My first experiences with online gaming were in the Uncharted 4 Survival mode. There, I met a wealth of fun people to play with from all around the world. Since then I’ve branched out to the Battlefield series, Destiny 2, and plenty more multiplayer games. It has been a fascinating experience for me. It is FUN. But gaming online isn’t always a pleasurable experience for women. Quite often women are subjected to sexism and other forms of harassment whilst playing. And after seeing a Twitter post from a guy saying women do not have it worse than men online, I decided I needed to address the issue.
My goal here is to acknowledge the sexism and toxicity in online gaming, specifically towards women. But I need to say this article is not aimed at trashing men. I’m not going to point my finger and say anyone needs to stop this behavior because that’s a given and I’m not your mother. I also realize that, by addressing harassment in player versus player only, I am neglecting the sexual harassment that streamers, developers, etc. endure. I’m certainly not here to dismiss that enormous problem in the gaming industry. Although many who may need to read this article likely won’t, it is my hope that some will, and that a spark of change can ignite.
For the purpose of this article, I interviewed many amazing women who primarily play player versus player video games. The responses were varied and not all women experienced harassment in their games. But some women had experienced such negative behavior from others (women, men, and children) that they had completely stopped playing online games in open lobbies. Twitter user, Witchy, stated, “I wish it was a more inviting environment for women. I wish women weren’t turned away because of harassment (or even the thought of harassment).”
And yes, while we’re here, men do experience harassment when gaming as well. I think that is important to acknowledge. I personally know men who have experienced toxicity whilst gaming. The harassment towards men is on a different level though, because they aren’t treated differently solely based upon their gender. As an example, Twitter user Miss Sparrow said, “People change when they hear your voice.”
The majority of the women I interviewed played Overwatch online. I was disheartened to hear that some players expected them to play a more subdued role in the game. “It’s your fault more often. And if you’re not playing a ‘girlish’ role like ‘support’, you’re not playing the game right.” Miss Sparrow stated in our interview. But she wasn’t the only one. I spoke with Ink_defined and she said she was expected to be the team medic: “You’re a girl. You [play as a] healer.” So she did the next best thing. She stayed in the corner and let them die.
But it isn’t just the relegation of roles in video games that women experience. They also have to deal with vile comments, disgusting and unsolicited pictures, and nasty messages. Miss Sparrow was told to “Go back to the kitchen” and to “kill herself” in World of Warcraft arenas. She was even sent salt and bleach in the game as a not-so-subtle message. Spying Lotus has been “teabagged” by others specifically because she’s a woman. Witchy has been told that she’s trash, a slut, or a whore. She’s been asked for nudes. Knowing there’s a possibility for this type of behavior, Ink_defined stated, “It makes me think twice to go on voice chat…It’s a bit of a hindering point. It really sickens me.” Many women found themselves muting other players just to avoid this type of behavior.
I wish I could quote and tell you every experience these women had in their matches. But here’s the deal: I’m not telling anyone anything they don’t already know. People hide behind their computers and consoles and mistreat people. They do it because they know you can’t reach over and punch them in the face. Harassment towards women is extremely common, not just in actual game chats. Recently on Twitter, gaming personality Alanah Pearce, posted a screenshot of a disgusting post she received from a troll calling her many things I’d rather not repost here. I politely asked her if she would be willing to be interviewed for this article, but I did not receive a response in time for publishing.
Now, have I personally dealt with this kind of behavior often in gaming? Overwhelmingly, no. I play multiple times a week with a group of wonderful men. I am the only female in the group, and I am treated as an equal. Not once has any of them ever mistreated me in any way. But as recently as a few weeks ago in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, I was told in game chat with “randoms” (game speak), “[Eff] that girl,” in response to my explaining the game mode to someone who hadn’t played it before. Because that’s all I was to him: just a girl. He couldn’t even address me directly. My reply to him was that he could simply act like an adult. He later apologized, stating he had a wife and respected women. Obviously, dude. For me, this kind of behavior is few and far between. I am usually the one who seeks out random players to play with. I see gamers as potential friends. But I’d be lying if I said mean comments didn’t happen. One time a 10-year-old in Call of Duty: World War II told me I was going to die soon because I was so old (insert very sad face here). But I digress.
Is all of this mistreatment to women only from men or kids? Perhaps the biggest surprise in speaking with these women was that some of the harassment actually came from other women. Witchy said, “The harassment from women is different… It’s way more personal.” This was pretty shocking because surely a woman knows what this behavior feels like on the receiving end.
Aside from all of the creative or passive ways women combat this behavior, I think it’s important to note there are friendly sites for women to link up with other friendly women for gaming. Hardcore Girl Gamers is a site dedicated to “providing a friendly and safe environment for female gamers.” I had the pleasure of speaking to them privately, and they stated: “Much of the foundation we built our community on was the toxic behavior related to gaming and that which is often directed toward women, even by other women at times.” From Call of Duty: Modern Warfare to Ghost Recon: Breakpoint (and many other games), they have a fantastic group of women who game together without the fear of harassment. For any women interested in joining their group, please contact them here.
I would like to add that there are some people who are so incredibly kind when a female is in the game chat. Spying Lotus told me: “Men have admitted they’re so polite when a girl is playing.” To those gamers, I say: On behalf of all female players out there, thank you for your kindness. It is appreciated more than you know.
It goes without saying that video gaming should be fun for everyone. It should be a place to go to clear your mind after a long day. It’s a place to meet new friends, travel to faraway lands, and go on exciting adventures. Gaming is more fun with friends rather than random people, surely. When we (men or women) play online in open lobbies with “randoms”, we know we are susceptible to harassment from other gamers. We each need to do whatever we can to be sure that it stops. Maybe one day it will be universally accepted that girls who game are here to stay, and we kick ass too.