Hate the Player and the Game? Sexual Harassment and the Gaming Industry
Part II: A Female Gaming Experience
Disclaimer: Some of the language and photos in this article may contain graphical depictions of violence and aggressive rhetoric.
Headset on. Fingers on the controller. Shoulders tense, eyes narrowed, while you maneuver yourself through a battlefield. Or a zombie apocalypse. Your teammates are with you, fighting beside you. Suddenly a notification pops up on the side of your screen, drawing your attention away from the main action for one second. The message reads “I hope your boyfriend beats you. Nah, you can't get a boyfriend." Your character gets shot, game over.
In a study conducted in the UK and the US, one in three female gamers reported having experienced abuse from male players. Around a third of these were verbally abused through voice chat, another third had received inappropriate messages via chat, and 14% had recieved rape threats.
Receiving propositions for sexual acts, questions about looks and sexual activity, and degrading comments is a daily occurence for many female gamers.
Other recurring comments belittle the gamers’ achievements, and ask whether maybe a boyfriend was helping out. And all these are overshadowed by those truly violent messages, describing rape, violence and murder scenarios in detail, that they believe this particular female gamer should be subjected to.
Degrading, sexual and offensive language is something female gamers have publicly complained about for years. But some voices say, it is part of the game. The competitive nature of gaming and the often violent content of the games itself creates a heated environment, and hateful messages or comments are part of the experience. Whoever enters that sphere has to have thick skin.
So the question is: Is the treatment women receive in gaming different from the one male gamers experience? Or is it true that violent and sexual messages are just a part of the aggressive environment that is gaming?
Miranda Pakozdi, an experienced gamer, entered the popular video game competition “Cross Assault” in 2012 as the only female competitor. She was interviewed by her male coach in an online broadcast, in which he asked her about her bra size, had the camera team film her legs and chest, and asked her to remove her clothes on camera.
After an online backlash, the coach apologised for his actions, but also stated that he thought sexual harassment allegations from the female gaming community were usually overreactions. Phrases like “rape that b*tch” had to be seen as expressions of victory over a competing player.
For women who stream their gaming on Twitch and other platforms, sexual harassment is a daily occurence. Some report that they fear to stand up during a stream, in order to avoid a wave of comments with heavy sexual undertones upon exposing their body to the camera.
The reason sexual harassment is different from “ordinary” abusive language between players is twofold. On the one hand, it diverges in the effect it can have on targets, and on the other hand on the true intent behind the words.
The psychological effects that sexual harassment can have on a person are not to be taken lightly. From invitations to sexual intercourse, to oversexual name-calling, to direct rape threats, targets experience pain and suffering.
As a result, they may feel unsafe, suffer body-image concerns, and stress related physical and mental illness. One difference between trying to intimidate a competing player and sexually harassing her comes from how she will feel after the game is over.
The intent behind these two is also different. Even if it is only the repetition of phrases heard somewhere else, or thoughtless words uttered in the heat of battle - sexual harassment always carries a sociocultural connotation. It sexualises women, a phenomenon supported by the way female characters are portrayed in games.
And objectifying women, denying them humanity and individuality, means establishing an environment of male dominance. Even though nowadays nearly half of all gamers worldwide are women, many men still see gaming as a space they are entitled to design to their male will.
Sexual and gender harassment is the ugly underbelly that persists in gaming. It starts in the gaming industry, shines through in the portrayal of female characters in games, and is suffered by female gamers, professional or not, on an almost daily basis. The only way to combat it is to listen to those brave women that have spoken out.
And to then hold all those that perpetrate this ugly pattern - no matter whether in a corporate office, through a headset, or on a keyboard - accountable.
Written By: Anna Hattig, Research Ambassador at Metta Space
Edited By: Paula Koller-Alonso, Head of R&D at Metta Space