Female players in distress: “There is no way a girl can be that good”

Young female gamers are increasingly reporting sexist abuse and bullying online, does the industry need to start taking the problem more seriously?

The left hand moves quickly over the keyboard while the right hand holds the mouse in constant motion. Gris Guo, a 24-year-old female player, is recording this week’s video of her gameplay that she’ll uploading to Bilibili, a Chinese video sharing website.

She struck the keyboard one last time. With the sound of the game being declared a victory, the cheers of the rest of her team came over her headphones. “Well done guys!” She just typed the line in the dialog box without opening the mike.

Not only when playing the game, but her own voice never appears in the game analysis videos she posts.

“I tried to do that in my first uploaded video,” said Gris. “And I never did that again after I saw the flirtatious language and the inferences about my size that were triggered by my voice in the comments section and bullet screen.”

Some of Gris’s friends do live game stream. Nana is one of them who has a very cute voice. “She really operates well and knows the game her plays,” said she. “Although she never shows her face when she is doing the stream, most of the bullet screen is flirting message or even send her private note asking her for dating.”

Winning and losing is a common occurrence in all kinds of sports or competitions. No one should receive blame from all sides. (Image: Sigmund from Unsplash)

Women are using different way to avoid harassment from other players in Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG), in which people play and take control one of the characters in a world under a certain worldview interact with other players.

About 59 percent of women surveyed said that they use either a non-gendered or male identity when playing online gamest to avoid conflict, according to the report in the first half of this year from Lenovo and Reach3 Insights, a purpose-driven insights consultancy.

Around 900 women and 100 men are engaged in this research. And the purpose of it is to understand the experience of female players in the gaming industry.

“I usually choose a male character when I play MMORPG and avoid voice chat so that other players will not know I’m actually a girl,” said Zoe Jones who have been playing World of Warcraft since 2008. “I really don’t want to get any offensive images or any flirting messages.”

About 40 percent female gamers has faced verbally abuse by other gamers, according to the data from Young Gamers & Gamblers Education Trust (YGAM), A UK national charity.

It seems to occurs more frequently in the more competitive games that are seen as more popular with men.

Player Unknown’s Battleground, as known as PUBG Mobile, is an online multiplayer battle royale game. Dlfera, a 25-year-old girl, has been playing it since the first day it was released in 2018.

“The first year was fine, they didn’t blame me when I made mistakes, after all we were all still new to the game,” said she , who often teams up with strangers to play online discussing tactics via voice chat.

However, the situation has changed in the last two years. “I don’t know from the day I started getting flak for my gender,” said Dlfera. “I missed the enemy because I am a woman, I was hit by the enemy because I am a woman.”

“It seems that all the mistakes I make are not because I am not skilled enough, but because of my gender.”

But it seems that this unreasonable treatment doesn’t just happen when the game fails.

“When I win, I will receive friend requests from both my temporary teammates and my rivals,” said she. “They are not trying to make a friend. They just want to flirt with me.”

And when she refuses, they will get annoyed and They then started slut-shaming. “What are you pretending to be.”, “As if you’re great, the truth is you must has selling yourself to get help from men to get a better score or how else could you be so highly ranked.” etc.

“I know there are some female players who are really bad at it and indeed they get high marks in the game through the help of other friends,” said Dlfera. “But this should not be used as a reason to generalise.”

It seems in their mind there is no way a girl can be that good.

First-person shooting games are especially seen as games that men excel at. (Image: Onur Binay from Unsplash)

“Most women are not as good as men at some competitive video games” can be seen as a current fact. However, “You’re a woman and I’m a man, so you must be a poor player and not as good as me at competitive video games” is sexist.

And women are just as good at computer games, at least in Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOG), according to a study from Cuihua Shen, the Professor of Communication from University of California, and her colleagues.

It found that overall women spent less time playing the game than men. And most women are willing to choose more support roles such as clerics to help other team members. Controlling such factors into account in the analyses, the final data shows women advanced at least as fast as men did.

Professor Shen also said that this kind of stereotype can also make female feel discourage and may less likely to play in the first place.

Paul Verhoeven, the author of Electric Blue & Loose Unit, once analysed sexism in gaming said that the game developing communities cater towards their archetypal typical gamer which are barely any female in the mix. In their thought maleness is the norm.

However, Fnatic, a professional esports organization in London, published a survey which shows 45 percent gamers identified as female. Also, Asia is the top percentage of the world’s total gaming revenue. Over six billion Asia gaming population is female.

This almost 50/50 gender split in the figures signals that female gamers should also be protected and supported accordingly in order to retain those 45% of customers.

The right cultural norms are very important if people want to have healthy online communities, like esports, according to Amanda Cote, an Assistant Professor of Media Studies and Game Studies at the University of Oregon.

“Ignoring toxicity or brushing it off allows it to persist. Pushing back against harassers often results in further harassment,” said Amanda. “They can also put the burden of challenging harassment on the victim, rather than on the perpetrator or community.”

Zoe has tried to report players who speak inappropriately through the in-game system, but they usually return to the game after a few days to a week’s punishment of being banned from speaking.

“Banned accounts is a rare punishment, and the fact that there are thousands of similar accounts still exist after one is banned. However, you can not report every one of them.”

Although she knew that this silence would not solve the root of the problem, it was the best solution she had felt after much thought.

“This kind of games should have given me a chance to allow me be someone else in my free time letting me escape from the real world for a short while, and meeting people with the same hobby,” said Zoe. “But now everything is ruined.”

“Many companies intervene though banning or blocking harassers,” said Amanda . “But harassers who are blocked or banned often create new accounts and return to their previous behaviours.”

“Thus, blocking should be combined with other potential approaches.”

It takes time for one’s skills to grow. Female gamers are still developing and just because they are behind for a while does not make them unfit to play. (Image: Andre Hunter from Unsplash)

More and more gaming companies are taking notice.

Over 180 gaming companies, like Blizzard, Epic Games, and Ubisoft etc., have joined the Fair Play Alliance which is a global coalition aiming to make game free of harassment, discrimination, and abuse so that players can express themselves through play.

Some first-person shooting game like PUBG and Rainbow Six Siege create a rich “ping” or “tagging” system to help players avoid voice chat without compromising the gaming experience.

Under the system, there are recordings set up in advance in the game. For example, there are “enemy ahead”, “supplies ahead” and other common content.

“All we have to do is mark the location on the map and click on the recorded voice that we can team up with a stranger without having to communicate,” said Dlfera.

She also said that after ending a game, those men can send her a message only if she agrees to their friend request. “And that’s something I would never do.”

Although the gaming environment is now moving in a good direction, there is still a long way to go before it reaches a truly good state. “I hope that one day I can freely open the mike talking with my teammates. I can be known as someone who is good at playing the game instead of being called a female player,” said Dlfera.