Culture

Toxic gaming: Female players battle misogyny

5 Mins read

While the gaming industry has witnessed an increasing number of women embracing their passion for gaming, the rise in their presence has yet to fully quell the persistent undertones of misogyny.

Even before the pandemic, the gaming industry knew that the number of female gamers was rising, with some studies showing that they accounted for 40-45% of all gamers in Asia, and 46% of players in the US.

Despite this female games continue to face unpleasant experiences and persistent undertones of misogyny.

The YouTube female gaming blogger @Spawntaneous regularly played the multiplayer online shooting game Counter-Strike, and in a video series named “OMG A GIRL” she documented some of the incidents that happened while she was playing.

Her gaming skills are commendable, However, when she recorded her thoughts during the game, revealing her female identity, she faced various forms of mockery, harassment, and insults from her male teammates. These included requests for personal information, lewd jokes, and invasive personal questions.

“I hate how many of these (videos) you make because it’s horrible how often stuff like this happens but I love to watch them just to feel less alone in the situation,” said one comment from @nocturnalkier on the latest video.

Data from the United States in 2023 shows that the number of female gamers is almost equal to males; according to Forbes, 31% of the workforce in the gaming industry is female, and while this number is not huge, it’s increasing year by year.

However, this increase in numbers has not transformed the gaming community into a more female-friendly environment.

In the first half of this year, a study by the UK newspaper The Guardian that surveyed 4,000 female multiplayer online gamers, revealed that nearly half (49%) of the participants had experienced bullying, harassment, and insults while gaming. This number increased to 75% in the age range of 18 to 24.

Some might argue, “Let your skills speak, not your gender.”

To explore this issue, we spoke to a female player who excels at League of Legends (a multiplayer real-time battle game). Known in-world as “2ndhell”, her passion for this game leads her to play for up to five hours every day. At her peak, she achieved the rank of master, a level reached by only 0.76% of players on the server.

Her gaming skills far surpass most players. However, when asked if she faced gender discrimination while using voice chat during games, her answer was affirmative.

“The blame for a bad match automatically falls on women, regardless of performance. Perhaps just taking a different approach in aggressive or conservative gameplay, they’ll still pick on your gender.” 2ndhell told us.

In some instances, using voice chat doesn’t lead to discrimination but rather to “favouritism.” Some male players, knowing that there are female teammates in the game, develop the notion of “showing off in front of girls”.

“Once, when I hopped on the mic, two male players on the team kept emphasising that I should choose a support summoner, suggesting that if I obeyed them, victory was guaranteed. Meanwhile, they constantly say shit like ‘I’ll protect you, princess’. ” 2ndhell said.

bioware games
BioWare have produced a number of games which attract both male and female gamers [BioWare]

This “protective” attitude assumes women as weaker and objects of attention, while the game itself becomes an opportunity to showcase masculinity and seek affection.

Perhaps electronic games, long considered toys for boys, akin to many male-dominated fields, have solidified “masculinity” as a respected trait here, rooted in gaming culture, triggering a series of disdainful behaviours.

Killing, blasting, intensity, competition. These adrenaline-pumping keywords have become synonymous with so-called ‘hardcore’ gaming, leading to phrases like “this game is too hardcore, not suitable for girls”. This sentiment reveals an air of self-satisfaction and misogyny.

Leaving aside who defined ‘hardcore’ and who promoted it, these statements alone might discourage many women interested in gaming. Consequently, male-dominated gaming communities have been further fortified.

Apart from shooting and competitive games, even in games predominantly focused on online socialisation, female players often face harassment and bullying.

In 2022, a Japanese VR Chat player named ‘QiuKong’ tweeted about experiencing a “VR rape” incident while playing in the social role-playing game, sparking controversy.

“The blame for a bad match automatically falls on women, regardless of performance.”

2ndHell

This online VR role-playing game developed by VR Chat Inc allows players to create virtual avatars and engage in social activities within the game.

Unlike regular VR games, VR Chat offers greater freedom of expression. Using specific devices, players can achieve near-realistic facial expressions in the game, such as blinking, synchronised mouth movements, and gestures.

One day, ‘QuiKong’ fell asleep while wearing VR equipment and having her in-game avatar also “sleep” (referred to as “VR sleep”). When she woke up, she found a player sitting on top of her, shaking her waist.

Even though there was no physical harm, she stated that it caused serious psychological trauma. VR equipment was intended to enhance gaming experiences and realism but vividly portrayed the fear and helplessness experienced during sexual assault.

"VR Chat" game renderings
Players in VR Chat appear as animated avatars [Steam]

“VR rape” is an extreme case, but “VR sexual harassment” is far from rare.

Some players have shared experiences of being virtually touched inappropriately by other players’ avatars, such as groping their chest or genital area, squatting down to peek at ‘virtual underwear’, and subjecting them to verbal insults and sexual innuendos. Even in a virtual world, such behaviour constitutes sexual harassment.

The continuous expansion of gaming modes has gradually blurred the boundary between the virtual and the real. When virtual characters are closely associated with real individuals, the malice towards virtual characters will undoubtedly spread to women in real life.

Or perhaps, it’s the malice towards real-life women that has seeped into the game world?

With the evolution of feminism, the anti-female sentiment within the gaming community is not invincible. More and more female gamers are emerging and actively participating in online platforms, forming their female gaming communities.

For instance, on Douban (a Chinese social platform), groups like “Female Gamers Union” and “Girl Gamers” have been created. Here, everyone discusses various games on equal footing, sharing instances of facing gender stereotypes and other unfriendly situations for women while gaming.

In the UK, Sky Broadband collaborates with Guild E-sports, an organisation committed to making gaming a safe space for women. The organisation frequently hosts gaming events exclusively for women, offering them exclusive access to Guild’s state-of-the-art gaming facilities and opportunities to meet like-minded individuals.

Sky broadband are partnering with other organisations to support female gamers [Sky Broadband]

To raise awareness about the abuse suffered by women in online gaming, Sky collaborated with Cyber Smile to develop a series of interactive educational modules.

Those facing abuse can visit the Sky webpage to download educational resources created in collaboration with the Cyber Smile Foundation, an organisation combating online bullying.

Amber Pine, Managing Director of Broadband and Connectivity at Sky Broadband, said “It is completely unacceptable for this type of sexist abuse to be so prevalent. We are determined to improve the experience for women in gaming. We’re calling on players to become allies and stand with us to make it clear that there is no room for abuse in gaming.”

The online gaming environment is murky, and filled with hostility between players. What we truly strive for is an environment where there’s mutual respect, understanding, and inclusivity regardless of gender, age, or nationality. It shouldn’t lean or tilt towards any specific attribute.


Feature image by Drobot Dean via Adobe Stock

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