Let's talk about it.
If there’s one stereotypical quality any non-gamer would assume of the gaming community in general, it’s misogyny. While this stereotype obviously isn’t true of all gamers, or even most gamers, we would be doing a disservice to assume this isn’t something that needs to be addressed by the entire community.
Regardless of the title, playing video games can be an escape; a safe space for those who might already feel like they’re on the fringes of society. This creates an “us vs. them” situation. The world seems against them, so they find a sense of community and safety in on the Rift in League of Legends or in a game of Overwatch. However, some players feel like a female player disrupts this escape or safe place, regardless of skill or rank. They see it as an “us versus them” situation and have women firmly in the “them” category. This causes men to lash out an attack because they feel that someone is disrupting their experience. However, women deserve to have gaming be a safe space, an escape, and a good experience as much as men do.
Harassment in Games
Harassment is seen as sort of a rite of passage within the community. It’s something that is ingrained in the culture. While one could argue that anyone could be on the butt end of harassment in any given game, more often than not if a woman is on the mic, she will receive rude put-downs or inappropriate comments. These can be about anything from her skill in the game all the way to her voice or her appearance. A poll taken in 2017 by Washington Post-UMass Lowell found that 36 percent of female gamers said that women are treated with less respect than men, while 24 percent said they are treated about equally. While harassment is something that no one should have to put up with, women disproportionately have to put up with it.
Women also face judgment for playing games that have been coded as “girly” or games that “aren’t real games.” This can include popular titles like Stardew Valley, the Sims, and Animal Crossing. Even when girls play video games, it is invalidated by the community’s perception of what a video game is. This creates an unnecessary and exclusionary hierarchy. One of the great aspects of video games is that there are no boundaries when it comes to what the game is about and who can play it. Why would we want to exclude a game just because its audience is mainly women? One time when I was in a Discord call with some guys, I mentioned that I liked playing video games. Immediately, some boy quickly asked me “What do you even play? Candy Crush? How many hours do you even have in a game? Do you even know?” This irked me. Why does it matter what I play? Does liking video games now have game and hour requirements? Would this guy have asked me that question if I were a man? Probably not.
Toxicity in Spaces
Not only can this harassment keep women from enjoying a game they are playing, but it can keep them from joining any sort of gaming space at all. It can also lead to the silencing of women who face harassment every day and can further perpetuate this harmful cycle. When I first joined the OU Esports Club I was anxious about how I would be received. I was afraid that I would be accused of not knowing enough or having my status as a gamer under constant scrutiny. But the more involved I got and the more I talked to people, I could not have been more wrong. But my realization raises an important point. In my being afraid of being stereotyped and harassed as a girl, I myself and stereotyped the entire OU Esports Club community as misogynistic based on my own experiences outside of OU.
While the OU Esports community goes to great lengths to keep our space welcoming and nontoxic, that isn’t the case in every community. But in general, the way the community and the industry treat women problematic. The obvious reason being that it is simply wrong to treat anyone this way. The other being that members of the community mistreating women and harassing them perpetuates the misogynistic stereotype even more; therefore pushing these people further away from the society they already feel alienated from. If we really want to better publicize esports and open up the gaming community, we need to disprove our stereotype. We need to show the world that this is not who we are. Most importantly, we need to start treating women with the respect they deserve and break the cycle of harassment and mistreatment.
How can this be done? Most simply, it starts in the smaller communities themselves. Dr. Rachel Kowert has a thread on Twitter that highlights some solutions to combat this issue. Most importantly, she says there needs to be an increase in accountability. This means calling bad behavior out as it happens. Instead of letting harassment happen and brushing it off as something that happens to everyone, it should be criticized and brought to the attention of community leaders if need be. This can be implemented in a casual game and more officially through game league or game community rules. Holding each other accountable not only creates a safer space for women, but for everyone.
Another way to break the stereotype is to better publicize female gamers and streamers. I say “better publicize” intentionally. I don’t mean to undermine the already successful women in the gaming and esports community who already do great things. I think the community could benefit from having prominent female figureheads that can further inspire women already in gaming and encourage others to get more involved. There is even an organization that promotes women in gaming already.
The 1000 Dreams Fund partnered with Allied Esports and HyperX has a program called the BroadcastHer Academy where they seek to “help fund, educate and uplift the next generation of young women interested in pursuing careers in esports and gaming.” Applicants to the academy have the chance to receive a $1000 micro-grant and an all-expenses-paid trip to the HyperX Arena in Las Vegas to spend a day shadowing the Allied Esports team. Organizations like the 1000 Dreams Fund have the power to further advance what women can do in esports.
On a more official scale, VALORANT recently announced the creation of VCT Game Changers, a program “which will supplement the competitive season by creating new opportunities and exposure for women and other marginalized genders within VALORANT esports.” The VCT Game Changers means more competitions in different locations globally as well as weekly tournaments. It’s nice to see VALORANT take such an initiative to be more inclusive. With it being fairly new to the esports scene, it sets a precedent for others to hopefully follow.
While all of these initiatives to help women in esports are amazing, the real change starts locally. Person to person. I know it sounds like a cliché, but there is truth to it. Breaking the cycle and stereotype of misogyny will elevate the community as a whole and most importantly, the women who work hard to make esports and gaming what it is now.