On not playing nicely

OK, so I was going to do a humorous post or a story and both of those might happen sometime soon. But I got distracted, because I came across this BBC report on sexual harassment in the online gaming world.

I don’t do online gaming, and I am aware of chatrooms and places in Second Life and such where BDSM scenarios are played out and women of a submissive bent go there specifically to experience that. What I don’t get is why, in an online game that involves a team of people playing out a military combat scenario against another team, random male players will suddenly realise there’s a woman on their team and start demanding pics of their tits, offering to hook up for anal sex, disparaging female players by telling them they’re only fit to make sandwiches or the only good part of their body is their vagina, or any of the other quite surreal stuff that seems to go on.

Nor is this kind of behaviour limited to hormone driven male teenagers. The BBC report points out the average gamer (presumably we’re talking online games here) is aged 37, and 42% are women; also ‘Women aged 18+ represent a greater portion of game-playing population (37%) than boys aged 17 or younger (13%)’.

So this kind of stuff is happening even though women constitute a little under half of all gamers and the men involved are mostly (at least in a chronological sense) mature adults.

Partly, I don’t get it because if I were playing an online game, I’d be there to play the game; if it’s a shoot-em-up type scenario I’d be looking for enemies to shoot rather than hanging around offering gratuitous insults to players on my team. Especially if insulting them meant they’d lose any motivation to watch my back and stop me getting shot.

And partly, I don’t get it because I don’t see why an online environment is intrinsically different to everyday life. Do people really not get it that pretty much anything that happens online is recorded, archived, available as evidence, and rather less secure than a postcard sent through the regular mail? I’d imagine most of the guys offering this kind of harassment wouldn’t walk into a supermarket, see there’s a woman on the till and demand to see her vagina. They wouldn’t see a woman walk into a bar and instantly ask her for anal sex. They wouldn’t cruise into their workplace and tell a female co-worker to fix them a sandwich, or get out her tits. Well, maybe some of them do? But if they did, I imagine they’d end up arrested, fired or whatever on a fairly regular basis.

OK, so the internet isn’t policed the same way as real life; people can and do have flame wars and engage in harassment and bullying. And some of them let rip with their misogyny. But I’d imagine the numbers are against them, with forty-plus percent of female players and a proportion of men who pitch in against misogynistic behaviour online. I’d imagine they have persistent negative experiences when they try this kind of tactic, and others work out who they are and actively shun them, like they do in many chatrooms.

However, I’m probably making the mistake of thinking that the kind of people who engage in this behaviour learn from their experiences, and/or that they’re acting in any rational manner. After all, it’s still common in places like Fetlife for women to get ‘chatup lines’ that are essentially demands for naked pics or, alternatively, receive unsolicited penis pics – though it’s easier to ignore or block such people since it’s not a real-time interactive environment.

A defence of sexually aggressive language has been offered in terms of the combat-driven nature of many games and the casual use of terms like ‘bitch’ to describe opponents, and ‘rape’ to mean defeating another character. And this is stuff you can hear on the street: I’ve heard young men talking about someone being ‘raped’ when what they meant was that they’d been (for example) short-changed in a shop. But while such phrases are, like it or not, used indiscriminately now, if you listen to the audio captures of the level of abuse and the specific things said to female players, it’s pretty clear that defence doesn’t stack up. How often does anyone, talking to a stranger, male or female, say something like Show me your titties or your family dies?

If you want to know more – including audio recordings of some of the harassment that prove it’s as ridiculous, idiotic and yet offensive as the BBC report indicates – have a look at the sites of these two female gamers who blog about their experiences:  Jenny Haniver’s Not in the Kitchen Anymore, and Fat Ugly or Slutty.

Enough said. Humorous and/or erotic posts will resume shortly…

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