Video games have become a communal hobby where people play together, talk online, and compete. As much as gaming, has become more socially acceptable in the realm of gaming the people who were once bullied have become the bullies.
The abuse people experience is varied. Some experience death threats while others may get sexist jokes. For Erin Elliott, a Durham College student in the game development program, it has mostly been the latter.
“People thought I was pretentious, I was stuck up, that I thought I was better than everyone or that I didn’t know as much because of my career background,” she said.
Elliott, who has done modelling work in the past, has felt snubbed by other gamers and frequently surprises people when she says she’s in the game development program.
Within her own program, fellow students have told her she is “the hottest girl in game development” or hit on her.
“I’m here to learn, go away,” Elliott said. “There are two sides. You don’t feel like you’re being taken seriously all the time because either people are looking down on you or they’re trying to hit on you.”
She says she also receives a lot of online abuse. In fact, her parents didn’t want to buy her a headset for her Playstation because they feared the abuse she would get online. She didn’t get one until she was 18 and, while playing online, she set off another player simply by being a woman.
“I was playing this game and I had said something to another player and they found out I was a girl and started going off saying things like ‘you should go do what women do’ and ‘do your job for your man,’” Elliott explained.
In a straw poll of 10 random female students on campus, seven reported being abused or teased online solely based on their gender. Eight of 10 also reported they are teased offline as well, or thought of as less ‘girly’ when people find out that they play video games.
While the abuse Elliott and many other female gamers have suffered online and in person is severe, the worst cases go far beyond. Perhaps the most extreme example of sexism in gaming revolves around Internet personality and media critic Anita Sarkeesian.
Sarkeesian is a Canadian-American feminist who started a YouTube channel called Feminist Frequency where she examined video games and movies and their treatment of women. After running a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund a series called “Tropes V.S. Women in Video Games,” which earned more than $158,000 out of a $6,000 goal, the abuse began.
Sarkeesian has received death threats, rape threats, and calls for her to commit suicide. In a recent blog post Sarkeesian collected a week’s worth of abuse from Twitter and the tweets were beyond counting. She even had to cancel a talk at Utah State University after someone threatened a “Montreal Massacre style attack” if the talk wasn’t cancelled within 24 hours. She had originally planned to continue the talk anyway but according to Utah’s concealed carry laws it wasn’t possible to stop someone from bringing a gun to the event.
The hatred Sarkeesian attracts for being a woman involved in gaming is far from the norm but it is still indicative of a very volatile part of the gaming community as a whole. According to Elliott, the overarching issue lies in people not thinking before they speak.
“People say stuff and they say it without even considering how the other person’s going to take it,” she said. “They just think it’s the context they’re saying it in. Even if you say it as a joke and you’re not insinuating anything, someone could take it the wrong way and you wouldn’t know.”
She believes people who make these sexist remarks may not actually believe what they are saying but are only joking. She still thinks it doesn’t excuse such behaviour.
“The important thing that needs to happen is you need to show what people are doing and set those boundaries and that people need to not even give [abusive] people the time of day,” Elliott said.
Another issue comes from the perception of gaming as a ‘boy’s only’ club, which Durham College student Denielle Lewis says is a part of the problem.
“There’s a lot of good games but they’re more male based,” Lewis said. “We need more games with strong female leads who aren’t sexualized.”
While games are progressing into a more inclusive community the savage backlash can only carry on for so long. According to a study by the Entertainment Software Association women are becoming a more integral part of gaming and now make up 52 percent of the gaming population. The face of video games is changing but if the abusive attitudes carry on, eventually something will have to give.