Toxic misogyny in the gaming industry

Kaitlyn discusses toxic misogyny and harassment in the gaming community, drawing on personal accounts and experiences of others.

Kaitlyn Maracle
26th March 2021

CW: mentions of sexual assault, abuse, verbal abuse and male violence.

We all know the story with toxic misogyny in gaming. No matter your pronouns, you have more than likely experienced the harassment, trolling and abuse that women and non-binary folks experience within the online gaming space, whether that be as a victim, a witness or a perpetrator.

More and more women and non-binary people are entering the world of video games while it is still an incredibly unsafe space for us compared to how it is for men. This affects all of us. 

My personal experience with misogynistic abuse online in gaming communities begins where many other people’s horror stories begin too. Overwatch. As any woman/non-binary person knows, voice communications in any public game are a minefield already, and Overwatch was no exception. I was immediately greeted with every anxious woman’s nightmare in a game. ‘Oh my God, it’s a gamer girl!’. Here we go. 

Throughout the match, I was called: ‘stupid cow’, ‘dumb f*cking bitch’, ‘stupid whore’. I was threatened with violence, told they would find where I lived and hurt my family, all because we lost a quick play game, not even ranked, as if that justifies it somehow. This was in 2018. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon occurrence, even to this day, as many people can figure out my gender identity through usernames and characters I tend to enjoy playing.  I haven’t used voice comms in a public match without my partner or my friends ever since. It’s incredibly disturbing that these boys felt it was completely acceptable to use this kind of language towards anyone, but what’s worse is they knew there would be no consequences for what they said.

I reported the two players who verbally assaulted me in the game, and received no response from Blizzard or Overwatch to say these accounts had been banned, warned or chat restricted. There are very few laws in regards to online harassment, especially when the internet and anonymous gamertags introduce a whole other level of anonymity. Blizzard’s policy around in-game harassment reads “Hate speech and discriminatory language is inappropriate, as is any obscene or disruptive language. Threatening or harassing another player is always unacceptable, regardless of language used. Violating any of these expectations will result in account restrictions. More serious and repeated violations will result in greater restrictions.” however it seems this is rarely acted upon or enforced.

Female presenting journalists, casters and players are targets of online harassment on social media nearly every day, and there are very little protections of the intense real world consequences of misogyny in this space.

Unfortunately, the problem extends way beyond voice comms in video games, and it exists in nearly every corner of the industry. More and more streamers, developers, executives and pillars of the gaming community are being accused of sexual assault, workplace harassment and inappropriate conduct. Cosplayers and artists are frequently threatened or abused (cosplay being a whole other Pandora’s Box revolving around sexual assault and consent). Female presenting journalists, casters and players are targets of online harassment on social media nearly every day, and there are very little protections of the intense real world consequences of misogyny in this space. Countless male esports players have been accused of various literal crimes over the past two years.

Popular Twitch streamer SweetAnita reported that she was being repeatedly stalked by a viewer, with no real response from Twitch or her local police force, as Twitch reportedly wouldn’t pass on details of the stalker to law enforcement. Twitch does have a policy against stalkers, but being ‘caught’ for this only results in a brief suspension of your Twitch account, rather than a punishment that reflects the crime, such as a complete IP ban. This would mean the user can’t repeatedly make accounts and keep harassing the victim.

Even more recently, variety streamer and participant on the insanely popular Dream SMP Minecraft server Nihachu, spoke up about an incident where she accidentally showed a part of her cleavage on stream, and it was photoshopped onto images of other naked women and uploaded to adult websites. There is very little, legally, that she can do to stop this.  Nihachu is 19 years old. She has previously talked on JustAMinx’s stream about how these kinds of incidents have worsened her mental health and eating disorder. At 19.

Something needs to change in this community, but I don’t know what. I used to think we needed more female/non-binary representation in streaming, in games, making games, in journalism, everywhere. I feel like that is slowly happening, and all it’s resulted in is more abuse and more harassment. Maybe the solution lies with those around us to stand up to misogyny, creepy behaviour and harassment. I am not saying it is all men in this community who think this is acceptable. My group of friends as well as Newcastle University’s Gaming Society have been incredible when it comes to not tolerating genuine misogyny in the slightest, but so many men online are not this kind. Until other men and people who are male presenting also stand up to this kind of abuse from their friends to other women and girls, it’s never going to stop.

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