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.