in Video Games

Sexism in Online Gaming Communities

Misogyny and The Massively Multiplayer Online World

I am admittedly pretty new to MMOs.

This is partly because I don’t generally do very well in social settings – even virtual ones, sadly enough – but mostly it’s because as a college student I don’t exactly have the extra time or funds to feed that kind of gaming addiction on the regular. (Better to just steal my brother’s console games, sneak a few hours here and there, and hope he doesn’t notice they’re gone before I’m finished.)

Most of my experience with online gaming comes from “free to play” titles (though, random side note, I’ve been playing The Secret World since before it was even released and I am still majorly in looooovee, as a previous article will attest to). But from what I’ve heard and seen, MMOs in general attract a certain… kind… of audience. That is, a grossly immature, misogynistic, troll-y audience that seems to think it’s okay to drop violence and rape jokes and threaten to kill other players.

I get it. The Internet grants people a kind of anonymity that makes it really easy and tempting to abuse. Half these people would never say the shit they say online to each others’ faces – because they’re probably very aware of how rude it is, and because doing that is going to grant them a punch to the face and kick to the balls. And while this kind of behavior is rampant in many different areas with many different people, what I have noticed – again, even with my minimal experience with online gaming – is that it seems to kick up a notch when female gamers are around.

A huge, huge notch.

Asking around on forums and other gamer friends confirms this isn’t an experience singular to myself. When some people find out that a female gamer is in their midst, it’s like a switch is flipped from “common human decency” to “asshole”. We have to put up with loads of comments, sexualizing us, harrassing us, insulting us.

I was ‘lucky’ enough to witness one situation in chat where a male gamer called female characters who were wearing bikinis in-game “a bunch of sluts” and said something along the lines of “we should drag them off behind an alley to rape and kill them, see if they still want to parade around in bikinis after that”.

He later defended his actions by saying it was some convoluted reference to Jack the Ripper, and that he was talking about the characters, not actual real-life women, because player controlled characters traipsing around dressed like that was “immersion-breaking” for him.

Like that makes it any better.

It’s gotten to the point where I usually have to close general chat whenever I game so I won’t have the urge to vomit every time I read comments like these. I definitely very rarely disclose the fact that I’m a woman if I do chat with others.

What I’m saying is, this kind of violently misogynistic treatment affects the way female gamers game in a distinct way that just doesn’t happen with others.

Most of the female gamers I know or have talked to say they try to avoid mentioning their gender when grouping up with others. And if it gets out (which it sometimes does if voice chat gives them away or they slip up when typing) they feel pressure to not do anything about the inevitable torrent of sexism that comes their way. Retaliating, even if it’s just politely asking to stop, might make things worse.

Male gamers, on the other hand, have a much safer space to play these MMOs in; they are still subject to trolling and personal attacks, but it has less to do with being male.

Violent threats aimed towards men are generally not descriptive paragraphs on how someone is going to track them down, rape, and/or kill them. This an extreme example, but sadly enough it’s not far off from what many women – and women who speak out against this, as evidenced by Anita Sarkeesian, go through.

She had started a project on Kickstarter where she was raising money to do a video series tackling the problem of sexism in video games. She pitched the project as:

With your help, I’ll produce a 5-video series (now expanded to 12 videos) entitled Tropes vs Women in Video Games, exploring female character stereotypes throughout the history of the gaming industry.

Some of the comments she received from gamers (within a 2 week period) attacked her based on her gender – hurling insulting and degrading sexist slurs at her.

Not everyone acts like this, of course. I have met some very nice male gamers online who don’t pervert their way through interactions. But the rampant sexism in the online gaming community is undeniably a problem, and it’s important to raise awareness about it.

This is rape culture, this is institutionalized and internalized sexism and misogyny. And it needs to change.