[Note: Trigger warning for sexist, demeaning language and violent imagery.]
If you’re a regular reader of Soc Images, chances are pretty good that you also know about Anita Sarkeesian’s project to look at sexism in video games. Sarkeesian, who runs the fantastic Feminist Frequency site, attracted a large amount of hateful online attacks and harassment after starting a Kickstarter campaign to raise a few thousand dollars for a project looking at sexism in video games. If you aren’t aware of the story, check out any of the many media stories about her experience.
Sarkeesian’s project looks at stereotypes or sexist imagery in the design of the games themselves. My coworker Darren D. let me know about a website that highlights another element of sexism in the gaming community: the demeaning or threatening sexist comments gamers often send to other players, especially those they believe are women. Fat, Ugly or Slutty collects examples of the sexual harassment and sexist attacks that are an unfortunately common part of female gamers’ lives.
Many of the comments sexualize and objectify the women by suggesting they should be sexually available to other players or open to comments on their appearance. Some angrily lash out with hateful sexist attacks and put-downs about physical appearance and sexuality. Others send threats or vivid scenarios of violence.
As one of my female students told me last semester, as a gamer, she has the extra mental and emotional burden of having to decide, every time she considers playing, whether the joy she gets from the game outweighs the likelihood that she’ll be called a whore or a bitch or have to ignore sexual comments as she tries to concentrate on the game.
For more on the topic, check out the BBC’s documentary “Guns, Girls and Games.” Also check out Not in the Kitchen Anymore, where Jenny Haniver posts recordings of the types of sexist comments she has to deal with as a female gamer.
UPDATE: Several commenters have pointed out that men also get comments like at least some of these. That is absolutely true. Insults of a wide and creative variety are thrown around. But these comments, whether targeted at men or women, illustrate a common cost of admission to online gaming: whether a man or a woman, you have to expect sexist, demeaning, violent insults if you want to play. Those are the informal rules of the game.
And yes, both men and women receive these types of objectifying or sexist comments. In a world in which women are more likely to face this type of behavior in their everyday lives outside of gaming, and in which women playing multi-player or FPS games generally find themselves in the minority, the fact that both male and female gamers experience these insults shouldn’t reassure us that the impacts of them are equal and, thus, harmless.Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.