A charity report presented to the UK government shines a light on the levels of abuse women face when taking part in online gaming.
Penned by The Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust (YGAM), the report has been submitted to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Video Games and E-sports, detailing the experiences of many young women who participate in internet gaming.
On top of raising awareness of the pervasive issue, the charity presents potential ways of “preventing sexual harassment and misogyny in gaming”.
The report was informed by a roundtable event arranged by the charity’s Parental Engagement programme as part of its new ‘Let’s talk about Games’ campaign.
“With the rise of online gaming levels of online abuse have sadly risen too, and it’s particularly bad if you’re female” – Dehenna Davison MP
At the roundtable, the YGAM team was joined by a small group of academics and female gamers who have vocalised the threats facing women who play online – including Dr Sarah Hays, an American psychologist and campaigner for queer women in E-sports. Several young women offered first-hand accounts of their experiences, with the report listing examples of the sorts of behaviour girl gamers have been subjected to online.
Dehenna Davison MP, a member of the APPG on Video Games and E-sports and a regular online gamer, welcomed the YGAM’s report, saying: “Though there can be a perception that they’re just for young lads, video games really are for everyone. I started playing as a four-year-old with my Dad, and since then I have seen the industry transform dramatically.
“With the rise of online gaming,” she added, “levels of online abuse have sadly risen too, and it’s particularly bad if you’re female. I have lost count of the number of times I heard a group of teenagers on their headsets moaning because they didn’t want a girl on their COD (Call of Duty) team. We all need to get better at tackling this and calling out any abusive behaviour to make sure everyone feels safe whilst gaming.”
“It’s just so normalised and there are so many rape threats just casually thrown in there” – Lisa Kelly, gamer
Game developers and companies are growing increasingly aware of the misogyny and sexual harassment that takes place on virtual platforms, with many taking steps to help address the issue: from COD banning more than 350,000 accounts for ‘toxic’ behaviour in the last 12 months, and implementing new technology to filter out offensive text chat; to Counter-Strike allowing users to kick abusive people out of a game. Most developers claim to have zero-tolerance policies towards behaviour considered potentially harmful or abusive.
YGAM decided to submit the report to Westminster in a bid to encourage MPs to take action on the issue. One young gamer, Mollie Barker, commented: “The first time I experienced a threat [online] I was 14 or 15. It was the first time I had ever opened this game and the first time I had played it online. After that, I didn’t play online again for two years.”
Fellow gamer Lisa Kelly exposed the abuse often faced by her and her friends online: “It’s just so normalised and there are so many rape threats just casually thrown in there. On top of generally sexist comments, there’s an extra layer where it gets a bit more toxic. There’s general abuse that we’ve all received, like, ‘go kill yourself’ or really awful things like that.”
Katie Tarrant, a student journalism manager at YGAM who authored the report, titled She Plays, He Says, intended it to shine a light on a culture we’ve all been told exists in online gaming: “what is often a form of escapism or skilled hobby for young women is too frequently ruined by a few words from male gamers,” said Tarrant.
“Gathering this evidence has confirmed my belief that education is the way forward in tackling misogyny and abuse targeted at female gamers” – Katie Tarrant, author, She Plays, He Says
“Gathering this evidence has confirmed my belief that education is the way forward in tackling misogyny and abuse targeted at female gamers. I hope this report goes some way to making sure that need for education is recognised by parliament.”
The report makes three key recommendations based on the charity’s mission statement of ‘Informing, Educating and Safeguarding’ young people against gaming- and gambling-related harms. The suggestions are as follows:
- Inform parents of the behaviour young people could be exposed to while gaming
- Begin educating boys from a young age on rape culture and discrimination, as well as the impact words said while gaming can cause
- Safeguard female gamers and create a space where victims of sexual harassment feel safe and supported