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[PAX East] Exposing The Harassment Female Gamers Receive Online

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Posted on April 9, 2012 AT 01:51pm

The age-old rule that “girls don’t game” has been proven to be a myth, as every year, the percentage of gamers who are female continues to grow. What isn’t a myth, however, is the treatment that those female players receive online—which was the subject of the PAX East panel “N00dz or GTFO! Harassment in Online Gaming”.

The panel was hosted by Elisa Melendez, Jenny Haniver, Morgan Romine, and Grace (gtz). Two of the panelists—Jenny and Grace—specifically run websites (notinthekitchenanymore.com and fatuglyorslutty.com respectively) devoted to giving examples of the treatment that female gamers receive from their male counterparts.

Below is one of those examples that was shown as to what kinds of messages the various panelists had received. The language is a little mature—or, should I say, immature—but it helps to underscore the point being made.

Funny? Messages like these do make your laugh—but the question is if that laughter comes from actual comedy, shock, or bewilderment that a male player would think things like this are okay to say to female players. (And really, it isn’t just female players, but more on that in a moment.)

One of the first topics brought up was a simple question: Do you gender yourself in terms of your online handle and/or profile? Or do you pick things that won’t make you stand out as being female? Grace mentioned that she uses a gender-neutral name and profile, while Jenny stated that she has a female-sounding name (along with usually using a headset, which helps even more in making her gender clear when playing online.)

I found myself really being bothered that the panel was even having such a conversation—and the fact that we do  have to have such conversations. Why should female game players even have to consider hiding who they are to avoid harassment? Why should they need to pretend to be male, or avoid any identifications so that others will just assume that they are? That’s like asking somebody to “pretend not to be Jewish” or “pretend not to be gay” in order to avoid ignorant comments from others.

This conversation lead into a video presented for the panel—one which took a light-hearted approach at looking at what is a very serious subject. Done as a sort of 1950′s-era educational video, we see a housewife who wants to take a break from her duties as wife and mother by playing a few rounds of online gaming. Unfortunately, she doesn’t know the proper etiquette for doing so! So she—and us, the viewers—are taught the three important rules for female players who want to go online:

  • Don’t choose a distracting name—as in, one which will remind male players that women actually exist
  • Don’t choose a distracting avatar—as in, again, one which is anything but male
  • Don’t distract other players with your voice

For that last one, members of the panel explained that many times, simply speaking to other players caused them to get nasty responses. Jenny mentioned one particular game she remembered, where no matter what she was trying to say to her teammates, one guy would give her no response other than “shut up, bitch”.

Even when we know about the harassment female gamers receive via online games, there’s still some myths that go around that the panel brought up. One is that many times, the blame for such harassment is put on “13 year olds”—when in fact, on average, younger players are far more polite, and the real source of harassment typically comes from older players. That’s not to say that younger players don’t engage in such harassment, however—and another myth that isn’t true is that kids will grow out of such activities. If younger players are allowed or encouraged to treat female players in such a way, then they’ll have no reason to ever stop thinking it’s okay to do so.

So how do we solve all of this? It’s a problem that requires a variety of solutions. The biggest piece of that is something I’ve long believed—that avoiding the problem won’t make it go away. “Don’t feed the trolls” is a recommendation often brought up online, but this is one case where being quiet won’t solve anything.

Male players need to speak up and speak out when they see or hear female gamers being harassed by other male players—as hard as that be for those male players to do at times. At the same time, women have to know that they aren’t alone. Both Grace and Jenny said that while their websites are aimed at showing the ugly side of online gaming, there’s also a huge benefit to doing so. It allows other female players the chance to understand that they aren’t alone in this—and it can help them in taking some power away from their harassers.

Jenny brought up an email that she received from a woman named Sara. Sara never liked using a headset when playing games online, because she was afraid of getting identified as female. However, after visiting Jenny’s website, Sara felt like she had gotten a look at the worst of what was out there—and realized that maybe she could deal with it after all.

We also have to keep talking about this conversation—and not allow it to go away or be swept under a rug. The Cross Assault controversy was brought up, and in my own following of all of that, I’ve seen plenty of people ask why this is “suddenly a topic of conversation”, or stating that the community needs to deal with it themselves and that “outsiders” should stay out of it. Life doesn’t work that way unfortunately; if we don’t put pressure on people to change, or continue to point out such inadequacies in gaming or its community, people often won’t feel any pressure or need to change.

Elisa mentioned that she’d been asked why she’d want to write a paper about gender inequality and harassment in gaming, as “everybody already knows about all of this.” She said that there’s still power in naming this oppression, and that that brining of awareness and community around such issues is still very important.

While N00dz or GTFO! was centered specifically around the treatment that female gamers receive online, it’s part of a much bigger picture: The treatment any and all minorities receive in such situations. Be it race, gender, sexuality, gender identity, culture, or a variety of other aspects, too often the gaming community is far too eager to allow itself to be divided—and too quick to attack one another just for a laugh or an ego boost.

We’re all in this for the same reason: We love video games, and we want to share that love with others who do as well. Even beyond online gaming or the fighting game community or whatever else, we need to admit that the entire community as a whole is still extremely immature and exclusive to a wide variety of people. We need more conversations like these—not less. And, while the solution isn’t to respond to those doing such harassment with threats of violence (or worse), we also can’t allow those people to continue to have power over others.

All of us should be actively working to make gaming a better place for everyone—no matter who they are.

Eric L. Patterson, Executive Editor
Eric L. Patterson got his start via self-publishing game-related fanzines in junior high, and now has one goal in life: making sure EGM has as much coverage of niche Japanese games as he can convince them to fit in. Eric’s also active in the gaming community on a personal level, being an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming and consumer rights. Stalk him on Twitter: @pikoeri. Meet the rest of the crew.

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