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Misogyny in games: Stats and sexism Exclusive
Misogyny in games: Stats and sexism
October 19, 2012 | By Colin Campbell

October 19, 2012 | By Colin Campbell
More: Console/PC, Social/Online, Business/Marketing, Exclusive

It's no big secret: Significant numbers of men and boys behave disgracefully towards women in public online games servers. Women have been arguing, for years, that online games are infested with sexists and creeps.

New research was released recently that serves to illustrate the depth of this problem. The findings, by student and blogger Emily Matthew, reported that among 874 respondents, 60 percent of all female respondents have experienced harassment while playing video games. 79.3 percent of all participants say that sexism is prominent in the games community. 20 percent of women say that they have been followed, post-game, and bothered by a male-player.

I spoke to Emily to find out more about her findings, and why she felt it necessary and important to add some statistical weight to the anecdotal evidence.

Tell me about yourself and why you wanted to do this research.

I'm 24 years old, and I do personally enjoy playing video games. I have been a target of sexual harassment, especially when playing online on public servers with people I don't know. I think that the community recognizes that it's there. But there's never really any sort of empirical data to use when discussing it or arguing against it. I only have anecdotes to describe what's happening to me, and I think people take that less seriously than if you have hard data to support your claims.

What I find when this subject comes up is that people, especially men, will deny that it exists. Looking at some of the comments that you received in the article, they still denied it, even in the face of statistics. What is your reaction to that kind of response?

You know, I think it's funny. There are some comments I received that were very professional in tone, that sort of denied that sexism was a problem, or that it wasn't really happening in the gaming community, but most of the comments that I received of that nature were very sexist in and of themselves. They called me names or made, essentially, rape threats. I think that proves the point that I'm trying to make. It seems odd to me that you would argue against there being sexism in the gaming community by calling me a 'cunt' or a 'slut.'

One argument is that misogyny in online games is an affront not just against women, but against men as well, because it poisons the whole arena. It makes it an unpleasant place to be. Do you think that men also suffer because of this behavior?

I absolutely do think that. They're losing a lot that they might have if they were more cooperative with female gamers. There would be a wider range of people to play with, and in general a better gaming experience.

Is the kind of abuse that you suffered the sort of thing that other other people would hear? Or is it in a one-on-one kind of situation?

Both. Usually it'll start out in a public chat or voice chat, where other people can hear it. But generally, in my experience, if the individual who's trying to get my goat is really trying to push it, then they'll start sending me private messages.

And in your experience, have you found that in a group situation, other men tend to just stay silent, or do they raise objections, or do they join in?

It really depends on who I'm playing with. If I'm playing on a server of complete strangers, then most often the men in the room will either not say anything, or occasionally they will join in and add to the sexist harassment. But if I'm playing with people who I know, that are also with me on a public server, then more often those people will stand up for me and say, 'Hey, that's not appropriate,' as opposed to if I'm just playing with complete strangers.

What I find playing on these servers is that there's a very large amount of young men and they tend to be the ones that are the most obnoxious, generally speaking. Would it be fair to say this kind of abuse is coming from younger men, rather than older men?

You know, I would have made that assumption myself, but in the research it shows that people are using this language up through the age of 39. And it's coming from both men and women at roughly the same rates. So I would say that maybe you see more younger men who are doing it in public, in my experience, and some of the older ones take it to private conversations.

Did you ask in your research if people had done it themselves to other people, and they admitted to it?

Yes, I did ask that. Granted, there's an element in that question of people recognizing what sexism is, and also making that connection with their own behavior, which isn't always going to be as accurate as if you have someone from the outside analyzing it. But we did have approximately, I believe about 12 percent of men and women both who admitted they had made sexist comments or threats or harassment towards other players.

So what sort of sexist comments are women making towards other players? Is this towards other women, or men?

Both. A lot of the common comments made towards men are questioning their sexual preference. What comes more from women than from men is the assumption of the male chauvinist pig. You also get women who are attacking other women. The term 'slut' is something that multiple women would use against one another, and 'attention whore.' I find that those are usually comments made to distinguish oneself from all those other female gamers that the men are making fun of. "Well, yeah, there are female gamers like that, but that's not how I am." That's what that sort of behavior seems to say.

Is this basically bullying, in that whoever is different is going to get pushed around by the other people, who are very heavily invested in being accepted as the norm?

Some men feel like gaming is their realm, and that they want to protect that from females who they see as outsiders encroaching on their activities or their territory. They feel that what was maybe once a safe space, in gaming, is now open to other people and they don't feel as comfortable with that as they would otherwise.

Is it a kind of fear? Is that what it comes down to? Some men are afraid of women and that's why they lash out.

I think that all discrimination generally does come down to fear. Fear of the different and of being exposed to something that you're not familiar with. I think we all have an innate sense that we're comfortable with people like us. When people who aren't like us arrive on the scene, our first instinct is to both distinguish ourselves from those people and, honestly, to fear those people.

Have you found that the competitive element has an influence? When I talk to some of my female friends, they seem to get it worse when they win in video games. That defeat by a woman drives some men crazy.

A lot of time it doesn't matter how you're playing or what your gaming ability is. Just because you're a woman, you're going to get slurs thrown at you.

The only way these things change is by sensible people standing up to it and saying, 'Look, this is simply not acceptable.' Do you feel that your work and some of the articles that get written about this subject will help to make that more the norm?

I hope it will. Just doing the survey kind of opened some people's eyes as to their own behavior and the behavior of others. They weren't previously aware of the sexism that was happening around them, and they couldn't really intervene with that. But now that they're aware that they can, they do step in when they see it.

One of the responses that I see to anything that has to with misogyny or sexism in video games is that complaints about this are "spoiling our fun." That it's a whole lot of political correctness or liberal bias...

Well, I think that they're along the same lines as the people who are saying sexism doesn't exist. I think that those are people, maybe, that recognize that it does exist and don't feel like they can make the argument that it isn't prevalent in the community. So they have to take a different tack at dispelling the argument against it.

Colin Campbell is a features editor at IGN. You can follow him on Twitter @colincampbellx.

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Thomas Happ
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Very strange to me that people could still be denying sexism happens or is a problem in the gaming community. But I guess you have a lot of people denying the earth is round, too.

Matthew Downey
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On the first layer you have sexism, on the second layer there's "blame the victim" mentality.

Men rarely have to deal with sexism, and when they do have to deal with harassment, they probably like to trash talk anyway (because we tend not to be sensitive to others' feelings), so getting into a heated argument actually makes us feel better about ourselves.

Plus few of us (men) stop to think, nor do the trash talkers view themselves as trash talkers, since that's the norm for men who use voice chat in video games.

Even the casual communities, like Team Fortress 2, deal with these problems (although to a lesser degree).

I won't lie, I don't think I've ever stopped a girl from being harassed in CoD throughout the 20ish days of gameplay I've spent. I will, however, try to change this about myself.

Freek Hoekstra
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as in any case, as soon as people are anonymised or atleast less accountable for their actions
(as with everywhere on the internet), people tend to be less bound by the common rules of socially accepted behaviour and may even slip into socially abject behaviour simply becouse they have to contain themselves every day.

this is a very clear case of that, sometimes it is escapism, and it is what games are good at, every day i am a average or even below average human being but in this game I am a superhero/god/commando whatever.

in this case people are going to try and "vent" their frustrations this way.
I am not condoning nor patronizing this this is a mere explanation not an excuse,
but similar to trolling and other "rude" behaviour it is a part of what anonimity brings forth in many people because of a lack of shame and repercussion.

as online communities mature I do truly hope to see less and less of this in my eyes despicable behaviour for a more mature and respectfull one. however I often wish for the same in "Real life"

Joe McGinn
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Not surprised in the slightest by the report. Who hasn't been abused on public+anon game chat channels? The solution is obvious: system-wide reputation systems (such as in games like League of Legends) on comm systems like XBox LIve.

Frankly, if Microsoft put half the effort in to this that they routinely invest in trying to figure out how to jam more adds into the latest XBox Dashboard, this would be a solved problem already.

Maria Jayne
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"A lot of time it doesn't matter how you're playing or what your gaming ability is. Just because you're a woman, you're going to get slurs thrown at you."

This must be something relating to voice coms, I've been playing mmos for about 12 years and while I don't advertise I'm female, all the guilds I've been in and anyone who asks I have told. In all that time nobody has made any gender slurs to me.

Perhaps the issue here is more the random nature of multiplayer matches in shooters. By being thrown into mixing pots you're far more likely to never meet those people again or even spend any time getting to know them. There is no actual community that could shun you and so you have no real social fallout from being aggressive or nasty. When you're surrounded by aggressive or nasty people, perhaps that defines how you behave if you continue to be in that environment and want to "get involved".

I never use voice coms in multiplayer games, I dislike the reactive nature of blocking people who offend or disgust me as opposed to choosing who i hear, I have to choose who I don't, and by then it's already too late.

Michael Rooney
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That's an important statistic that I can't see in the report unfortunately. I really wish there was a better way for your reputation to follow you in many online games.

League of Legends got tremendously better after adding the report system, and better again after adding the honor system. I wish more games did something similar.

Maurício Gomes
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There are a very good video on youtube by girlwriteswhat that explains that men use trash talking as part of their tools for superity.

What happened is that trash talking is always seen as a bad thing near women, thus as women became more and more involved in men activities, the trash talking had to be moved to somewhere else.

The place to trash talk originally was the workplace, men bullied other men all the time as a way to get advantage, or as a joke when the other men were their friends. When women entered the workplace, that became "sexual harassment", but actually the harassment does not happen because men are misoginist, or because women are seen as diffrent, it is the opposite, when women entered the workplace wanting to be equals, they got bullied too (until lawsuits started to fly).

There are few "man spaces" in our culture, men only bars in many nations are forbidden now, houses now rarely has the man cave room, most workplaces have more women than men (the exception is for example construction, plumbing, farming...).

So the only place that is left for most men to feel manly by doing some instinctive things is online games, shooter in particular allow men to exercise their hunter and scout instincts.

Maria Jayne also has a good and correct point.

What will happen when the "sexism" (it is not sexism, it is just assholeness in general) gets curbed in online shooters? It will move somewhere else... OR it will explode (I have no idea what will happen when it explodes, but I suspect the whole society will get stinky...)

Note: I am not defending assholes, and I never trash talk in games (I think having superior skills is enough to show superiority, and I can do psychological warfare with the gameplay), I am explaining why it happen.

It is NOT sexism, if you keep thinking it is, you are missing the source of the things, and you will fail to solve the problem (if it can be solved, that is).

Maurício Gomes
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I love you too Joe

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Maurício Gomes
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I do not found where girlwriteswhat defends domestic violence...

If you provide a link I would really appreciate (I did not watch all of her videos).

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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"I haven't listened to any videos by girlwriteswhat, but her point is obviously flawed."

How do you know what her point is, or if its true or false, without listening to what she has to say?

Maurício Gomes
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Just noticed that Joe said I should not be welcomed on Gamasutra because of my views.

Well Joe...

You are welcome on Gamasutra, I like when people have opposing views, it is this way that I can learn more, improve, see other viewpoints that maybe I am missing, and rethink my values.

You and others like you are the grinding stone that sharpen my arguments. And I will always defend your right to have your opinion, even if I don't agree with it, because without opinion I would not be able to measure my own.

There is no shadow without the light.
There is no cold without heat.
There is no good without evil.
There is no up without down.

I cannot be a anti-feminist (note: I am not MRA although people like to say I "spew MRA bullshit" because MRAs are egalitarians and I am complementarian) if there are no feminists.

I cannot be a complementarian without egalitarians.

I cannot be me, without you.

So, I welcome you, I defend my right to keep enjoying games and working in the game industry, and I defend your right to do the same, because I cannot be me, without you being you.

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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@Brion Foulke

If you want to discuss what GWW has to say, listen to what she has to say, don't take other peoples word for it. This is the internet, the information and content referenced is literally only one click away.
She is only reading of a script sitting in her kitchen, so you can even listen to her on the go, like a podcast, if you are afraid that the video will take up too much of your time.

You can also read what she has to say on her blog:

Stop being intellectually lazy and watch her videos to form you own opinion instead of relying on hearsay.

Until then, everything you say about her, or her arguments, is invalid, as you don't actually know her argument.

William Johnson
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So I've never heard of this GWW before, but after watching a few of her videos; its clear to me, she is not very bright. She complains of feminist strawmans (strawmen?) and uses her own strawman.

Talk about indoctrination. I don't even know how she can believe what she says. She says that men have fought for their right to vote by dying in wars, so women shouldn't get to vote because they haven't and couldn't have military service? Modern feminism is advocating that women should be on the frontline and are just as capable as men at defending their nation.

Its that kind of idiotic ideology that kept slavery around as long as it did in America. These simple minded black folk clearly can't take care of themselves, so its obviously the responsibility of the white man to take care of them. I mean, if the logical fallacy is the oppressed don't get a say because they don't get to shoulder the responsibility, then American should always be at war, and only those who serve in war (and don't die) should get the right to vote.

NO! That's stupid. Girl Writes What is stupid.

While I can agree with the idea of Joe Wreschnig, that we (as a society or community) should shun such bigoted behavior, but the catch-22 is we'd become that which we are advocating against. Segregating people off, doesn't sound like a good idea to me. It'd just create an us vs them, and really polarize the view points. So, in conclusion, I don't have any answers and I like to waste everybody's time.

M Hemming
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@ william

While I think it's true that her videos are highly flawed, and that she uses a lot of strawman arguments, and doesn't seem to realise what modern feminism is about (total equality for everyone no matter what gender or race or sexuality) and instead seems to believe that feminism is pure misandry and female supremacy. You shouldn't resort to ad hominem, while her arguments may be bad, and her information poor, there's no need to call her stupid. She seems quite intelligent, but in the same way that creationists are. Picking and choosing results to match the hypothesis.

Joshua Cook
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While I don't entirely agree with most of Mauricio's points, particularly on where the root of the harassment towards women comes from (I'm my experience women are harassed in game even more than Black people, Jewish people, Gay people, etc.), I do think he brings up a good point regarding the motivations behind the harassment towards women.

I'm not saying something doesn't need to be done and I'm not claiming to know how much of the harassment is motivated by misogyny vs people just being assholes. I won't deny that sexism exists in games and that, in my experience, women are treated worse than other minority groups. But, I would like to see the harassment numbers as they relate to all minority groups. Perhaps that will give us a real picture as to how much of the harassment towards women is related to sexism and how much is related to people just being assholes.

Again, I'm not saying that something doesn't need to be done here and I'm not trying to downplay this woman's study. But, I'm hoping that when something is done we will take measures make things fair for all minority groups (and the majority group :P ).

@Joe I have to thank you for motivating me to actually post something. That said, I've been reading your posts for quite a while and you have to be one of the biggest bullies I have ever seen. Even if people presents something you don't agree with in non-offensive manner you respond back with some of the most vitriolic posts I've seen on Gamasutra. The fact that you have so many people liking what you post is interesting to me. Do you really have to resort to ad hominem so often to get your point across? I guess it certainly serves to get you noticed, but really?

I’ve always thought it was ironic that you can garner so much support with bullying and discriminatory remarks in the comments sections of articles that are made to raise awareness of discrimination.

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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To call her article/blog "research" is a disgrace.
It's a self-selecting online poll with some gratuitous conjecture.

Please Gamasutra, have some standards, don't become Kotaku.

Call me when someone has done some real research, i.e. something with peer-review.

Emppu Nurminen
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I find it cute how you are one of the guys she is talking about.

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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When in doubt, ad hominem.

Emppu Nurminen
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Yeah, I too doubt what your suggestion of "real research" would contribute more these findings. Maybe the hint that there is something profoundly wrong with manchildren, which isn't the news at all.

Michael Rooney
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Emppu the study doesn't do anything to isolate sexism from any other sort of discrimination. Why do you jump to assuming he is sexist?

Emppu Nurminen
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Micheal; I never implied he was sexist, I just said she was talking about the people with same characteristic that Aleksander here has proven quite few times; undermining, spoken-down and patrionizing.
Congratulation for you to call him sexist!

Dane Warnick
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It would seem to me that being better than a woman is grounds for being sexist these days, but like a bunch of the comments before me I agree that there is a clear difference between mean-spirited taunts and good-nature d ribbing and anonymity plays a factor in people being ass-hats. So to address this "fear" she's proclaiming I would agree that people like to differentiate themselves say core- gamers vs. Kinect only gamers but fear that's malarkey people just like having an identity and if suddenly all gamers got bundled together there would be no sense of identity in the gaming community.

Will Burgess
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Can't believe nobody has posted this yet. It's classic Xbox Live trashtalking, but all women versus one man. Pretty funny.

Also, regardless of statistical evidence, spending 10 minutes on any Xbox Live game when a woman pops in is enough evidence for me to believe there is rampant sexism there.

Benjamin Probert
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Immaturity + Anonymity = Asshole

It has always been that way on the internet, I can remember it as far back as the 90s when I was 14 and using chatrooms. The fact that young guys can get away with saying anything online without repercussions just opens the floodgates to minority-bashing. What are we going to do, FORCE them to mature?

Leigh Hadfield
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Football has kick racism out of football campaign. Why not sexism out of gaming? I guess u could take racism out of gaming but is that really an issue?

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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Football (or just about any other sport + the olympics) hasn't kicked sexism out of their organizational structure.

If they did, we would have mixed-gender teams, but we unfortunately don't.

Far more egregious in my opinion, at least in competitive gaming you have mixed teams and everyone is allowed to compete equally.

Brandon Kidwell
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I cannot stress this enough. While there is a problem with sexism in gaming communities do not, I repeat, DO NOT blow it out of proportion and create a way for female gamer to claim themselves the victim. In my experiences with female gamers I generally back them up even if I don't know them personally. I also do a list of other things that makes them feel comfortable and not singled out like so many others do even though they are trying to be helpful.

1. There is no male or female gamer, there is a gamer and that is the end of that.
2. Do not cater to a female gamer just because they are female. If you cater to a female player then you should cater to all other players.
3. Compliment or criticize a female player as you would a male player.
4. When in a lobby and a female voice flows over the stream treat it like any other player talking.

I may seem a little apathetic towards the subject in regards to giving females any special attention or "protecting" them but that is what causes problems. You give an individual the idea that they are special they will take it all the way. As I said previously female gamers are just gamers. I am likely to shoot her as much as I am likely to shoot him. I don't hesitate because she has a sweet voice or shes giggling. I don't give her money or items because she is a girl.

I reward anyone for being a good player and I defend both male and female players against trash talkers.

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The most shocking thing to me is that 40% of the women surveyed were never harassed online. I'm a dude and if I play online everyday for a week I'm bound to get a few IMs from someone I beat or lost to (funny how losing or winning is a zero factor) might calling me a p***y, b***h, f*g, n****r, or some other remark. I thought everyone got harassed on the internet and that was just how it worked.

Anyways, I think it's less sexism and just -isms in general. What makes you different than others in a way that someone could easily identify by hearing your voice or seeing your online profile? Whatever that happens to be is what people are going to hone in on. It's no different than the playground except on the playground the jackasses at least had the courage to say it to your face, live and in person.

I don't know how you stop it. Humans have hated each other for a variety of petty and moronic reasons for the last few dozens of thousands of years. I don't know what recent breakthroughs in science and society we can turn to in order to now be able to eliminate it, especially with the rise and societal acceptance of tech that allows people to easily and anonymously hate people for a variety of petty and moronic reasons.

Ian Uniacke
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I find it says more than any research could, that the standard argument here seems to be "Sure, there is sexism against females but IT'S OK because there is ALSO racism against blacks". Stay classy.

Michael Rooney
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Who said it was ok? There is a difference between pointing out that something is misdiagnosed and condoning the action. If the problem is discrimination in general or cyber-bullying in general, what good does it do to paint it as only sexism?

Matt Marquez
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These articles are almost as mind-numbing as the annoying assholes who apparently prompt them to be an issue in the first place.

I think everyone just needs to calm down.

Heliora Prime
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I don't see the relevance of this article and most of the comments. Here are the designers, mature man and women. And the target group are anonymous immature men. They don't care about this article.
Will this discussion result in change? Will xbox accounts be banned? Will there be an option to only hear friends? Will it be easier to block the audio of jerks?

Don't underestimate the power of being anonymous, just read comments on youtube or whatever.

Things could improve if microsoft/sony give more audio options with voice chat. Otherwise, it's a mentality and it won't change any time soon.

fred tam
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More to the point, the articles always assume its a huge problem as if 50% of the players in such games really were women. I'm sure a full 50% of baseball fans and the rest really are women too, and half of twilight fans are know...because facts don't matter...