The final frontier of boorishness

Online anonymity breeds harassment and contempt for female video gamers

by Emma Teitel

The final frontier of boorishness

Photograph by Brian Howell

When Lianne Papp started playing shooter games like Counter-Strike online 12 years ago with complete strangers, she noticed something immediately: not only were the majority of those strangers men, but they really didn’t like playing with women. The 27-year-old game developer from Edmonton lists “Show me your t–s,” “I’ve got something for you to sit on” and the more traditional “Make me a sandwich” among the sexist remarks and obscenities she’s received as she played on the web. “Online gaming is plagued with juvenile gamers who sling insults at everyone they can,” she says, “but the harassment women have to deal with is seemingly worse.”

Papp, who now lives in Texas, is one of thousands of women shooting people and blowing up buildings in virtual video games. According to York University technology professor Jennifer Jenson, women make up 20 to 30 per cent of players on the wildly popular World of Warcraft, yet they’re still treated like unwanted outsiders. In her recent virtual-gaming behaviour study with the U.S.-based research group SRI International, “almost every one of them had experienced harassment online.”

That doesn’t mean they’re standing—or sitting—idly by. A number of creative websites have sprung up to combat the barrage of sexist and perverted messages. One in particular, www.fatuglyorslutty.com (named after the most frequent insults received by one of its founders), allows female gamers to submit their most offensive slurs. Co-founder Jon Rosebaugh, 28, of San Francisco, says it’s gone from a few hits in January 2011 to tens of thousands a month. “At first we thought it was going to be a joke site, but then people noticed and started to say, ‘This is my experience.’ ”

Another co-founder, Vancouver-based Grace (who goes by her first name or her intentionally androgynous cyber-alias, GTZ), says it’s fuelled in large part by the “separation of anonymity from consequence.” In other words, because most gamers opt for a made-up username, there are no lasting, real-life consequences for bad behaviour—no matter how repulsive. Grace says it’s not uncommon to receive snapshots of other players’ genitals, especially if the game has a text-message feature. And even though most gaming sites such as Xbox Live—which Papp identifies as one of the worst—encourage users to report discrimination, many argue it’s meaningless because anonymity shields the wrongdoer from any real embarrassment or shame, which prevents them from curbing their sexist ways.

York’s Jenson believes online gaming is one of the last places where unadulterated male chauvinism exists—the final frontier of boorishness—and anonymity definitely plays a part. “It’s an outlet for discourse and speech that has gone underground because we censor ourselves so much in daily life.”

So how to reconcile anonymity and consequence? Grace advocates technological solutions: a feature in voice chat, for example, that could enable a player to silence another for being crude. If that particular player is silenced a certain number of times, he could be banned from the game. The downside is that sexist gamers could use the technology to silence women instead.

Rosebaugh believes the sexualization of female characters reinforces the behaviour. Dead or Alive 5 is a hand-to-hand combat game that puts its buxom females in “fighter swimsuits” and allows players to choose outfits based on how high they want the breasts to bounce. “I think it has to be a societal change,” he says. “The gaming industry has always had this problem and they act like there is nothing that can be done.”

If the industry stopped objectifying female characters in games, men might be less inclined to objectify the women playing them. Daniel Stopnicki, a game art and animation teacher at Seneca College in Ontario, says his class used to be almost 100 per cent male, and now it’s about 80 per cent. “Women are not only making their way on the consumer side, but on the production side as well,” says Stopnicki. “Games will become much more inspired by the interests of females.”

 




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The final frontier of boorishness

  1. This problem is this: traditionally, due to the all-male nature of online games…they have turned into a locker room culture. The same thing happens anywhere that women aren’t around. And it has happened long before video games (you will hear “that’s what she said” jokes in a professional setting if there are no women in range, trust me).

    Consider if a university decided to make locker rooms co-ed….do you think overnight men are going to change the behavior they’ve been used to in a locker room? Do you think the women are going to fit in instantly and feel comfortable?

    The answer is not to pretend that this is some kind of anomaly that needs to be ‘dealt with’. The only answer in this case is time. Time for the old generation that is used to their locker room to be replaced by a generation that never knew it like that.

    Stop pretending that everything is “so different” and “so much worse” than it was just because it’s happening in a new room. I’m getting tired of video games being stigmatized and held up as the cause of societal ills that have preexisted man’s attempts to create a ‘society’.

    Enough.

  2. @Patriot, I don’t know if you realize it…but you are exactly the kind of person this article is aimed at. Try reading it this time :)

  3. @4d484747da85ef7df8c0fd102c7320cf:disqus Time can’t fix a problem on its own if people don’t want to deal with that problem. It takes human actors to make any real changes. And that’s OK. Discussing and addressing a problem does not mean that video games are being stigmatized. Really, there’s no need to be upset about video game fans trying to improve video game culture.

  4. @Patriot, I’m sorry, but you don’t think women have been playing games in the last generation? I bet they have, they just haven’t told anyone. There are a lot of players who do not talk while playing games and stick to more masculine names on purpose so as to not get stupid insults every single time they get on a server. I feel like if women were the majority of gamers, or if it was an only-woman thing, there still wouldn’t be this kind of childishness. We wouldn’t be saying words that upset only other people and not ourselves (not like straight white non-Jewish males). Too bad some of those people think they are the only people that are “normal” and think they have a right to put down any person that is slightly different from them when they are not in the room.
    Also, some of this generation still believes that women shouldn’t be playing video games, which is sad to me. They just don’t want to feel emasculated. Well, they need to learn to get over it. You’d think men would be able to do that.


    • some of this generation still believes that women shouldn’t be playing video games”

      More of this generation believes in a star baby born of immaculate conception.

      Most men welcome having more women. Trolls online are simply not going to be “more PC” for the sake of women. They sure aren’t for minorities, gays, etc, that’s for sure.

      One oft overlooked element in this recent outrage theme is that there are still more men playing games, pretending to be women, than there are women playing games. Much less so nowadays, but before WoW and the other first truly mainstream games, if you were insulting a woman in a game, it was probably a man anyhow.

      • The immaculate conception refers to the conception of Mary, not to the conception of Jesus.

        Also, there are ways that one can deal with trolls if the administrators of a gaming network are willing to do so. The gaming community can also step up and not try to minimize or excuse what is a very real problem every time someone brings attention to it.

        • The immaculate conception refers to Jesus, not Mary.

          • No, it doesn’t.

            The Immaculate Conception is a dogma of the Catholic Church maintaining that the Blessed Virgin Mary was kept free of original sin from her moment of conception and was filled with the sanctifying grace normally conferred during baptism.[2][3] It is one of the four dogmas in Roman Catholic Mariology. Mary is often called the Immaculata (the Immaculate One), particularly in artistic and cultural contexts.

            From Wikipedia.

        • The answer is to quit using XBox Live. That service is reviled as an amateur’s playground. The strictly unserious thrive there; it’s a veritable cesspool of ignorance and the vast majority of those that use it, male and female, seem to have been born missing several chromosones.

          Grab yerself a PC and you’ll know a whole new paradigm of gaming where most are grown and mature.

  5. Why is it men can’t simply be men anymore? How about women just learn to deal with it? How did this world get so feminized, what was Gen X thinking?

    • Where did you get the idea that men should be boors in order to be ‘manly’? Is this the Homer Simpson school of thought? Couch, beer, underwear, chips, scratching and belching?

      All else is ‘feminized’??

      Are you unaware that for centuries men have been explorers, scientists, pianists, architects, surgeons, poets and leaders?

      • It doesn’t necessarily mean doing those things, but a place where one has the freedom to. Then again, perhaps we can’t expect 100% freedom to do them without criticism, we just need to learn to ignore the criticism.

        Still, when it comes to certain male-dominated areas, like games and sports, as men we do expect we are able to maintain our domain over them to be what we want them to be, and not dictated what they shall be by the feminists out there.

        Women are free to be women (or even “like men”) wherever they wish, but whenever a man does something that only a man would d… uh oh, said too much, there come the feminists… gotta run!

        • Why….is being Homer Simpson your goal? I thought you’d want better than that for yourself. This is some cultural thing you’re caught up in, in your head. Anybody can sit around and be a slob….it has nothing to do with your gender.

          There are no ‘male-dominated’ areas anymore….all of that has changed, and while you might want to make a ‘last stand’ or shout your ‘last hurrah’ here you’ll just have to get used to the idea we are all humans…..and there are no male/female divisions ….just cultural crap. There is nothing ‘only a man would do’.

          .

        • Stop being both an idiot and a stereotype, and you might be able to get a wife someday (or at least a wife who will stick around).

          Freedom doesn’t mean doing what you want. Freedom is only gained when you do what you should. Happiness too.

  6. The Extra Credits people have been consulting with Microsoft and EA (I believe the latter is right) about how to deal with these morons. Here’s their video about it: http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/harassment .

    Also, from the dad of Shit My Dad Says fame:

    “It means that the future leaders of your country, I say your ’cause I’ll have long decomposed, are gonna be people that have absolutely no experience with actual confrontation. Thirty years from now the President of the most powerful country in the world is going to be some little shit who sat at his computer and hurled insults three feet away from his mommy’s tit like it was no big deal. I don’t condone fighting, but when a human being understands that his or her actions might result in a giant fist up his or her ass, he or she learns a thing or two about thinking before they speak. All I’m saying is, I’m glad I’m going to be dead. Also, happy birthday. That’s why I called.” (http://www.funnyordie.com/articles/322261cd73/why-internet-commenters-will-eventually-end-the-world)

  7. I game, and I think this is a silly article. The jerk out there are jerks to everyone, male and female alike. It would be nice if it could be stopped, but until it is, we all have to live with it. That means I hav to play, while these idiots say their things. The women who game will also have to ‘ play through it’ or stop playing. They are just jerks, and will say anything online to insult someone. Ths sn’t a ‘sexist’ issue, so don’t try to make it one.

  8. I visited the fatuglyorslutty website mentioned in this article, and one thing stood out to me out of all the examples submitted to that website — all of them use XBox Live. That service is like the 4Chan of gaming services. The most backward sample of humanity thrive there, male and female, so I’m not surprised at all.

    • This comment was deleted.

      • XBox Live member, I suppose. I rest my case.

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