Harassment in Gaming: Too Much Focus On Women?

JDCyran made a thoughtful and long comment on the “Tropes vs Women” thread that I thought was worth lifting as a post unto itself. Please forgive any proofreading errors, as it was originally just a comment after all. Here is JDCyran’s comment in full:

Speaking of women in gaming, The NY Times printed (digitized?) an article today on harassment in the gaming community and directed it fairly specifically at women (though it does mention other things as well), even mentioning Sarkeesian’s kick starter.

I was wondering what your guys’ take on the article is (I’ll provide the link at the end). I was somewhat miffed that the author chose to focus specifically on sexual harassment of women in the gaming community, not because it doesn’t happen, but because it seems to focus on that disproportionately compared to what, in my experiences as a gay gamer, seems to actually happen.

In the MMO-verse, words like “faggot,” “gay” used as a pejorative, etc., are used in just about every context and treatment of gay people is abysmal, even among friendly groups of players, and frequently, hostilely at random players. Altogether, it’s pervasive, and it’s been that way since the games came out over a decade ago. It’s hard to go 30 minutes in such a game without hearing some anti-gay language, insults, etc. being thrown around.

On the other hand, harassment of women, I have found, is pretty limited. I’ve experienced some myself (because I occasionally choose a female avatar, people often assume I’m female), but it’s pretty rare. I rarely reveal my actual sex in games (or anything else, for that matter), and have, in one, maintained a female facade for about 6 years. Only on a couple of occasions has anyone said anything that was really offensive to me that was directed at my supposed femaleness or because they thought I was a woman. A couple people over the years have attempted to flirt with me, which is always awkward (and a few have even offered me “gold” for online “sex”), but they generally stop after disinterest is shown (and have never then called me a “bitch” or anything similar). However, I’ve also known a few people who have been propositioned on their female characters even when the proposer knew they were men…

On the third hand (or a steady foot on a flexible leg), the amount of abuse that is thrown around by almost everyone at everyone else (and if the game is mostly men, it’s men at men, primarily) is absolutely staggering. People will swear up a storm and threaten each other over so many inane things, it sometimes my eyes water. I’ve seen players get into shouting and insult matches far more severe than anything I’ve experienced (or even heard of from ANY female player I’ve ever, met, and I’ve met a ton. I know that’s anecdotal, but still) while being assumed to be female in a game, and those things can be over the most trivial of reasons. People insult presumed lifestyle choice (mother’s basement, etc.), homosexuality, religion or lack thereof, intelligence or mental disability, age, race, ethnicity, whether the player is too ‘casual’ or too ‘hardcore,’ and a host of other things. And in the games, no one defends those things (though some topics, such as the last on that list, will create an enormous debate that has more vitriol than a tanker of sulfuric acid).

When an insult about a woman comes up, the number of White Knights that suddenly appear on the scene is *staggering.* Generally speaking, they’ll verbally (digitally?) tear the insulter to shreds, or a debate will start up over whether a White Knight is more pathetic than the person insulting the woman, and the insulted person is generally forgotten in the entire thing. In all reality, insulting women the thing I see both the least of and the thing which is the most protected and has been voiced against (prior to the current spate of concerned articles, vlogs, and blogs about the issue).

Some men have been treating each other like absolute crap since the beginning of online gaming and even before that in online communities, IRC, BBS, etc. The people who do will throw every insult they can come up with to slag whatever they’ve target they’ve chosen. That is the way the community has been (which is not to say that it’s appropriate. I dislike it quite a bit, but that’s sort of irrelevant to the topic).

So, I’m confused as to why this is coming up now. If people cared about harassment online, why is it just now coming up about women (and primarily women – the article takes a long-standing culture and makes it about women primarily), when, for instance, gay people have been slammed through the ringer, stomped on, etc., for just about as long as “online gaming” has even been a thing? I know some people have brought it up, and there have been a few influential people (in the gaming community) talking about it (such as Adam Sessler from G4TV), but for the most part, nobody gives a crap about it, and those messages quickly faded away (though will likely still be brought up periodically).

This, however, people give many craps about. If someone dug a hole in the ground, put the number of craps that have been given so far about it in the hole, and covered it with buildings, it’d resemble a park full of outhouses. Why is there a moderately well funded kick starter for how women are treated and depicted in and by games, when there isn’t for the numerous other things (I say, based on my experience) so much vastly more slighted and treated horribly by the players and games themselves.

Ahem.

As for one quote from the article that I wanted to specifically mention:

“Women report greater levels of harassment in more competitive games involving strangers.”

Well, yeah. If they’re reporting greater harassment in more competitive games involving strangers than in games that are either less competitive or don’t involve strangers, that seems like a Captain Obvious statement. Competitive games are filled with harassment, insulting, etc., and it has been that way seen before (if there was a time) women were ever involved in them. Men, however, don’t often report that as “harassment.” However, if they’ve poorly written that women report greater levels of harassment than do men in that situation, that’d also be a Captain Obvious statement. Men have been doing it for a long time to each other, I think they’re just less likely to view it as personal “harassment” than trolling or something else.

So my awful question (which I admit is pretty awful) is: Do women who are just now entering the gaming community in large numbers feel like they are entitled to change the entirety of the culture (the men in the culture have been treating each other like crap forever) because the possess a pair of magical boobs? Even if they don’t, and just want to change it in general, why is the focus suddenly *women.*

Link to the article: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/02/us/sexual-harassment-in-online-gaming-stirs-anger.html

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  • debaser71

    Great comment!

    I’ll just add that ot’s not only about video games. Here in New York boys get into it with each other over Jets vs Giants or Yankees vs Mets or Rangers vs Islanders. It’s common. Boys play sports together and there’s trash talking. Even among friends.

  • OperatorOscillation

    Xacudo. I think you summed up pretty well why I hate multiplayer games and why I have no intention of ever, under any circumstances, playing them. I can’t stand the shit talking, the white knighting pussy beggers, the racism, the homophobia. What’s the point of playing a game if there’s no sense of adventure or story? And there certainly is none when people act like that.

    On the subject of female avitars, all you have to do is make yourself one and see how full of shit feminists are when they claim that women are oppressed or treated badly. Female avi’s and female screennames get treated exceptionally well. In Second Life, I get offered Lindeds all the time, as well as compliments, which I find flattering because, well…you decide what your avatar looks like and when people tell you you’re hot and are giving you more attention there the other female avi standing next to you, they are actually complimenting your own creativity and hard work, as well as your own roleplaying skills.

  • http://www.genderratic.com Xakudo

    @OperatorOscillation:

    Xacudo. I think you summed up pretty well why I hate multiplayer games

    To be clear, I did not write the post, except for the short intro. The writer of this post is JDCyran.

  • HidingFromtheDinosaurs

    This does a fairly good job of summing up why the last multiplayer game I was seriously involved in was Demons’ Souls, a game in which it is impossible to speak with other players except through a selection of preset written messages. Homophobic and racist comments go basically unnoticed online and never attracted this level of attention, despite being far more prevalent (the people who care either leave or mute everyone and talk on a private Vent).

    I also have some experience playing with a female avatar (it’s a crazy fantasy world; why would I fantasize about being something I already am?), and I concur that there were a lot more people offering gifts and attention than insults and a lot more people getting angry when insults were made. Society has trained people to see a woman’s offense as more significant and worthy of address, an element of toxic patriarchal gender roles that feminism is literally incapable of dealing with in any meaningful way (by virtue of themselves being women taking offense to things and expecting people to care, although I suppose they are ultimately serving to desensitize a lot of people).

    Honestly, I think this might be an area where it would be advantageous to see men acting more like women. By that I mean taking serious offense to these kinds of insults and speaking out about it. They won’t get the same kind of individual attention that women do, but there are a lot more of them in the gaming community and they can outdo everyone else in terms of sheer volume.

  • http://dannyscorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Danny

    So my awful question (which I admit is pretty awful) is: Do women who are just now entering the gaming community in large numbers feel like they are entitled to change the entirety of the culture (the men in the culture have been treating each other like crap forever) because the possess a pair of magical boobs? Even if they don’t, and just want to change it in general, why is the focus suddenly *women.*
    I wonder that as well. A lot of guys retreated into the gaming world as well as various other fictional communities like table top, fantasy books, and other things (in fact I almost think that very large chucks of the tech world that we have today was built by geeky guys that reached for computers and science books after be chased away by the “normal kids”).

    Something I have noticed. If you look back at how there “normal” boys and girls which ones are trying to gain a foothold in the geek communities today? I think the reason you see so much backlash at women from geeks is not “just because they are women” but because the “normal” boys like Average Joe Jock and Average Carl Coo Guy are still staying away from the geek communities.

    In short to some of those geek guys these women that are coming around these days are seen as an invasion on the refuge space that those geeks were driven to in the first place partly because of women. No I’m not saying it’s fair to treat women in such a harsh way because of past pains at the hands of other women (something you don’t see get acknowledged very often other than the occasional “I know you were hurt but get over yourself” lip service). What I do want to say is this.

    What’s the difference between the male geek that sees a woman coming into the community and takes her on worst faith and sees her as a threat and a woman that sees a guy about to cross paths with her at night and assumes worst faith and sees him as a threat*? The guy that points out being assumed to be a threat is told to “check his privilege” while the woman that points out being assumed to being a threat tells the make geek to “check his privilege”.

    Operator:
    On the subject of female avitars, all you have to do is make yourself one and see how full of shit feminists are when they claim that women are oppressed or treated badly. Female avi’s and female screennames get treated exceptionally well. In Second Life, I get offered Lindeds all the time, as well as compliments, which I find flattering because, well…you decide what your avatar looks like and when people tell you you’re hot and are giving you more attention there the other female avi standing next to you, they are actually complimenting your own creativity and hard work, as well as your own roleplaying skills.
    I have pretty much taken it on faith what women say about being treated like that. I played Lord of the Rings Online for about 3 years and during that time I made 7 characters, 4 female. I NEVER got any of the harsh treatment they talk about and mind you I wasn’t voice chatting so no male voice to give me away.

    Of course this doesn’t mean that such treatment towards women doesn’t happen, but I do have to wonder exactly how widespread and common it is.

    * – No I am not trying to say that being worried about your geek space is the same as being worried about your physical well being. But even being worried about your physical well being doesn’t justify declaring you have the right to take someone in worse faith while knowing nothing about them and when they call you on have the nerve to tell them it’s their responsibility to soothe your fears no matter how irrational they may be.

  • Clarence

    Women who come into male spaces and respect the memes and customs they have already built up are usually welcome. If they add their own contributions, that’s even better. Women who come in to CHANGE male spaces to suit themselves all the while shaming or otherwise attacking the men there will get pushback, resentment, or both.

    Why is this so hard to understand?
    Well, I don’t think it is. I think this is another one of those social power plays that women seem to do in our society on a consistent basis, and to cover that up it’s necessary to make gamers unenlightened brutes and females their victims.

    When will they stop this passive aggressive bullshit – bullshit in which feminism itself is often implicated?
    When they start failing to achieve their social goals.

  • Paul

    Had a female character in WoW, never got called bitch or whatever. Got hit on a few times, but it was more amusing than anything. I mean, it’s not like the guy could follow me into a dark alley and rape me. I don’t think there’s a backslash command for that.

    Granted, didn’t play that character for long, and she eventually just turned into a bank alt.

    So yeah, I have to wonder how much of this is exaggerated too. For one thing, being a “victim” carries major cred on the internet. (seriously, reading some of the stuff on Hollaback or Microagressions is definitely eyeroll-worthy. “He said the flower in my hair looked nice!” or “OMG some random guy *smiled* at me when I walked past him.”

  • http://markley.weebly.com/index.html John Markley

    Really good post. I’ve grown more and more convinced that the supposed problem of gamer (or online more generally) misogyny is largely about how shocking people find it when women AREN’T treated differently- we’re so accustomed to women being coddled and protected that when that female privilege starts to weaken online and a woman is treated no better than a man, we’re shocked by the brutality of it.

    I mean, I write for some gaming websites. I once had somebody who didn’t care for one of my articles say that he/she hoped someone would break into my house at night and cut my throat. If I were a woman and told other folks that story, that would be a textbook example of how horrid the internet is to women. (Especially if murder was changed to rape.) But I’m not, so it’s just a generic story about crazy crap some people say online.

    Actually, the whole thing reminds me of what Adam Jones wrote about (on a much more extreme level) in essays like “Effacing the Male,” where dead female civilians in warzones are DEAD WOMEN AND CHILDREN! in media and government reports while dead male civilians are just unnoticed white noise. Very different situation, same basic principle.

  • Clarence

    Heh.
    Managed to get myself banned here:
    http://kinkinexile.wordpress.com/2012/07/13/before-it-was-the-last-bastion-of-male-domination-computer-programing-was-womens-work/
    I don’t think it was entirely fair or deserved, but at least she didn’t allow pile-ons after I was gone and couldn’t defend myself. Of course now my arguments can be endlessly dissected and I can’t possibly defend them and I can bet no one else on that site will do so either, but at least it doesn’t make me feel as slimy as when I was banned at other feminist webpages and they either selectively edited my posts or allowed a mass effigy burning of me after I was gone.
    Quite simply this IS the general feminist discourse on this stuff: there aren’t more women in X because men are meanies who are hostile or sexist to them and don’t want them around.
    No defense of the men allowed, and not a single attempt to understand the male perspective other than strawman it.

  • Zerbu

    As both an MRA and someone who has been trolled, harassed, forced into competition and beaten down on the Internet for years (not just in gaming communities, everywhere except the MRM) it really struck a nerve when harassment got defined as a male-on-female gender issue! Is there anything feminists DON’T try to make into a gender issue?

  • Ginkgo

    Clarence, Sun Zi goes on and on why self-delusion in an opponent is a very advanageous development, but it’s probably already obvious enough to you. The problem is that it so far has not been problem enough for thesewhiners; they have alwayas been able to get their self-gratifying delusions subsidized and implemented by the powers that be. Climbing back up in to Daddy’s lap.

    Well, the tide is turning. Daddy can’t count on male minions to support him in his panderings as much as before, and more importantly, there is a new shadow on the horizon. Women.

    Powerful women see right through this crap and they don’t tolerate it. They can’t afford to; this kind of borrowed power, borowed from Daddy, undermines their own, hard-earned power. They land with both feet on this kind of thing. I watched this process happen once already, in the Army. Funny how once women started up in rank to where they were talking charge of platoons and companies, and then battalions, a lot of this Daddy’s Little Girl shit started withering away.

  • Ginkgo

    “Really good post. I’ve grown more and more convinced that the supposed problem of gamer (or online more generally) misogyny is largely about how shocking people find it when women AREN’T treated differently- we’re so accustomed to women being coddled and protected that when that female privilege starts to weaken online and a woman is treated no better than a man, we’re shocked by the brutality of it.”

    This is exactly parallel to what happens in politics. As soon as Hillary Clinton started getting the same treatment as the men – attacked on anything that could be spun as a weaknes – people started moaoning about misogyny.

  • Zerbu

    Pretty much every example of “misogyny” I’ve ever heard is either made up, not a gender issue, or actually a MALE gender issue that happened to a female on an unusual occasion.

  • http://dannyscorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Danny

    John:
    I mean, I write for some gaming websites. I once had somebody who didn’t care for one of my articles say that he/she hoped someone would break into my house at night and cut my throat. If I were a woman and told other folks that story, that would be a textbook example of how horrid the internet is to women. (Especially if murder was changed to rape.) But I’m not, so it’s just a generic story about crazy crap some people say online.
    Oh you know the explanation for that. “Men are the default.” which translates into “you have the male privilege of being taken less seriously when someone threatens you”.

    Actually, the whole thing reminds me of what Adam Jones wrote about (on a much more extreme level) in essays like “Effacing the Male,” where dead female civilians in warzones are DEAD WOMEN AND CHILDREN! in media and government reports while dead male civilians are just unnoticed white noise. Very different situation, same basic principle.
    Oh you mean something like this?

    Zerbu:
    Is there anything feminists DON’T try to make into a gender issue?
    Well no because apparently when they do it it’s not “making it into a gender issue” but when some does it in regards to men THEN it’s “making it into a gender issue”. It’s been more than once I’ve come across feminists that think men are forcing gender into the issue by commenting on how men kill them selves 3 times more often then women. I guess trying to work on this beyond “they do so because they pick more violent means” is not fair to women or something.

    Pretty much every example of “misogyny” I’ve ever heard is either made up, not a gender issue, or actually a MALE gender issue that happened to a female on an unusual occasion.
    Well I have to disagree a bit on that. Oh they aren’t made up. But do think sometimes it’s exaggerated either by making it into more than it is or by trying to downplay misandry.

  • Copyleft

    “So, I’m confused as to why this is coming up now. If people cared about harassment online, why is it just now coming up about women ?”

    Silly JDC, the reason is obvious–it’s not a REAL problem until it affects women!

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUv02VxAcNU MaMu1977

    @debaser71

    It’s Yankees, Giants, Rangers and Nets. Any other answers are moot. Btw, a bag of internet cookies to anyone who guesses my home borough!

    Back on topic: the current furour about misogyny in games can be readily explained by any PUA or, for that matter, any man with a solid recollection of pre-1980’s life. To wit, paraphrasing Bill Burr: the average American woman has had so much smoke blown up her ass, the very idea that someone could not only *disagree* with her, but could feel any level of enmity towards her is anathema. He does a bit about how the majority of modern American women are assholes. If you’re suburban or rural born, its funny. If you’re a city boy with any experience with big city nightlife, its bloody hilarious.

    Between “Daddy, who just wants the best for his little angel.”, the various teachers and advisors who needed to upraise girls as much as possible, and the various men in their lives who would kowtow on beds of nails to have a chance to see their little pink kittens, its the rare American woman of any background who has ever experienced any sustained level of focused male hostility. This is regardless of race; for all of their complaints about male disrespect, African-American women (IME) are never the focus of as much personal vitriol as rap music/artists would say. Aside from catcalling (an act that is near unseen/unheard once the poorest of minority-majority neighbourhoods and small towns are left behind), even the poorest of black women receive far more delicate care than their male counterparts (compare the cases of Chavis Carter to Dejamon Baker for a normal example of black male to black female harassment.)

    Dejamon Baker- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gUESdaAYfIk
    Chavis Carter- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yP9W1jO1jQo

    It’s as simple as that. Barring her upbringing in a cloistered-religious environment, its the rare post-1970’s born American woman who receives any sort of negative reaction to anything that she does. Jump over a restaurant counter and yell obscenities and threats at someone? Slap on the wrist. Groom a 7-year old child for pubertal sexytimes? Slap on the wrist. Claim that you were raped by a guy after he dragged you the length of an entire school (with classes in session), collect a million-dollar settlement, then admit to lying about it but not wanting to tell the authorities about the lie because you “don’t want to give the money back”? Slap on the wrist. Hell, I worked for a man who was only given custody of his kids after his ex-wife admitted that she let her drug dealer sodomise the youngest for crystal meth. Slap on the wrist, and she was given *unsupervised weekend custody* “after she finished rehab and was clean for a six-month span.” An act that led to her relapse when she decided that “since the boy didn’t complain too much the first time, it must mean that he really enjoyed it and I wanted more meth.” Slap on the wrist.

    Of course harassment in gaming is a big deal!/sarc
    To the average feminist, it looks like men can swallow elephants but struggle to swallow gnats! We, as men, have created a world in which some women can get away with anything short of murder. Our grumblings come across as sour grapes.

  • http://www.genderratic.com Xakudo

    @MaMu1977:

    Jump over a restaurant counter and yell obscenities and threats at someone? Slap on the wrist. Groom a 7-year old child for pubertal sexytimes? Slap on the wrist. Claim that you were raped by a guy after he dragged you the length of an entire school (with classes in session), collect a million-dollar settlement, then admit to lying about it but not wanting to tell the authorities about the lie because you “don’t want to give the money back”? Slap on the wrist. Hell, I worked for a man who was only given custody of his kids after his ex-wife admitted that she let her drug dealer sodomise the youngest for crystal meth. Slap on the wrist, and she was given *unsupervised weekend custody* “after she finished rehab and was clean for a six-month span.” An act that led to her relapse when she decided that “since the boy didn’t complain too much the first time, it must mean that he really enjoyed it and I wanted more meth.” Slap on the wrist.

    Could you provide some sources for those stories? I don’t necessarily doubt that they happened, but I would like to have some sources on hand in the thread for other readers.

  • Ginkgo

    “It’s Yankees, Giants, Rangers and Nets. Any other answers are moot. Btw, a bag of internet cookies to anyone who guesses my home borough!”

    If it’s a burrow, it must be somewhere in the Shire. (Sorry. It’s late in the day.)

    MaMu, Camille Paglia was making this same point back in the early 90s, when she saw a bunch of suburban girls sweep in with swollen senses of entitlement and a militant cluelessness about the realities of violence that almost everyone else faced, and huge moral indignation that they were somehow not immune to all the same dangers all the rest of us face.

  • OirishM

    Urgh, so many things about the gamer community these days hacks me off.

    Someone tries to pin a killing spree on games – “Well, that’s totally unrelated to the nature of gaming!”

    A handful of female gamers get annoyed about something, somewhere for some reason – “ENDEMIC PATRIARCHAL PROBLEM! I AM OUTRAGED! SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!”

    Some consistency would be nice.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUv02VxAcNU MaMu1977

    @Xakudo

    The first example is from the Rayon McIntosh case (the guy who beat two women with a metal rod at a McDonald’s.) People focused on the “violence”(him hitting the women with a rod), and ignored the provocation (them cursing at him, then slapping him, then jumping over the counter as he retreated, yelling to him that they were going to “Fuck him up”/”Cut his black ass.”)

    Mary Kay Letourneau is the second case. She gave birth to two of his children before he turned fourteen. The factoid that is always deleted from the sordid story is that she had spent four years as his teacher prior to their first conception (with the prerequisite home tutoring sessions and “She’s his teacher, she wouldn’t do anything *bad* to him.”, sleepovers at her house.) If a thirtysomething year old man had impregnated an eleven year old girl, the fact that he had convinced her parents to let their child sleep in his house would have been front page news. But when the predator is a woman, the case becomes a “star-crossed” love story between a grown woman and a boy who was engaging in sexual activity with her before he had pubic hair.

    The third case is from the Brian Banks story. His accuser claimed rape, yet the prosecutors and defense ignored the fact that the accuser’s testimony was impossible. To wit: she claimed that the accused literally dragged her kicking and screaming to a staircase to assault her. A set of actions that should have resulted in no less than 200 students and a dozen teachers being able to look through the wide glass panels of the interior classroom walls to see a 6’+ tall man dragging a 5’7″ woman against her will through a building that was literally the size of a city block. Possible in a benighted “ghetto” school, impossible in a private academy (an academy that was able to pay over a million dollars in civil damages to the “wronged” party.) Her other glitches (stating that he reached orgasm, but having a rape kit that tested negative for any form of sexual activity to include semen or latex/polyurethane derivatives or skin cells/hair; her “Yes he did, I mean no he didn’t.”, waffling on whether he used a condom, etc.), are just icing on a fail cake.

    The last case is a personal anecdote. Suffice to say, when you’re told to avoid raising your voice at a child, because (verbatim)

    “He’ll try to make things better.”
    “How will he make things better?”
    “You ever notice that Sergeants 2 and 3 always stay away from Sergeant 1’s kid?”
    “No.”
    “Well, Sergeant 1’s kid has been through some things. I don’t know the details, but I do know that there was an occasion in which I saw Sergeant 3 go into Sergeant 1’s office, then a minute later I heard Sergeant 3 yell ‘What the fuck are you doing!!?’, then I saw Sergeant 3 dragging Sergeant 1’s son out of the office. Sergeant 3 looked like he saw a ghost. Sergeant 1’s kid had his pants around his ankles.”
    “(Blank stare.)”
    “Sergeant 3 was so shocked, I later heard him talking to our officers and our superintendents by their first names.”

    For those of you who are unaware of military protocol, you *never* refer to your superiors by their first names while on duty.
    Understandably, I can’t give more detailed information on that specific case.