Reclaiming the Gaming Community from a Sexist Culture

This post is off-topic. But it’s about something that’s been on my mind lately.

Sexual harassment and sexism has been a hot topic in the geek/video game community over the past few months, and has even spurred articles in big news outlets like the New York TimesBBC News and Forbes. And after seeing posts about it on both Jezebel and Gawker this past week, I thought I would chip in my two cents on sexual harassment/sexism in the online gaming and geek communities.

diablo 3 demon hunter - sexism in online gaming

I first encountered sexual harrassment in a video game at an early age.

As a geeky 12-year-old I was asked by a Druid in Diablo 2 multiplayer if I was a girl. Seeing no harm in replying honestly, I affirmed that I was. He then proceeded to ask me what my cup size was. Being young and not sure what to do, I replied honestly (the answer was obviously unimpressive, as I WAS TWELVE). The guy promptly logged off, never to be heard from again —  though over the years many more sexist creeps like him surfaced, often leaving me feeling uncomfortable, frustrated, afraid or straight up violated.

Sometimes it’s less obvious: comments like, “Girls play this game?” or “How can you be good, you’re a girl.” Or in another case, a World of Warcraft player I had briefly grouped with to complete a quest chatted and asked if we could be friends on Facebook. While it was not overtly  pervy, and I’m sure the request seemed harmless to him, it made me uncomfortable. I had to wonder: If I were male, would he be asking to friend me?  After playing together for only 30 minutes? Or does this guy just want to judge how I look IRL? If I did friend him, would I essentially be giving him the means and permission to harass me in the future?

Sexual harassment is a real problem in the gaming community.

Beyond my experiences, there are too many female gamers (and male for that matter) who are cussed out, called names, asked for naked pictures, insulted and even threatened. There is a whole website, Fat, Ugly or Slutty, where lady gamers post examples of this kind of abuse. If you need more proof, check out this study on sexism in the video game community that analyzes the results of a survey of the online gaming community (with colorful charts and graphs, even!).

Most guys don’t set out to harass every lady they run across in their multi-playing adventures — and yet. AND YET. And yet when guys take a special interest in a player and single her out because she’s a woman?  That’s where sexual harassment starts.  She suddenly goes from being another co-player to an object of sexual attention, or sexist, misogynistic or inappropriate remarks.

This pervasive sexist and attitude ruins video games for everyone.

This fact was underscored to me by the answers to an informal poll of my Facebook friends asking about their experiences with harassment (sexual or nonsexual) in online gaming. Interestingly, all of the respondents were guys — and many of them said they avoided playing online or muted audio from other players to avoid being harassed, or having to listen to others being harassed.

The perpetrators of this particularly nasty form of cyber-bullying like to say, “Lighten up! It’s no big deal. I was just kidding. Can’t you take a joke?”  Or a personal favorite: “If you can’t stand the heat, get back in the kitchen!”

The transalation for this should be, “I have no idea how to talk to women except for to make jokes about their body parts! Because LOL 80085! And I’m completely inadequate and so ashamed of my lack of confidence that I’m going to blame the failure of our dialog on you.” Because humor is not an excuse for bigotry, nor sexism, nor any kind of bullying — nor should it be used to justify poor behavior.

What we gamers (male & female) can do to fix it.

Male gamers: treat female gamers like they are there to play the game.

We just want to shoot some zombies, or run a PVP match, just like you. If we were interested in hooking up, we’d be on a dating site or something. Treat us like any other player, because that’s why we’re there: to play.

It might be helpful to ask yourself these questions about your interactions with a female gamer:

  • Would you say or ask these things to a woman you met in person?

  • Would you talk to a guy you met online like this?

  • Would you want someone interacting with your sister/girlfriend/wife/mother/daughter in the same way?

If the answer is yes, congrats! You’re a swell guy and I’m glad to have gamed alongside you (or, you know, kicked your butt in the leaderboards). If the answer is no, adjust your actions and attitude until you can answer “Yes” to the above questions. And if you realize you’ve been a turd, apologize.

If you notice that someone else is making inappropriate jokes at someone else’s expense, or harassing someone — male or female — speak up. Tell them to cut it out. Let them know you think they’re being inappropriate. Don’t make their target just sit there and take it; back them up.

Gals: If playing online is a pastime you enjoy, keep doing it.

It’s exhausting to explain to every third guy that you’re just there to play the game. But playing the victim isn’t goign to solve anything. Don’t let it keep you from playing online, if it’s something you truly enjoy. If we’re going to create the kind of gaming and online community that is suited to female gamers, we need to keep showing up. We need our presence consistently growing, to show that we’re here for fun, and we’re here for good. We need to show that inappropriate comments won’t work to intimidate us, that we won’t stand for them.

Speak up for yourself. Call guys out on their bad behavior. It’s uncomfortable, and you’ll be told to “Lighten up” a lot. But it’s worth it. Speak up and defend other players who are being harassed. And I’m not saying that you should turn into a self-righteous crusader. Often, all it takes is a, “Hey, you’re being uncool.” If someone crosses a line, report the player.


This article is about primarily male-to-female sexual harassment, because that is my personal experience and what I feel I can create an informed post about. But, I’d like to recognize that in- game sexual harassment is also a huge problem for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender community (see this article). If you have other resources or articles on this or a related topic, please comment and let use know!

Have you experienced or seen sexual harassment in multiplayer video games? Have any tips to add for how to handle these situations? Or think I’m made of crap? Join the discussion — leave a comment.

5 thoughts on “Reclaiming the Gaming Community from a Sexist Culture

  1. You know it’s funny. I remember being a member of forums where girls got a lot of attention just because they were a)gamers b)female. I have to wonder though, how many of these remarks come from people that aren’t stupid hormonal teenagers? I also wonder if it’s a possible lawsuit that you can have against ________ company for not cracking down on that kind of of behavior when they know it’s happening.

    It’s also funny (in a not haha way) that there is so much gay bashing going on in games. Got sniped? It’s gay. Someone camping? They’re gay. You’re right, it’s a terrible culture, and if Youtube comments are of any worth it’s getting worse. Props to you for taking a stand.

    • I’m sure there are plenty of girls who love the attention. But there are a lot more who would rather just play and have fun

      Ivor, I would agree that most of the players who have been obnoxious have also probably been under 18. But I’m also concerned that there don’t seem to be many players out there willing to tell them that this isn’t an acceptable way to act. I’m encouraged because I know there are TONS of guys out there like you who are awesome and nice and respectful. Like I said, this is not a problem for just female gamers.

      • You’re right, it definitely is an individual choice and decision to stand up and say something about that kind of behavior.

        The more I think about it, the more serious I’m getting about this lawsuit thing. Harassment is harassment no matter where you’re at. If you were at a pool hall shooting billiards and someone were to throw derogatory remarks around, there would be a case for it. The establishment has a responsibility to remove any belligerent people. So why doesn’t this translate over to the gaming world? I’m not sure how Blizzard monitors all the games going on on their servers but there has to be some kind of record/transcript of any kind of harassing behavior. If they don’t do anything about it (or enough) then there’s a serious problem.

        At the same time, can you really rely on the company to police themselves stricter? I doubt it. It really is an individual thing.

  2. I can’t contribute much to this, since I’ve never played video games other than the original Mario and I didn’t know what LARP was until about three years ago. But I applaud you bringing this to people’s attention! I hope you and other female gamers can get the respect you deserve when you play.

    • Thanks for commenting, Lindsay! I’m sure even thought you’ve never gamed, some of these experiences (sadly) will still sound or feel familiar. A lot of people use anonymity to say nasty things, whether it’s on the street or in youtube comments.

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