According to a 2014 survey, about 52% of gamers are women (Jayanth, 2014 – see article here). More recently, Xbox One launched a survey saying that 42% of Xbox consoles are owned by women. What explains this shift in the video game industry is the rise of smartphones application through games. Women tend to play more and more on their smartphones which thus define them as gamers. Gaming is not necessarily represented by famous brand name like Call of Duty with their online mode. Nowadays, smartphone games are also considered as gaming.
In this context where women are active on the gaming sphere, they are faced with the same problem they sometimes encounter on a daily basis: inequality between men and women, expressed through sexual harassement. How is it possible to sexually harass someone through gaming ? By using coarse language to women. Online harassement through video games platforms (PC, Xbox, PS4) is a current problem faced by women. “Those women gamers are harassed just for being women” (Three B, 2016).
Why is there a sort of harassement targeted toward women gamers ? Cyberbullies may hide behind screen-names and say things they would not otherwise say in person (McDaniels, 2016). The environment created by computer technology allow people to get more critical when they would in ‘real life’ never be. Another form of explanation for the harassment of women players is through gender theory. Indeed, within video games, women are portrayed sexually while male characters are portrayed as agressive and players’ perception mirror this belief (McDaniels, 2016).
How could we prevent this online harassment and what solution could we prescribe ? This is the purpose of this post.
Online harassment: “I am going to rape you”
Trash-talking means using inappropriate language while playing videogames. According to a survey conducted by Allison McDaniels, 75% of the women players she interviewed felt harassed through trash-talk (McDaniels, 2016). Examples include, sexual threats, taunts and comes-ons and criticism that women’s presence is ‘distracting’ or that they are simply seeking attention. “Some have been offered money or ‘virtual gold’ for online sex. Some have been stalked online or in person” (O’Leary, 2012). When it comes to video games, which stereotypically dominated by men, women are not taken seriously but as a means to distract men.
The type of harassment that comes out the more is rape. Women are faced with threats of rape by male gamers. An online woman gamer created the website ‘Notinthekitchenanymore’ (see it here) as a response to those threats where she transcribed the conversations she had with random male players who threatened her with rape or insulted her.
On the website, she even posted a screenshot of a Facebook messenger discussion where she was stalked by a man who used to play with her online. This website is quite alarming because the insults we can see on it are serious, humiliating and we can clearly understand that they are out of the ‘video game’ context, but meant to hurt and harass. However, it reflects the situation women are facing.
In order to avoid these sort of comments while women play video games, they change their usernames to one that do not clearly indicate that they are women. Thus, they need to hide their own identity in order to be left alone which seems like a desperate thing to do.
It seems that online multiplayers mode are thus less attractive to women because of the insults they hear. A documentary named The Dark Side of Gaming on Youtube (link here) interviews women players and ask them about their previous experiences as women playing video games. All of the women interviewed got harassed or insulted on online platforms of video games. In the video, several women said that now when they play videogames they do not put on the helmet or microphone (in order to communicate with other random players) because they know they will hear insult if they put it on. Also, if they put the helmet on, no matter if their username does not clearly state that they are women, their voice through the helmet will do it. One more time, women adjust their gaming experience by hiding themselves and their identity, in order to have a more enjoyable experience.
According to a survey conducted by Amanda Cote, she found that women tend to avoid playing with strangers because they know that friends are less likely to insult them (Cote, 2015). This is another strategy that women use while playing video games. The other problem that online harassment causes is that it tends to discourage women from seeking other gaming friends online because they tend to see male players as aggressive and mysoginistic (Cote, 2015).
Is Gender Theory in cause ?
“One cannot look at gender alone, but one comes to understand the multiple ways gender intersects other identities and meanings” (Sloop, 2012).
The Microsoft survey revealing that 42% of Xbox One owners are females, implies that in the 21st century women and gaming are not as scarce or “weird” a thing as it was previously. However, because we witness online harassment towards women when they play games, we could ask ourselves why ? The video game industry is portrayed as dominated by men and the integration of women is not complete. Sometimes women are treated as homosexual because they play video games, and in order to be very feminine girls should not play video games. I think that the video game industry is largely influenced by stereotypes which prevent this industry from fully maturing. However, a study revealed that women tend to buy the video games more often than men, whether it is to offer to their boyfriends, children, husbands or themselves. Video game companies understands this and see it as a marketing tool, which is why advertisement and design around video games are now focused on women. In a marketing, a lot of industries use women in order to attract customers because they are portrayed sexually. The video game industry does the same thing.
Stephanie Fisher and Jennifer Jenson explain the process of ‘pinkification’. “As the cultural signifier for anything feminine, the color pink is used to organize and differentiate ‘girls games’ from other digital games, which by default are created for the male consumer. This reinforces sterotypical gender-based play, which is by no means a phenomenon that is unique to digital game play” (Fisher & Jenson, 2015). Pink games are a barrier for female participation in other game genres, by ‘pushing away’ male players. (Fisher & Jenson, 2015). Pinkification is a way to reproduce the sexism in games culture where women do not have access to all the things a male gamer does, simply by virtue of their gender.
In most video games, female characters are portrayed as non-important characters in the game as they appear as non-playable characters such as quest givers, objects of affection or conquest or non-interactive ‘background decoration’ (Fisher & Jenson, 2015). Following gender theory where the color blue represent boys and the color pink represents girls, there may be unintended consequences to gender-specific software: girls may be less likely to benefit from developments in the gaming mainstream if they believe that only “girl games” are appropriate for them (Taylor, 2003). Representation of women in games is one of the major problems which explains why women are not totally accepted by male gamers in the video game industry, because players reproduce the paths and relationships between male and women in games, in reality (Ivory, 2006).
Even if the gaming industry nowadays includes more and more women, it is still not appreciated that video games culture is for women as well as for men. For instance, the idea that ‘women do not play games’ is “so persasive that individuals still assume that a woman attending a gaming event is not there because she enjoys games, but because she is somebody’s girlfriend therefore an accessory” (Fisher & Jenson, 2015).
As seen earlier with women who ‘cheat’ on their identity within the game in order to avoid insults or harassment, there is another explanation for this phenomenon. “There is a long tradition within role play gaming culture to try and inhabit characters that are quite opposite of how we might normally think and act” (Taylor, 2003). Gaming environments remain a place which allows people to create a variety of identities that do not necessarily reflect their own.
A stereotype known about women is that: ‘women do not like to fight and would rather avoid the conflict’. However, when it comes to video games, “women gamers talked about the pleasure of hunting and jumping into fights” (Taylor, 2003). In an interview conducted by Taylor a women player said, ” what turns me onto gaming is the feeling of empowerment. In real life I’d never be able to go up to a giant, and beat it down or whatever. But when you’re in the game, you can become whoever you want”. In my opinion, this statement is a huge reason why women play video games, because they know that anyways whatever they do in the game is not real and that the character they play is not real as well, which allows them to be more detached from reality and be whoever they want.
Online harassment on video game platforms is still an issue that women are facing while they play video games. However, nowadays more and more women play video games, some are even very successful, some others became famous Youtubers where they show gameplays of a video game on their Youtube channel, some other participate randomly to gaming event or competition, some play occasionnally, and some other use video games as a way to relax after school or work.
It is now time to end the stereotypes about women who play as homosexual, or without any friends or even because “they seek attention” (McDaniels, 2016). Let us now look at different ways on how we could prevent harassment online.
Every november, Paris is witnessing the gaming event “Paris Games Week” where in association with Ubisoft (main sponsor), people can go meet other video game fans, play games and discover new releases. A famous event during the weekend of the Paris Games Week is the gaming competition different games (Fifa, Call of Duty, Leagues of Legends, etc). Even if during this competition women can compete with men, a way to promote women gaming would be to create a ‘women league’ during this event. By doing so, people who will attend this event will then be able to see how many women actually play video games, enjoy it and can be very good at it.
Ubisoft is one of the biggest sponsor during the event, the company could create a hashtag “#womenliketoplay” where they would also promote women gaming by asking women fans to post pictures of themselves with the hashtag.
Another way to fight harassment online, is that every video game or the developers of the video game should have on their website a tab where gamers could report the usernames of gamers who harass or insult during play. By doing so, video game developers would be aware of those usernames and would potentially be able to apply sanctions to the people linked to the usernames, which could be an exclusion of the person from the game. This would function like the famous hashtag ‘#metoo’ where famous people denounced sexual harassement.
By doing this, developers would show empathy for women players and enable them to be heard.
Finally, on the news, journalists or other famous personalities should promote women gaming, we now know that male players are reproducing the relationships that they see in video games with women in real life. By connecting famous people to the matter who clearly state that they support women gaming, women could feel more secure and people might change their point of view about women and video games. Besides, now in video games some actors are actually ‘playing a character’ within the video games (e.g: Matt Damon).
Cote, A. C. (2015). “I can defend myself”: Women’s strategies for coping with harassment while gaming online. Journal.sagepub, 136-155.
Heywood, L. (2003). The Female Athlete as cultural icon. Minnesota: University of Minnesota press .
Ivory, J. D. (2006). Still a Man’s Game: Gender Representation in Online Reviews of Video Games. Mass Communication & Society, 103-114.
Jennifer Jenson, & Stephanie Fisher. (2017). Producing alternative gender orders: a critical look at girls and gaming. Tandfonline, 87-99.
McDaniels, M. A. (2016). Women in Gaming: A Study of Female Players’ Experiences in Online FPS Games. Mississippi: Honors College.
O’Leary, A. (2012). In virtual play, sex harassment is all too real. The New York Times, 1-4.
Sloop, J. M. (2012). “This is not natural”: Caster Semenya’s Gender threats. Critical studies in media communication.
Taylor, T. (2003). Multiple pleasures: women and online gaming. Journal.sagepub, 1-21.