Behind the Screen

Opinions Uncategorized
by Mads Traxler, Ishwar Madhusuda, Opinions Writers
graphic by Denise Chan

“So, when’s our date?” is something you wouldn’t expect to hear as soon as you join a video game voice chat. Unfortunately, it’s an extremely common occurrence for girls who game. Although the outside world is slowly evolving to accommodate for people other than straight, white and cisgender men, the world of video games has been extremely stubborn to change. The video game world despises women. In professional gaming, according to Forbes magazine, “the problem is so bad that many female gamers disguise their identities, change profiles and characters to appear neutral or masculine and daren’t use their microphones.” Some people might try to brush this off and say that men in video games like to give each other a hard time so they do the same towards women; however, this is far from the truth, as women are disproportionately harassed for a myriad of ludicrous reasons.

A large part of this virtual harassment occurs in video game lobbies when girls are called names or picked on for no reason. Sometimes, if I’m not playing my best, my teammates will chalk it up to me being a “girl gamer.” My voice is distinctly feminine, so as soon as I use my mic to give my teammates callouts (in-game instructions or directions), it is immediately obvious that I am a girl. Due to this dead giveaway, many of my female friends choose to stay silent during games because they are afraid of harassment. This leads to a poorer in-game experience and overall gameplay because they cannot communicate with their teammates. 

Some of my friends have also intentionally chosen to pick gender-neutral usernames so as not to reveal their female gender. My in-game username is “Mads” which often leads to probing questions such as “Are you a girl?” or “Is there a female in this voice chat?” It doesn’t just stop there; as guys become even more inappropriate, the darker side of being a girl who plays games reveals itself. Girls frequently encounter situations where they are hit on and even sexually harassed. I have been asked for my phone number, Snapchat username and Discord tag. I have been asked on dates. I have been asked if I’m single. I have even had rape jokes made about me. I would definitely consider myself vocal, but somehow, many male gamers translate this to mean that they are entitled to something from me. This is an absolutely toxic and disgusting mindset and is only made worse because many of these men are older and used to harassing people online. 

Harassment doesn’t only make it difficult to play the game emotionally but tactically as well. Once, I was playing a character in-game who can build walls of ice. I was genuinely trying to find out where I could place a wall to be most beneficial to my team, but the response I got from my teammate was simply: “wherever you want, honey.” Not only did I feel deeply uncomfortable, but I still had no idea what to do. I was still a beginning gamer at this point, so this interaction thoroughly disturbed me. Looking back, I realize that a boy would never be told the same thing by their teammate, demonstrating how intense the double-standard is.

Finally, people assume the skill of a gamer is based on their gender alone. Sometimes, male teammates will immediately assume that I have no skill simply because I’m a girl. This leads them to intentionally throw (lose the game on purpose) because they believe that their female teammate will make them lose anyways.

Once, my male friend and I switched usernames. He began getting all of the harassment I regularly received because the username he was playing under was obviously feminine. When he spoke in voice chat, he was asked if he was playing on his girlfriend’s account because there was “no way a girl could play this well.” In fact, a common “compliment” is:  “You’re good for a girl.” It’s common for girls to be asked “Who carried you to this rank?” or “Are you on your boyfriend’s account?” Such simple questions carry heavy misogynistic undertones and must be stopped.

The gaming environment for girls right now is degrading, toxic and discouraging for women worldwide. This is an issue that has gone unnoticed for too long, and it is actively seeping into our current generation. We must take action if we are to stop the complete normalization of such discourse. Gaming should be a relaxing, enjoyable experience for all. It is an escape to another reality where problems can be solved with magic and quick thinking, and in the words of Cyndi Lauper, “girls just wanna have fun.”