Hate the Player and the Game? Sexual Harassment and the Gaming Industry
Part I: The Gaming Industry as a Breeding Ground for Sexual Harassment
Gaming. For some, it is a welcome escape from daily struggles. For some, it is a hobby to pass the time or to enjoy with friends. For some, it means the freedom of going where you want to go and becoming who you want to be.
Globally, approximately 45% of those who consider themselves gamers for these or other reasons, are women. The experiences they have in gaming can however grossly differ from
those of their male counterparts.
But before concentrating on and understanding sexual and gender harassment female gamers experience while gaming, we need to take a step back, and take a closer look at the space where those games are created.
The gaming industry. Because the industry that releases one box-office hit after another every year is riddled with sexist attitudes and sexual and gender harassment cases.
The Industry as a Breeding Ground
Millions of people enjoy gaming. Some make it their professional vocation. Imagine being a game developer, graphic designer, entrepreneur or journalist in gaming, because you have a genuine passion for the field. Doesn’t that sound normal and pleasant?
Now imagine one day waking up to find someone has created a computer game called “Beating up [insert your name here]”, in which players can bruise and bloody a picture of you by clicking on it with their mouse. Imagine having private photos and sensitive data of yourself leaked to the whole world on the internet.
Imagine having your address published, followed by thousands of people explicitly describing how and when they plan to rape or murder you via tweets and other online channels. You now have to flee your own home. Suddenly, this imaginary scenario has turned into quite the nightmare. A nightmare many women employed in gaming have had to live.
In 2014, the “GamerGate” controversy pulled the public eye to the issue of sexual harassment in gaming. Several female game developers were targeted by a violent and sexist online hate campaign following their criticism of the portrayal of female characters in video games.
They pointed out how female characters, in addition to being underrepresented, are oftentimes objectified and hyper-sexualized. Only few mainstream video games have female protagonists, and overall, female supporting characters are often portrayed as the stereotypical “damsel in distress”.
Furthermore, the sexualization of the female body in games has the clear goal of appealing to a male audience, a point that has been criticized by female gamers and game developers for years.
The examples mentioned above are only some of the experiences of the women who spoke out about this inherent sexism and were attacked by “GamerGate”. And how did the gaming industry react to such a targeted and extreme attack against their female employees?
The Entertainment Software Association declared that there was “no place in the video game community” for such behavior. CEOs and spokespersons of several big gaming companies spoke out against the harassment, while clarifying that the attacks had come from outside the industry, and the perpetrators were a small group of disturbed individuals. But is it true that there is no space for sexual and gender harassment within the gaming industry?
In spite of women making up nearly half of the gamers globally, only around 24% of the people employed in the sector are female. 84% of the executive positions in the world’s top fourteen gaming companies are held by men. And a 2020 UK survey found that a man employed in gaming makes an average £12k more than a female colleague.
Almost half of women in gaming feel like their gender was a limiting factor in advancing their career. A third of women have experienced harassment because of their gender.
“GamerGate” happened seven years ago, and prompted the gaming industry to condemn the incidents, deflect blame and promise change. Last year, in a campaign started by three female streamers, a wave of tweets surged in which women shared their experiences of working in the gaming industry.
They told stories about non consensual touching, propositions for sex, belitteling, hacking, publishing of private pictures and data, and harassment. The industry was prompted to condemn the incidents, and promise change. This time, deflecting the blame was however not possible, as perpetrators were amongst the ranks of the industry itself.
It is time for the gaming industry to listen to the women they employ, and to make effective changes to address their apparent and huge problem of sexual and gender harassment they can no longer deny.
Written By: Anna Hattig, Research Ambassador at Metta Space
Edited By: Paula Koller-Alonso, Head of R&D at Metta Space