games are simply “not for them.” Unfortunately, this translates into the notion that the class in which the games were used is also “not for them.” (Cooper, Weaver 2003 pg. 18) Therefore, a girl who learns how to perform simple division via a gender-biased video game may feel as if she is inadequate in her mathematic abilities. This harmful pattern is often repeated throughout higher schooling and can be harbored for life.
Girls and IT
Since the emergence of the modern information society, women have been under-represented in schooling and work environments. Studies published by College Board in 2001 showed that 50% percent of high school students were female. Only 11% of these females enrolled in Advanced Placement Computer classes. According to the Higher Education Research Institute, only 4% of female college freshman indicated interest in IT courses and careers in 1994. Currently, only one out of five women hold positions in IT industries.
Furthermore, the lack of caution implemented when including entertainment media, particularly gaming technologies into classrooms, has hindered the long-term performance of women in mathematics. This trend is most evident when looking at results from Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SAT’s) in recent years. Out of the students who received perfect scores on the mathematics section, only 31% were women and 69% were men. On the opposite side of the spectrum, more women attained low scores than did men. Scholarly and research communities are beginning to attribute this disturbing trend, in part, to reliance on gaming technologies in classrooms. (Stricker and Rock, 1995)