I read an interesting article today in Scientific American about getting more bicycles on city streets: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=getting-more-bicyclists-on-the-road. The key point seemed to be that when it comes to cycling, women are on average much more risk-averse than men. Women appear to consider safe bike infrastructure (as in off-street bike lanes and traffic calming measures) to be essential to the decision to bicycle rather than drive. Thus, the article argues that a good measure of the “health” of a city’s bike infrastructure is to look at the number of women cyclists. If the cyclists are mostly male, it probably still needs improvement.
It’s an interesting way of looking at things. I know two people at SOE who regularly bike to work, and both of them live slightly further away than I do. They’ve suggested to me on a couple of occasions that I should also, but so far I haven’t tried it. Partly the logistics discourage me – I’m not sure where I’d put the bike, and there’s no gym near the office where I could take a shower and clean up if I arrive all hot and sweaty. But the main discouragements are the complete lack of bike lanes, the crazy San Diego drivers and the fact I’d end up biking home in the dark. Neither of these feels safe to me and it’s definitely a factor that bothers me, but apparently does not bother my male co-workers.
This may seem somewhat unrelated to games, but I wonder when I read articles like this whether the same risk aversion might apply to women when they play computer games. Are women as a whole less likely to take risky chances in games? Or does the risk-averse behavior not exist when it’s not a game? Or a third possibility, perhaps when inside a safe game, women might be even MORE prone to taking risks, to compensate for the restraints we face in the real world? And, taking that a step further, can we look at the behavior of women in games and use it as a measure of how the risk in the game is balanced (or not), the way city planners can use it to gauge the health of a bike infrastructure, or ecologists can use the local fish species populations to gauge the health of a river system?
I did a quick search for studies that might shed some light onto this question but I wasn’t able to turn up anything definitive. In my own case, I think I tend to enjoy taking risks in game, and I’m probably more likely than the average person to go exploring in highly dangerous areas where I really shouldn’t be. You wouldn’t catch me doing that in real life, but it’s quite liberating in a game like EverQuest II. I can’t draw any broad conclusions based on just my own experience, though; I could be just a strange outlier in the data, not statistically significant.
Questions like this sometimes make me wish I had studied behavioral sociology or something similar instead of biology. Online games raise so many fascinating questions about human behavior, and there is so much in this field that could still studied.
- Emily “Domino” Taylor