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Online Harassment: Shedding Light On The Darker Side Of Online Gaming

You’ll Notice This Post Comes Without Photos. The reason is that I feel there are enough examples online, and that showing them here serves no real purpose. If you’re interested in seeing examples of online harassment check out Fat,Ugly or Slutty (it’s linked at the bottom of this article).

In the past 10 years, with gaming becoming a more mainstream activity, and online multiplayer becoming arguably as important in games as the single player experience, players are now playing together in ways we never were in the past. The gaming community has evolved; it’s exploded out of the living rooms and basements and become one of the largest forms of socialization available to us today. Today, we have everything from tournaments (both online and LAN), to conventions and expos celebrating gaming and its community. We now have the opportunity to play together with people across the globe, all of whom have their own opinions, ideas, and personalities. As a result, Gaming has become a rich environment of inclusion, with everyone from all walks of life getting in on the action.

However, the experience for many has not been overwhelmingly positive. Due to the nature of online play anyone can pick up a controller and a microphone and anonymously harass and spew abuse against other players. Women and girls in particular have been targeted in displays of extremely intolerant, and sexist behavior far above what many would consider normal for online play (the fact that there is a norm is ridiculous itself). Although, many would just mute those harassers, avoid using their microphone, report abusers, or just avoid online play altogether, the solutions we currently have are mostly centralized around victims protecting themselves, rather than preventing those who would abuse others from committing these acts in the first place. The fact is unwarranted and often vulgar harassment of women and girls who play online is a deplorable practice that regrettably takes place far more often than it should. It undermines the spirit of playing together and limits the amount of enjoyment online play can bring to those who experience it.

Early on in 2012 Capcom put together an online show called Cross Assault, which would bring together gamers to compete in a Street Fighter X Tekken tournament for a $25,000 grand prize. One player Miranda “Super__Yan” Pakozdi was subjected to extreme sexual harassment on the part of her team leader Aris Bakhtanians. This caused her to forfeit her later match, against another competitor and drop from the competition.

Later last year, in May, Anita Sarkeesian was targeted when she created a kickstarter to raise funds for a show that would explore gender stereotypes specifically those involving women, within video games. The backlash was massive, with many taking to her twitter account to berate and threaten her. She received death and rape threats from angry male gamers, as well as vandalization of her Wikipedia page with pornographic images. Gamers even went so far as to create a game where you could assault a likeness of her.

These are just two of the more publicized examples of the harassment and sexism that exists within the gaming community. There are many less severe, but none the less intolerable acts of harassment and sexism that occur every day.

I want to share some statistics with everyone to help dispel any idea that men are the dominant group of video game consumers now. At the beginning of every year the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), a body of video game publishers, releases a report about the demographics of video game players. These statistics include what kind of games players are playing, on which systems they play, and what age and gender are those playing. Here are some of the findings from those reports.

 In 2009, 60% of gamers were male. 40% were female.
In 2011, the split was 58% male, and 42% female.
Finally, last year in 2012, 53% were male and 47% were female.

70% of gamers played on consoles.
65% played on Personal Computers.

Of those, 62% play video games online.

The console and PC gaming community today has many more female players than in years past, and the trends suggest that this number is growing. In fact, if this keeps up, by next year the number of girls and women playing video games will overtake the amount of boys and men. This also means that online, we’re playing together much more than most gamers realize and as a result, the harassment of women and girls online isn’t just limited to a small group of players. It’s an issue that has some effect on close to half of our community’s player base. Emily Matthews over on pricecharting.com put together an excellent survey that gives us a good look into harassment and sexism and some of her findings include:

35.2% of the 874 respondents said yes when asked if they had ever been a part of sex based taunting, harassment, or threats while playing video games online. Of these, 63.3% were female.

32% of respondents said yes to the question “Have you ever received unsolicited propositions while playing video games?” Of those, 59.7% were female, and 12.2% were male.

67.5% of women obscured or lied about their gender to avoid unwanted attention and harassment. This was the case 12 times more often than for their male counterparts.

50.6% of women who game online avoid public servers because of harassment.

Her data also suggests that it is possible the reason we don’t see or hear as many girls in online play as men is that many actively avoid putting themselves in situations where their gender is revealed to those they play with. In fact, websites such as Fat, Ugly, or Slutty, exist because when women do reveal their gender to other players, they are often sent disgusting or degrading comments to their online inboxes. Some are even called out during actual play. These kinds of behaviors put the burden on women and girls to protect themselves while online, instead of being able to enjoy conversation freely and feel comfortable during online play. Most only freely divulge their gender when they feel safe with a particular group of players. The fact that this is even necessary is proof that an issue exists.

Some companies such as Riot Games have developed interesting methods of combating online harassment during play. They have a system of tribunal where qualified players can review evidence and allegations against players who have broken the games online code of conduct. They present their vote along with 19 of their peers, and those are submitted to Riot to help determine whether or not to ban players. It’s an excellent method of bringing the community together to help punish those who would otherwise ruin the game for everyone else. Those that vote against the majority enough times, have their tribunal privileges revoked which means that those voting reflect the general attitude of the community at large.

As gamers, we need to change the way we play online. Although companies now are adopting more of a zero tolerance stance towards harassment, ultimately the onus is on us. One of the best things we can do when we see harassment online is to draw attention to it. Call them out and make them realize what they’re doing isn’t okay. Also, lead by example. There are lots of young and impressionable minds online, who will learn the habits of those of us who have been playing for a long time. We need to show them the right and wrong way to conduct themselves online. When we set a good example for the younger generation of players, we encourage good behavior in the future, and can help to minimize the problems that exist currently.

Personally, I have hope that in the future, we won’t have these kinds of issues, and that the online community will be an open place for all gamers to play. We’re getting there, we just need to dispel any myth that it is okay to treat others with disrespect, and that harassment or abuse against anyone is “just part of the game”.

Sources: www.theesa.com/facts/pdfs/ESA_EF_2011.pdf
www.theesa.com/facts/pdfs/ESA_EF_2012.pdf
http://blog.pricecharting.com/2012/09/emilyami-sexism-in-video-games-study.html
www.fatuglyorslutty.com
http://www.themarysue.com/tag/aris-bakhtanians/
http://www.twitch.tv/capcomunity/b/309963633
http://www.dailydot.com/culture/anita-sarkeesian-ted-talk-misogynist-comments/
www.penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/harassment

 

Have a game you think I should play? Disagree with something I’ve said? Throw it in the comments or shoot me an email and let me know how you feel at retroseeker.dylan@gmail.com

I currently work in telecommuncations, which sounds flashy, but really, I just sell phones. I spend my free time gaming. Started playing back in the days of the original Nintendo and haven't stopped since.

2 comments

  1. MEW24 says:

    Thank you DoomBee for spreading awareness on this subject. I am so grateful to have you as a writer on RetroSeek. 😀

    • Dylan says:

      Hey Thanks!

      I was really passionate about this article and it’s something I’ve been reading lots about and debating myself for a long time. It was nice to finally get it out there and share it. I appreciate having such a good forum to share my thoughts about this kind of stuff and getting a chance to tell people what I like best about the games I play.

      The article itself was in part inspired by an essay I wrote a couple years ago about girls and gaming. The other was just hearing everything that’s gone on last year with those 2 major incidents that I was talking about. So it’s definitely been rolling around in my head for awhile.

      Thanks again!

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