The Calgary Journal
The Calgary Journal

Online forums could create platform for harassment of girl gamers

Luong thumbIn most places of North America today, sexism isn't tolerated openly.

But since the Internet's explosion into the mainstream, the trend of online harassment towards females is becoming seemingly commonplace.

"People will joke around and say comments, such as 'OMG, it's a girl!' [They] proceed with sexual jokes such as asking about bra sizes," said Angela Ta, a 22-year-old business major at the University of Calgary.

Ta said she isn't bothered or offended by these jokes, but finds them annoying after repeatedly hearing and reading the same ones.

Comments like those above have become a routine for Ta, who spends an average of 20 hours a week playing games.

Ta said she avoids talking on the microphone whenever she can, unless it's necessary to communicate with the team to win a game.

"I've never had to hide the fact that I'm a girl, but I do avoid letting people know unless I can't avoid it," she said.

"I choose generic usernames and avoid anything that is even remotely girly," she added.

Fighting back against sexism

The website fatuglyorslutty.com was launched earlier this year. It highlights the growing trend of sexism and harassment in the gaming world.

The website allows female gamers to share the creepy, comical, inane, and often deeply disturbing feedback they receive while playing online video games like Call of Duty.

The website has been attracting a lot of attention throughout major online gaming news outlets like Kotaku, Destructoid and IGN, and it has triggered an outcry of support for female gamers.

As posted on the site's "About" section: "Instead of getting offended, we offer a method for people to share these messages and laugh together. If having these messages posted online makes someone think twice about writing and sending a detailed description of their genitals, great!"

The website's reach has even expanded to YouTube, where several videos spoofing and discussing the online treatment of women gamers have been posted, using the "fat, ugly or slutty" tags.

When gaming turns ugly

Crystal Kwok, 22, is a business major at the University of Lethbridge. Kwok is an avid gamer who spends anywhere from eight to12 hours a week gaming.

Luong CouchCrystal Kwok is an avid gamer, who says she spends anywhere from eight to 12 hours a week gaming. Kwok says she has had to hide her gender because she doesn't like being subjected to sexist comments and jokes.

Photo by: Danny Luong
"I got into gaming back when my dad bought a Mac when it was one of the first home computers available," she said, "I was probably 10 or 11 and games only came on CD-ROMs because there was no Internet yet.

"After we got dial-up, my dad started downloading these simple little point-and-click games for us.... After a year or so of these games, my dad started to question whether this was appropriate since some of it was violent. Too late, dad, too late."

Like Ta, Kwok said she doesn't always tell fellow gamers she's a woman.

"I don't broadcast it but I don't try to hide it either," she said. "It's just weird to have people treat you differently because of one little characteristic about you. Then everything relates back to that. If I'm good, I'm good despite being a girl. If I'm bad, I'm bad because I'm a girl. It's something that just has to be commented on.

Kwok said this treatment varies between games. For instance, she said games like World of Warcraft rely on "some sort of relationship with the people around you."

She said when other gamers find out she's a girl some start talking differently, treating her nicely, offering to help, and forgiving her when she make mistakes in the game.

Kwok said the most common questions she receives when other players find out she's a girl are: "Are you hot?" "Can you make me a sandwich?" "Do you play games?" or "Do you have a dick? Are you really a girl?"

Breaking stereotypes

Research from the Entertainment Software Association indicates 42 per cent of all game players are women.

According to the group, women over the age of 18 (37 per cent) represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population than boys aged 17 or younger (13 per cent).

A quick look at the website fatuglyorslutty.com reveals the approach male gamers take when addressing members of the opposite sex online.

While there are players that support the female gaming community, there are also many who leave misogynistic, sexually degrading and explicit comments that are not appropriate for publication in a community-orientated newspaper.

For instance, the website features an Xbox Live message that reads, "Did your husband install a TV in the kitchen?" Another reads, "BITCH I hope U get breast cancer N die U slut." [sic]

The website displays a host of categories that suggest the types of comments most often posted.

These categories include: "Death Threats," "Lewd Proposals," "X-Rated," "Sandwich Making 101," "Unprovoked Rage," "Fat," "Ugly" and "Slutty."

An example of a larger problem?

Bruce Ravelli, a professor of sociology at Mount Royal University, said: "I guess it's a demonstration of society at large. Women have always been oppressed: look at how many men get plastic surgery compared to women.

"We objectify women in every area of life, it's not exclusive to video games."

Ravelli said he believes being anonymous online makes the harassment easier.

"You don't have to stand up and be counted, there's no accountability so it's worse."

KwokAccording to research conducted by the Entertainment Software Association, 42 per cent of all gamers are female. However, that doesn't seem to stop male gamers from ridiculing their female counterparts during play.

Photo by: Danny Luong
Ta added that reactions from male gamers aren't always bad.

"The best thing I've gained from gaming is that I've met a lot of new friends from Calgary," she said.

"I started out playing with my brother and cousin, but somehow we played with a lot of locals and friends of friends."

"Now, we have a small group of gaming friends."

Ta thinks there are mixed reactions in the gaming community about girl players.

"I feel that there is a stereotype among the gaming community that girls are 'bad gamers,'" Ta said. "This might be true in most cases, but it is only due to the lack of girls who play.

"For every bad girl gamer, there are hundreds of males that are equally as bad, or worse. People tend to overlook it because there is nothing special about a bad male gamer.

"However, it is rare to even encounter a girl in any video game, so people tend to remember that particular experience and associate it with all girls."

Ta seemed somewhat used to this treatment, even though she said she'd like to see the perpetrators put in their place.

"I've noticed that there are a lot of assholes online in general. They have big egos and pretty much ruin the game for everybody.

"People should just be nicer online and enjoy playing the game. Nobody cares if you're the best or what your rank is."

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Click here for a first-person account from an abused female gamer.