Sexism against women is an enduring problem in video game communities, ranging from overly sexualized depictions of women in games to online harassment and threats. In June 2020, over 200 allegations of sexual misconduct were made against people in the gaming industry with many of them being streamers for Twitch, the largest game-streaming platform, as an extension of the #MeToo movement.
In addition, female streamers have described Twitch as a hostile environment as they experience harassment in the form of gender based objectifying and belittling comments.
What’s been happening in the world of live streaming can act as a looking glass to how sexism is a problem that affects women in the gaming community overall, not just public figures within.
“Misogyny is not just something that’s incidental to the gaming and streaming world, it’s inextricably linked.” -Erin Marie Hall, also known as YourStarling on Twitch while talking to Insider
“Girls can’t play” / ‘Your aim is so bad, are you a girl?’
“Get back in the kitchen”/ ‘Put down the controller and make me a sandwich’
Women are more likely to receive harassment while playing games online. Marketing research company Bryter released a report that suggests around 40% of female gamers have experienced some form of abuse from male gamers while playing online and 28% have experienced sexual harassment from male or other gamers in the form of objectifying comments or death and rape threats.
Sexism women experience in gaming environments may cut them off from the social benefits of playing video games, such as maintaining and making friendships, or discourage them from pursuing a career in video game development as well.
It can also cause them to alter their behavior and how they present themselves online to avoid harassment. A survey conducted in the US, Germany and China with 900 participants found that 59% of women hide their gender to avoid abuse and sexism.
With Twitch becoming a powerful entertainment platform, it’s important to note how 41% of viewers are 16-24 and 35% of users are female because of how many young women who are on the platform, either as viewers or streamers, are exposed to sexist content and behavior.
What has contributed to sexism in gaming exactly?
To further understand why sexism is such a problem, it’s integral to understand marketing history within video games. The video game industry experienced a recession in 1983 due to a saturation of low quality games and losing supporters they had previously as a result.
It made the most sense for them to carve out a niche for themselves, thus narrowing your target audience in order to properly communicate with them to win them over. Companies like Nintendo at the time were researching and going to tournaments in cities to see exactly where they were playing their games. They found their audience when they saw more boys playing than girls.
For many men, their status and identity is rooted in the rejection of femininity. These patriarchal norms encourage misogynistic and sometimes violent behaviour, this will likely translate into gaming culture. With decades of gendered marketing, it has resulted in the unfortunate byproduct of men having “created the identity of the gamer as this exclusive property,” according to Kenzie Gordon, Ph.D candidate at the University of Alberta studying gaming in relation to sexual and domestic violence. This results in people who are perceived as outsiders, such as women, to experience backlash in the form of sexual abuse and harassment. The invisibility and anonymity of the internet is also considered a factor in encouraging this kind of behavior.
It also leads to a feedback loop of video game companies catering after men since historically they’ve been their target audience and being reluctant to go against them, which is where we see common issues with how women can be portrayed in video games.
Gaming’s Toxic Community
In this space, there is often a promoted belief that gaming and tech is naturally and biologically, the territory of men. This belief completely nullifies the fact that computer programming was originally a feminised profession. Programming was seen to be secretarial work, boring and repetitive, only in the 1960s when it was clear programmers had a lot of autonomy, it started to emphasise the fact that programming became something in demand thus men came into the picture.
Let’s take a look at the design and representation of female characters in video games, the representation of women in video games has been a debated topic for a long time. Many times, the way female characters are designed and depicted are sexualised, with exaggerated figures and tend to be visions of ‘male fantasies’; there is such a heavy fixation in making female characters ‘perfect’ or likeable by the marketed audience, whereas male characters are presented to be relatable, why is there such a double standard towards realism in characters? It is not far fetched to say that women have been DEVALUED in games and this devaluation translates to the real world.
When enough is enough: Activism from women in gaming spaces
Even before the 200 allegations made in 2020, there have been activists in the space advocating for better treatment of women in video game communities for years now.
Anita Sarkeesian created Feminist Frequnecy in 2009 as a way to make accessible media criticism through a feminist lens. In 2011, she went on to create the video series, Tropes vs Women in Video Games, which analyzes how women are portrayed in video games. In 2020, Feminist Frequency established the Games and Online Harassment Hotline.
Those 200 allegations were able to be tracked and made public thanks to Jessica Richey who streams under the name “JessyQuil”, as she compiled and updated the spreadsheet with all of these public allegations of misconduct.
While talking to the New York Times, she said: “I’m not casting judgment or asking anyone to witch hunt those who are named. I’m trying to give survivors of these issues a voice so they don’t feel alone or gaslit based on their experiences in this industry.”
Many female streamers have spoken candidly about the sexism and harassment they’ve experienced due to their gender while streaming, thus shedding light on important issues.
Game designer Rosa Carbo-Mascarell created “A Woman Goes to a Private Industry Party” to shed light on misogyny she experienced while networking in the industry.
Women have participated in organized labor movements in the industry as allegations of sexist and unfair work environments have come to light, e.g. the 150 person walkout against Riot Games’ use of forced arbitration in 2019.
What can we do?
It’s important to call out sexist behavior and challenge it, when you see it occur. Even in your private lobbies, it helps set a precedent where sexism in gaming is not going to be tolerated. Yes, this includes that small discord server of yours. If you see a girl friend of yours being subjected to misogynistic behaviour by another friend, don’t hesitate, CALL IT OUT.
Demand for better representation and conditions for women in video games. The over sexualization of women in video games has negatively influenced the way people perceive women in the real world. It’s also important to demand better for female streamers and game developers, as these spaces need to be better for marginalized people.
Video game developing companies and streaming platforms like Twitch hold immense power and it’s important they do their part in facilitating healthier environments in gaming through their hiring practices, projects, and public behavior.
Encourage young girls’ interests in video games and STEM fields, especially since studies have shown that playing video games may provide easier access to STEM related fields and solve gender inequality in some of these fields, according to the paper “What is a True Gamer? The Male Gamer Stereotype and the Marginalization of Women in Video Game Culture.” By bringing in more marginalised groups into a larger male dominated space, it helps create better representation of those groups in video games.
Some women twitch streamers to watch! (Youtube and Twitch)