Chapter 23 | Harassment isn’t 1337

I was born a gamer. As soon as I could talk, I kept asking my brother when it would finally be my turn to play Super Mario Bros. He, being a decade older than me, was annoyed at his little sister losing all his lives. But, he never told me “girls can’t play”.

After he moved out, I got my very own Nintendo 64. I became obsessed with Banjo Kazooie (more on that in the Borbies and Hat Wheels post). My competitive drive and the many years of practice made me a good video game player.

In high school, my friend and I played Halo with her brother and his friends. Sometimes we would play against strangers on Xbox Live or have LAN parties and play all night. It was a blast—except for a few tiny hiccups.

The female gamers out there won’t be shocked by the following, but I’d like everyone to read carefully. As a girl and a gamer, my very existence would bring out the worst side of male gamers. This was amplified by the fact that they could hide behind a screen. Most of the men I played against were either vengeful and wanted to prove they were better and more powerful, or they would fetishize and try to degrade me.

My “girl-ness” was always questioned—especially if I managed to kill a male opponent. My guy friends would have to confirm my magical existence, “Dude, she’s really a girl. Yes, she plays Halo. Yes, she’s good.” Once it was confirmed that I possessed two X chromosomes and was also able to hold a controller (shocking), I would then be graced with blatant sexism. My dead virtual corpse would be humped with accompanying harassments such as, “take that, you fucking whore”. Fun.

My gamer status also brought on problems in my everyday life. Some of the guys I played with had girlfriends—they didn’t like me. Some of them thought I was gaming to steal their boyfriends—I wasn’t (refer to previous blog post). My short skirts only angered them more. The audacity. I was clearly a slut. Even the parents got on board with the slut shaming. Double fun.

In my dorm room at university, I had no TV or gaming system, so I stopped playing. I could have played computer games, but it wasn’t my thing. I got an Xbox 360 a few years later and bought Halo 3 but I never played online again. It never occurred to me why, but now I know that I was put off by the harassment.

Last year, I met a few awesome gamers. These women told me about Twitch.tv, a live streaming video platform that is heavily used by gamers. Unfortunately, I was sad to hear that women are still considered the lesser sex and their mere existence as gamers is a threat to male gamers. Basically, nothing has changed since I was a teenager.

I did a little research and I can tell you that finding proof of sexism in gaming is too easy. The derogatory term now used for female gamers on Twitch is Twitch Thots. Here’s the lovely definition of the term as found on Urban Dictionary.

“A girl that is using Twitch.tv as near porn website to get donations from young boys. The girl is fully aware of what she is doing but if someone calls her out she is gonna defend herself by saying that someone is sexist.”
-Urban Dictionary

You may think this is harmless “banter”, but it’s not. Every woman on that channel is referred to as a Twitch thot. Female streamers get harassed and threatened on a daily basis, just for being there. In some cases, the women get “doxed”, which means that their private and identifying information is shared online, making the person vulnerable to stalkers or worse.

“The idea behind “Twitch thot” is that some women on Twitch use their bodies and sex appeal to build an audience, rather than create “quality content. For some reason, it really bothers certain people (i.e., misogynists) that women can make a lot of money, and they just can’t accept that a woman can be attractive and good at what she does.”
-Alex Dalbey, Making fun of ‘Twitch thots’ is still a thing, apparently, The Daily Dot

This is a big problem and it isn’t taken seriously. There are few traditional news outlets discussing the problem, even though the gaming industry is huge, each of the popular online gaming platforms such as Xbox Live and PlayStation Network have between 10 to 90 million daily users. I found this great article from the Guardian addressing what women have to deal with when gaming online. Here’s a snippet: “One of the key issues with multiplayer gaming online, says McGrane, is that the abuse is rarely taken in earnest – even when women report it to moderators.”

Companies have codes of conducts and community guidelines, but they are usually written by men and moderators who don’t take the harassment reports seriously. Twitch updated their community guidelines in 2018, but its effectiveness is debatable. Basically, nothing is being done about it.

According to Statista, nearly half of computer and video gamers in the United States are women. I’m sure this is not true for every country, but this shows that there are more female gamers than we think. So, why don’t companies care more about women?

Statista gamers USA Source: statista.com

On International Women’s Day, PlayStation put out this free theme for PS4. It’s great that they are embracing a large part of their user base, but they need to do more to stop harassment—not just for women, but for everyone.

PS4 Women's Day Theme Source: comicbook.com

In 2019, women should be able to game without being harassed and men should feel confident enough in themselves to welcome female gamers. Wouldn’t it be more fun without all the hate?

I’m disappointed in humanity and in myself. When I gamed, I thought it was just me. I didn’t realize that this was a major problem and kept it to myself. Until now. We need to talk about the problem and change the gaming culture. How do we do that? By embracing feminism. Speak up and force a positive change.

NEW Anita Sarkeesian on Gamergate and Sexism: Watch this video to really see how bad it is in the gaming industry.