"A toxic environment": New study reveals shocking number of female gamers deal with harassment

Internet - A recent study shows both players and gaming executives just how much effort women have to put in just to be able to avoid horrific harassment.

Nearly 60% of women shared that they hid their gender in order to game without being harassed online (stock image).
Nearly 60% of women shared that they hid their gender in order to game without being harassed online (stock image).  © 123RF/ Cathy Yeulet

A study done by Reach3 insights revealed that an astounding 59% of women have hidden their gender while gaming online to avoid conflict or harassment, while 77% have experienced gender-specific discrimination.

But what does discrimination look like from behind a screen?

Reach3 looked at name-calling, inappropriate sexual messages, unsolicited relationship asks, men deliberately tanking the game or disconnecting when their opponent is a woman, and more.

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Because there is so little oversight on various platforms with millions of users, there are often no repercussions for the type of behavior that often makes women feel very unwelcome and lead them to hiding their identities.

The report suggested that gaming companies can improve representation in advertising, such as including more female characters and including women in ads, as well as highlighting female players on social media.

TAG24 reached out to Tim Engelhardt, who moderates a community Discord chat server with about 1,000 members, and he shared the sexism he has witnessed both as a moderator and as a professional gamer.

Engelhardt is a "speed runner" who games on big stages around the world on behalf of various charities like The Prevent Cancer Foundation and will compete this summer for Doctors Without Borders.

"I think that the gaming community as a whole is a very toxic environment [towards women gamers]. As soon as people learn that you're a woman, you run into a lot of very unsolicited advances," he said.

What should gaming companies take notice of?

Women enjoyed games across all platforms and genres, and the Reach3 study counseled gaming companies to not forget such a valuable demographic (stock image).
Women enjoyed games across all platforms and genres, and the Reach3 study counseled gaming companies to not forget such a valuable demographic (stock image).  © 123rf/scyther5

Engelhardt explained that combatting misogyny in gaming is an issue he takes personally, because he has had to deal with some nasty instances of it head-on in his moderating position.

"I have had to handle several cases of unsolicited advances towards women on the server and even someone trying to groom minors," Engelhardt revealed.

Usually, people in violation of a server's rules are subject to temporary bans, restriction as to who they can speak with, and loss of posting rights.

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Offenses severe enough to be in violation of Discord's terms and conditions can get an entire server disbanded, so moderators are responsible for reporting offenders, especially cases of grooming, to authorities.

"Those are the kind of things you have to deal with. I try and make the environment welcoming and inclusive for everyone. We have a number of women gamers," Engelhardt said. He explained that it doesn't take much to help make people feel welcome, and a great start is in taking reports seriously.

"The bigger anything gets the more toxic it gets. The smaller communities are usually fine. Where you see [sexism] a lot and very immediately is when you look at Twitch chats. Anything that gets any substantial amount of views usually has a very toxic chat. Anytime there is an online event where they show new stuff, and something gets a female lead, you can tell by the way Twitch reacts that there is some underlying misogynistic views there, a lot of derogatory stuff."

He also says that aside from issues with sexism, that gaming companies have a long way to go on other issues, such as LGBTQ inclusion.

Until companies do more to advocate for female gamers, it is crucial to report inappropriate communication each and every time, even if it seems like nothing will be done. There are moderators out there who are trying to improve the situation.

With any luck, gaming platforms will take notice of the Reach3 survey and implement better controls to improve the situation for women across the gaming industry.

Cover photo: 123RF/ Cathy Yeulet

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