May 21, 2021 - Technology

Women hide who they are when they game online

Illustration of a pixelated female gamer at her desk
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

59% of women who play video games online mask their gender to avoid harassment, according to a new study by Reach 3.

Why it matters: Women face harassment that makes simply enjoying a multiplayer video game online a fraught proposition.

  • Some women play as male characters, refrain from speaking over voice chat, disengage, or seek women-only gaming groups to avoid sexist comments and harassment.
  • "We try to hide what we are so people don't flirt with us, send us stuff or send us messages we really don't want or pictures," one respondent to the Reach 3 survey said.
  • Three quarters said they've faced gender-based discrimination, including sexual messages, patronizing comments and "men throwing or leaving a game when finding out the player is a woman."

The big picture: Gaming has historically been marketed to boys and men, explicitly or implicitly encouraging a culture in online games that is hostile to girls and women. Progress to create a more tolerant atmosphere is slow.

  • Experts say men need to call out other men, to create a climate inhospitable to harassment.
  • The games industry itself and the competitive gaming scene are dominated by men and have been slow to root out harassers and abusers. A wave of #MeToo accounts made headlines last summer.

Women play many of the same games as men.

  • 88% of women in Reach 3's survey say they play competitive games, including MOBAs, first-person shooters, fighting games and more.

Watch this viral clip from January, in which a streamer verbally dismantles a sexist male Twitch viewer as she flawlessly plays a game.

The bottom line: Chronic harassment of women and girls happens in such great numbers that many women aren't allowed to be themselves even in online spaces.

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