Online Gaming: Is Sexual Harassment Just Part Of The Play, Or Is It Inappropriate? Or Do You Even Consider Comments In The Game Room To Qualify As Sexual Harassment?
The world of video gaming
has a problem with sexual harassment. The number of women gamers is
growing fast - in the US they now make up 42% of the total - but it
remains a macho environment, where women are often exposed to abusive
(The language in this report reflects that reality.)
"Get back in the kitchen and take your goddamn hands off a video game controller."
The male voices are aggressive, even angry. Their put-downs are laced with strong swearing and sexual insults.
"Stupid bitch," says one. "Fat whore," adds another.
"I hope your boyfriend beats you. Nah, you can't get a boyfriend."
The tirade of abuse ends and Jenny Haniver laughs.
"Get back in the kitchen?" she says. "I'm not in the kitchen
because I'm here kicking your ass on video games, that's what I'm good
We're sitting in her living room in Wisconsin, listening to audio
recordings she makes when she goes online to play Call of Duty: Modern
Warfare 3. It's a combat-based video game, where players can talk to
each other via headsets.
The recordings end up on Haniver's website, Not in the
Kitchen Any More. She plays in the evening after college and says most
nights she'll have to deal with harassment of some kind. Some of it just
puerile, but some is graphic and threatening.
"This enemy player backed out of the middle of the match and
sent me a voice message," Haniver says, remembering her worst
experience. He said he hoped she would be raped and she and her family
Amazingly, this is not uncommon.
Another website, Fat, Ugly or Slutty, posts examples of
harassment from all games - mostly pictures of in-game messages that
women receive from other gamers.
"[There's] a plethora of stupidity when it comes to what
women receive in online games," says Grace, one of the site's
"There are some people who can't even look at Fat, Ugly or
Slutty because it reminds them too much of their lives, it upsets them
too much," she says. "A lot of people have just walked away from online
Several high profile incidents this year have intensified the focus on how women are treated.
In February, video game writer Jennifer Hepler was quoted in a
post on the online forum Reddit, suggesting that games would be better
if gamers had the option to skip the combat sections. This attracted
vicious attacks in online forums and on Twitter, many of them focused on
Around the same time, a gaming competition called Cross
Assault gained widespread notoriety after a male player called Aris
Bakhtanians made offensive comments about fellow player Miranda Pakozdi,
including guessing her bra size, talking about her body parts, and
All this happened face-to-face at the competition, but was
broadcast on an internet video stream. The stream included a discussion
in which Bakhtanians claimed that "sexual harassment is part of the
culture" of their gaming community, known as the fighting game
Bakhtanians also defended the casual use of the word "rape"
and phrases like "rape that bitch" as expressions for defeating another
"There's nothing unacceptable about that," he claimed. "We're in America, man. This isn't North Korea, we can say what we want."
Pakozdi eventually quit the competition, and a video of
excerpts from the internet stream went viral, quickly gaining 200,000
hits on YouTube. Bakhtanians released a statement saying he'd made a
mistake and apologising to Pakozdi.
The Cross Assault incident sparked an intense debate.
"Just watching it happen made me a little angry, it was hard
for me to watch," says Emily Chow, a member of the fighting game
community in Toronto, Canada.
After Cross Assault she blogged about her own experiences of harassment.
"I feel like I should start taking a stronger stand against people who do act this way," she says.
Vince Hui, another Toronto player, says
harassment is "a little bit of an epidemic" within the video game
community. "In a lot of ways we need to learn to grow up a little bit,"
But not everyone felt that Cross Assault was cause for
change. Jonathan Quamina, an avid gamer, expressed his support for
Bakhtanians, telling him not to apologise.
"As a female you can't get upset if something is said that is obscene if you're hanging out in a room full of guys," he says.
"It's like going to a strip club as a female and getting
upset that the chicks are all naked. For me it goes back to freedom of
speech. We're a harmless bunch of people. This is just guys being stupid
There's also been pressure this year for gaming companies to do more to combat harassment.
Recently, an online video series called Extra Credits
launched a campaign targeting Microsoft's Xbox Live online gaming
platform, describing it as "the service most often referenced when
harassment in our community comes up"
On the Fat, Ugly or Slutty website, the
majority of submissions also come from Xbox Live. Grace from the site
says that although gamers can report harassment, there's a widespread
perception this achieves nothing.
"I feel a little sad," she says. "For some of the ones that I
feel are really blatantly harassing it seems to me that maybe there
should be something harsher for it, but maybe not everybody agrees and
maybe not even Microsoft agrees."
Looking through the Xbox-related posts on Fat, Ugly or Slutty, it's not hard to find examples that confirm Grace's concerns.
"You are a dumb slut, you stupid whore, I would rape you..."
was one example reported to Microsoft - and was sent from an account
that is still active.
I found several other similar messages, confirmed that they
had been reported, and sent them to Microsoft, requesting an interview
to ask why these accounts were still active and what action had been
taken. Microsoft turned the request down.
But Extra Credits appears to have had some success. In mid-May, the campaigners were invited to a meeting with Microsoft.
In a statement provided after the meeting, Microsoft said
that "bullying and harassment are not welcome on Xbox LIVE" but admitted
that "more can be done to create a safe and supportive play
Microsoft says it is working on "near and long-term
improvements to Xbox Live" and "our commitment to solving this problem
James Portnow, from Extra Credits, says: "It looks like
they're really making some attempts to move forward with better
enforcement. Of course in this industry I don't believe anything until
it's out in front of the consumer."
For gamers like Jenny Haniver, any improvements will be welcome.
"I have met so many cool people through Xbox Live, the vast
majority of the community is kind and welcoming. It's the absolute
minority of people who are jerks, they're just a really loud minority."
Read More: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18280000
See Votes by State