How Toxic Online Culture is Affecting Women in Games

and what we can do about it
 |  Mary Gushie
How Harassment Has Affected Women In Gaming

According to the Washington Post, “Nearly two-thirds of female journalists report experiencing threats, sexist abuse, intimidation and harassment online and on social media in the course of their work.” Let that sink in. Two-Thirds. And that is just in the journalist category.  While a survey by Anti-Defamation League (ADL) estimated that approximately 38% of women who use a female representative username while playing online receive harassment. 

And I for one, have had enough of this. 

For a long time, the gaming industry has been deemed a “boys club” of sorts. But, over time women started to gain interest and join the industry. Like any male dominated industry, it can be tough for multiple reasons, and having to constantly feel you have to “prove yourself” is a major one. In addition, there is a notation that a woman is only in this industry for attention or only earned her role because she was a woman. This is further from the truth in most cases though, as women just want to have an equal opportunity within this industry without having to feel uneasy or devalued because of their gender. 

How Toxic Online Culture Is Affecting Women In Games
Cyberpunk 2077

It appears that this is an overall issue across the gaming industry – reviewers, Youtubers, streamers, content creators and even casual players are all affected by this. And it can range from the stereotypical “get back to the kitchen” jokes to extreme harassment and none of it should be acceptable. 

Recent Events

I would like to point out just a few very recent examples of what a woman can experience for simply being herself within the gaming industry. 

Earlier this week, reviews were released for one of the year’s most anticipated games of the year, Cyberpunk 2077. And what should have been an extremely exciting time for a few female journalists who not only got to cover the game, but they did so under tight deadlines due to codes being given out close to release date. Well, all of this turned out to be a disaster. Let me explain.

Numerous female journalists who reviewed Cyberpunk 2077 gave their honest and critical feedback and scored the game the way they saw it, and these opinions were met with backlash. And, we are not talking about a few angry fanboys on Twitter. We are talking about 100’s of messages directed towards devaluing these journalists work piece by piece, including death threats, extreme name-calling, and harassment. People went as far as finding and contacting some of these journalists’ family members. Various Youtuber’s begin to spread hate and lies about how unqualified these women were, which causes their followers to reach out. You see, things like this can snowball extremely quickly, and what starts as a few “angry fanboys” can quickly turn into 1000s of individuals sending hateful and harmful messages to a single woman, her family, and her employer. And for what? All because of a game and her simply doing her job as a journalist?

How Toxic Online Culture Is Affecting Women In Games
Cyberpunk 2077

This is further amplified when another female reviewer simply pointed out that Cyberpunk 2077 had triggered “one major seizure” and left them “close” to another several times. This is not only a very brave thing to admit and share but it is also a way to spread awareness so that others do not have to experience what she did.  She simply was warning players that this is what she experienced. However, she was met with toxicity, hate and harassment online across all her social media platforms.

Another example that needs to be highlighted is the streaming/Twitch community, specifically women and women in color. With the recent events surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement, women of color have stood up and challenged companies who do not feature or work with any POC, especially women. And it worked! Major companies such as Sony and Microsoft took notice and started treating these women exactly like other content creators by providing products, especially the new console launches of the PS5 and Xbox Series X. This is a huge accomplishment not only for these creators but for the industry. The industry needs to have representation from everyone on every platform, it just creates a better experience overall and inclusivity is extremely important. However, again these creators were met with harassment and toxicity, 1000’s of messages claiming that they did not deserve what they had worked hard for. 

Casual Gamers

I also wanted to touch on the type of behaviour that a casual female gamer must endure as well. For simply, have a username that indicates they are female they can be instantly targeted with negative messages and chats. Even worse is when playing an online game where microphone is enabled, with constant inappropriate questions and comments which makes the player feel uncomfortable. This type of behaviour deters female gamers to even play these style of video games even though they may enjoy them. And in some instances, female players are targeted within the game, limiting the way they can even play the game and these other players are making the experience overall unenjoyable for them.

Negative Impact 

I cannot express the severity of the harassment, messages upon messages telling you the most hateful, horrible things, discrediting your work, discreating your value, discreating your worth. This can have an extreme impact on someone’s life and mental health. There are things that can be said that trigger someone or makes them feel so awful that they want to give up their career. That fact that people have to constantly defend words and actions for simply using their voice and doing they’re within the gaming industry.

How Toxic Online Culture Is Affecting Women In Games
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

Not only does this affect those who experience it, it affects one’s family and friends. Sometimes the harassment is taken so far that a woman’s family is contacted, friends and spouses are contacted, and must-read messages of hate directed towards someone that they love. 

What isn’t talked about is that this behavior also affects the future of the gaming industry as a whole. Younger women who might have an interest, talented women who might want to try their hands at something in this industry, will all see this type of behavior. And it may steer them away from following this passion and go elsewhere, when they could be using their talents in this wonderful industry. This toxicity and the consequences it need to be stopped and women need to feel safe to express themselves. 

What Can Be Done

While most online gaming platforms from Microsoft and Sony, to social media platforms, and even the streaming platform Twitch, all have ways for users to file a complaint online. Users can report players and/or messages they’ve been sent, and more. Unfortunately, this does not stop someone from making a new username and doing it again. Nor does it take way any damage that has already been done. But it is a start. 

I am of the opinion that rules need to be stricter, as right now it does not seem to really penalize the offenders. Sure, they may be banned for a week or so, or lose their username, but eventually they will back, with no remorse. Additionally, we are not talking about simple “name calling” here, we are talking about death threats, explicit language and even doxxing. 

How Toxic Online Culture Is Affecting Women In Games
Battlefield 5

Women themselves have been taking a stand as well. Around 2014 the blanket term Gamergate was created which essentially refers to the cultural battle over space and visibility and inclusion especially around women in the gaming industry. While it was a mixed bag of claims, harassment, and a lot of drama, it was the first time that many people took notice about the injustices that women must endure simply for working in this space. Another example is earlier this year numerous women came forward to share their abuse stories and horrible experiences while working at high profile companies such as Ubisoft. The result? Action. While not handled perfectly, slowly but surely, we saw abusers “step down” from positions as well as companies apologizing and promising for more inclusivity and change. However, only time will fully tell.

Overall, I believe the industry has taken a few steps forward towards more inclusivity for women; however, we have also taken a few steps back. While women are encouraged and welcomed, they still face judgement and harassment for simply existing. So you might be thinking, what’s next? I think a few things need to happen.

First off, if this type of thing bothers you, you need to speak up about it. Two, if you see a comment or user harassing someone, report it. If you experience it, share it. Three, personally I am working on a report to document these stories so that we can share them and use them as proof for what women must endure. Lastly, remain strong and continue to produce your best work possible. I believe in you and support you.



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