THERE has been some controversy in the media lately about sexism in computer games.
Accusations that the main characters (avatars) are mostly men, rather than women, has caused some sections of the community to become very angry, as this has been seen as degrading towards women, and an example of inequality and misogyny.
Yet, there are perhaps some other things going on here.
It is indeed this area that really started to spark my interest in the whole area of cyberpsychology, the study of how we interact with the virtual, online, and digital worlds.
There are some interesting and profound lessons to be learned about what to it is to be human.
For example, in the early days of the massive multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs to their friends), games in which thousands to hundreds of thousands of players can play simultaneously in a world, there are some examples of interesting disasters.
One such tale is that of games which did not have in-built protections for players.
All pretence about following the plot or the adventure gave way to a free-for-all killing of other players.
A virtual world event, but what does this say about the real world? How close could we be to this kind of dysfunctional behaviour?
The beauty about playing an avatar in a computer game is the idea that we can reinvent ourselves.
Author and researcher Nick Yee suggests that this may not be the case, that we carry the prejudices of the real world into the virtual game world.
Yet perhaps there is an ability to do this in a more unfettered, more primal way.
So, back to the question of sexism in games.
Other research into MMORPGs has indicated that many male players play female characters, and one of the reasons put forward by this is that female avatars are treated differently to male avatars in the game.
Gentler, more courteous treatment.
Male characters are more likely to get clobbered, regardless of the gender of the player behind the avatar.
There is a subtle assumption that the player is the sex of their character, even by cross-sex player-avatars. Curious.
Then we have the issue of the kinds of games that males play, as opposed to females.
The Sims has long held the title of one of the best-selling computer games, particularly because of the female consumer contingent; a game about social interaction.
An example of a very male-orientated game would be Call of Duty; war and guns and shooting and desperate bloody action.
Just as a Mills and Boon novel is a chance for some romantic escapism, so the battle-drenched computer game is a chance for some adrenalin-fuelled escapism.
And for so many men and boys, this is because it is safe.
It is safe to go out and blast the baddies from the security of the lounge room, because Mummy says it's not safe for me to go down to the park by myself to play. Because bad men might get me.
I believe part of the reason that these games have become so very popular is it's an outlet for masculine expression.
More and more boys are raised with an absence of quality men in their lives, giving them guidance and support, to mentor, and to give direction and opportunity to understand and express the wild and powerful expressions of being a male.
They can grow up to be men, and can still remain confused about what it is to be a male, and be uncertain and unsure about how they teach their own boys about what it is to be a vibrant, alive male.
Let alone, the impact this can have on the women in their lives to be unsure of their own masculinity.
When people criticise the violence in computer games, and there are certainly some valid criticisms, they are also questioning what may be one of the few outlets for masculine expression for many males; boys and men.
With the divorce rate at around 64% in Australia, and the majority of care arrangements being made towards mothers, where are the alternatives?
We can do in the virtual world what we feel constrained about doing in the real world.
And sometimes the real world can starve us of what we are looking for.
Paul Stewart is a Personal Coach with Compassion Coaching www.compassion coaching.com.au, and also supports the inSight Men's Circle and Teen Tribe programs run through Hopelink 4979 3626.
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