The Cybersexism Pandemic

Look around the gaming community you’re in and think about each and every gaming you’ve ever come across; how many of them have been women? How many have been transgender, gay or non-binary? We’re decades into The Cybersexism Pandemic which goes unnoticed. 

As someone who’s been a part of gaming communities across different games and platforms, I’ve been ashamed of my gender more times than I can count. We all love to play the latest games and what makes these games particularly enjoyable is finding a good, friendly and reliable group of people to play them with. You don’t ever have to meet these people, but the ability to enjoy a game with someone else makes it a whole other experience entirely. However we all tend to hide behind a gamertag or in game name, which either offers comfort to those who like the anonymity or emboldens those who sickeningly enjoy the harassment, bullying or outright cruelty to others they find online. 

This partial anonymity somehow gives a large portion of the male gaming community, and yes a small number of women, the illusion that they can say and do whatever they want despite the real world effects. Women are without a doubt the most persecuted demographic within the virtual world, and most refuse to participate in party’s or join communities anymore because of this. I’ve seen and heard some of the things that have been said, and I can’t help but think; “I am ashamed of my gender.” Why is it acceptable? A large proportion of these people would not ever consider saying or doing these things if their anonymity was not hiding their disgusting treatment.

“Women battle old-fashioned sexism and new forms of harassment to become big players in the world of professional gaming”

by Stephanie Convery

In 2014, The Guardian published an article that indicated that there are more British women playing games than British men. This is probably the case in other countries as well but globally women make up at least half of the gaming population. Before, we wouldn’t see a lot of them, some preferred to play single player, others found a solid group of friends to play with and others have been run off by perverts and unchecked weirdo’s who’re supported by the so called “community” that they’re part of. In my opinion, any community that endorses the sexual harassment of its members is not a community at all. Rather a cult set in the same belief that women should be chained to the kitchen worktop and used to breed. A community should be about ALL people coming together, gender, culture, religion or even political beliefs should be left outside. If you love gaming, you should be treated the same as anyone else.

Twitch Banner

More recently, in the last decade, as streaming became a phenomenon with Twitch founding in 2011, we’re seeing more and more women on streaming platforms showing the world that the ‘mouthbreathers’ who treat all female gamers with the image of gamers like Belle Delphine, who yes is a woman that plays games but she’s also an adult entertainer who makes most of her living off publishing adult content on Onlyfans, were undeniably false in their attitudes. However, I doubt Belle would allow men to treat her so poorly either.

We’re seeing most women that stream show us that not only are they incredibly talented at the games they play, but they’re no different to men in the experiences they seek online. I’ve been taking to Twitch over the last few weeks to get a taste of the kind of experiences that these women face, watching various female streamers over a number of weeks. I found that largely they enjoy the interactions with their viewership. However, as night falls, you witness the pure rage as you see a viewer come onto the stream and either they hurl abuse straight away, or; they ask to play with them, ask them for their number, ask to date them and a number of other things these poor streamers get abused with every time they take to the internet. As soon as they get rejected, these viewers become disgruntled and then start hurling abuse at whomever is on the screen.

@theb1onde twitch

Yesterday, I was on a stream hosted by a streamer I had been watching for a few days, called @theb1onde, who loves the small streamer community because it allows her to actually interact with the viewers. Not having five-hundred viewers trying to talk to her, some of which don’t get answered. Which is fair, I can understand that and the small streamer community is especially supportive of each other nowadays.

Anyway, I was on theb1onde’s stream, watching her play Fall Guys and she was having a great time on the game, talking to her friends and interacting with the viewers when out of nowhere a viewer starts posting hateful comments in her chat. I’ve done my best to translate the comments, but they aren’t one-hundred percent accurate given his poor grasp on his native language, English.

“@theb1onde, well i admit that you are a very talented streamer and fall guys player, but you are so mean to men! (very toxic as well) I hope you will never find a love as a karma such a little coddled and spoiled kid who is snobby as f*** ONLY because she is very attractive.” 

It took some effort to actually read the comment itself because the grammar and spelling was all over the place, but once theb1onde finished reading it her friends were shocked and as were the viewers. She responded with “You’re coming into my stream, calling me toxic but you’re going out of your way to join my stream to be toxic in my chat? With a name like ‘Godsword111?” She takes it in stride though, which is admirable but you could tell it happens frequently when a new comment from him pops up;

“Why are you even surprised? A lot of people who are your viewers are DM’ing me right now telling me how much I’m right.”

You can see theb1onde starting to get upset about it, people in her chat were jumping to her defence, and it only served to give the ‘hater’ the attention he seemed to crave. His final comment on her stream was; “Why do I say that? Because you are literally abusing men. You are abusing men who are attracted to you and turning them into your puppies and walking on their feelings. You are an opportunist person, the bad ‘miss personality’. Being super attractive doesn’t give you the rights to smash people.”

At this point, her other viewers are posting comments in defence of the streamer and theb1onde is trying to again be bigger and take it in stride. But this is the unfortunate reality of streaming online, people come to post hate to either gauge a reaction from you or because you’ve rejected them, in some way, in the past. It happens more to women and other minorities that stream like the transgender, gay and non-binary streamers. It’s disgusting to see just how often it happened and I’m horrified by how quickly a viewer can turn from “Hey b, you so pretty, want to be my e-girl? Send me dem pretty toes” to “you a slut anyway, f*** you and everything you stand for I was only joking. Why would I want a slutty pig whore like you?” once they’re rejected. 

Surprisingly, after this he followed her on Twitch but didn’t post on her chat again. To add to further surprise, he joined her streams discord server and posts again;

“Wait, sarcasm? So you are saying you are not mean?! Prove it! Let’s see. Go out only on a single and simple date with me and let’s see now if you are really down to earth and that you don’t think that men on Twitch are low quality.”

“Man I was about to donate $1500 USD if she was positive.”

“nvm, she doesn’t deserve me” 

When someone else in the discord spoke, his only response was “Are you one of her slaves? or ‘puppies’? lmao”

I’ve seen some other incidents where similar events took place, but this one showed such a low attitude to women, and a total lack of respect to someone who’s trying to make a living doing what they love. To create a scenario for a second, let’s say that a woman works at a company doing some menial job, like cleaning. As they clean, would that same guy be as bold as he was on stream and attempt such a degrading and disgusting act?

Brianna Wu

Brianna Wu, 37, a Mississippi-born video game developer who blogs about her experiences, told BBC Three the abuse she gets online is so prolific she has had to hire an employee to deal with the trolls.

“Every woman I know is terrified that what happened to me will happen to them next. And this is a true campaign of terror on women in the field,” she told BBC News.

The couple fled their home and the police have been involved, but obscene and violent abuse towards Brianna has continued because she dares to forge a career in the once male-dominated industry.

She believes men are scared by the rate at which women like herself are now playing and developing games and software – but that such sexism should not be tolerated.

She said: “They are so threatened by women in their space they are threatening us in ways that are quite terrifying.”

“We have to stand up because this staying the way it has been for 30 years is unacceptable.”

I attached historic screenshots showing some of the vile things posted in response to something Brianna posted on Twitter, or the unprovoked tweets posted to terrorise her.  

Haters: Harassment, Abuse and Violence Online

When researching cybersexism to investigate how deeply rooted in gaming this really is, I came across a book by Bailey Poland called “Haters: Harassment, Abuse and Violence Online, and I was horrified with how many studies have been done and indicated what seemed to be a “cyber-pandemic”, yet little has changed. Women are still treated as a subclass online and it’s largely gone unchecked.

“As mentioned in the previous chapter, while men do receive harassment online, it is rarely of an explicitly gendered nature the way it is for women–that is, meant are much less likely to be harassed for being men but are instead attacked on the basis of perceived skill, for their opinion or argument, or for not being “manly” enough. Women, on the other hand, report that much of the harassment they receive contains gendered components or is solely based on gender–that is, their skills and opinions are disregarded because they are women, or they receive completely random gender-based attacks just because they’re there. Abuse increases for women of color, women who are queer, and transgender women; often such abuse is not one or the other but an amalgam of attacks on the basis of a woman’s very being.”

The free sample was definitely an interesting read, and I may take a look at buying the e-book to sit and read it all. I’ve always prided myself as someone who advocates for the fair treatment of everyone regardless of their differences and I want Subversive Gaming to be one beacon out of many, with hope that together we can drive change into the heart of this ‘cybersexism pandemic’. The task at hand is something that a lot of people have tried to do but the massive task gets the better of them. When we launched, Subversive Gaming’s leadership team was 50% female and when looking for prospective leaders in our community, gender is not a factor in it. We review what they have done for the community and what they will continue to do better as a contributing leader of Subversive Gaming.

When I was part of a crew on Grand Theft Auto V a few years ago, I bought the XBOX One X. My twin sister saw how much I was enjoying the game with this current group and asked if she could have my old XBOX. We had drifted apart as we grew up and some quality time with her was rare so of course I said she could so that she could join in. Soon after she got set up she joined a party and I introduced her to the guys. I was a senior leader in this crew, so I should’ve been well respected by the people I play with. 

As soon as my sister joined, the entire dynamic of the party changed. Everyone was jumping to help her get started with the game, and popping up in messages asking for Facebook, Snapchat and any other platform that they could contact her on. Specifically they wanted to see photos of her. This shouldn’t be something that happens, or if it does we should be treating every single one of the people we bring into the gaming communities we’re a part of the same way. After I spoke up, and reminded everyone that she was my sister, they all seemed to have piped down. They realized that it was inappropriate and then we moved on. 

However one guy took to the private messages and continued. Their conversation started off as a friendly one. She had zero expectations and being new to gaming, she was particularly naïve when it comes to how repugnant men can be when it comes to the rare sighting of a woman on XBOX.

He started getting more and more attached, making her feel increasingly uncomfortable with each message. It got to the stage where he was confessing his love to her, and ensuring that she woke up to a message from him every single morning. Starting every day with the horrifying reminder that she’s being objectified over nine-thousand miles away. I had enough at this point, and confronted him with other people present to ensure I was being fair to him, not that he deserved it. I told him that his behaviour was unacceptable, a girl should be able to play games with guys and there not be any negative discourse. It ended with him being removed from all of the resources this community had, and she blocked him on every social network as well.

PMS Clan

As written above, Subversive Gaming is far from being the first gaming community in support of the fair treatment and breaking down walls for female gamers. PMS Clan, or Pandora’s Mighty Soldiers, are a sixty-thousand strong global community dedicated to the mission.

“PMS Clan is an inclusive community committed to breaking down walls, stereotypes and boundaries for women in gaming”PMS Mission Statement

I’m not for one second saying that this is happening in one-hundred percent of the gaming world, as I’ve just co-founded a community that has a number of women scattered around the ranks. We don’t treat our female members any differently than we would a guy. We don’t offer special treatment in the effort of gaining some sort of “virtual experience” with them. We welcome them, say hello and get to the games. Because that’s what we all want to do, right? The dream of many gamers is to be part of something big, and participate in something they love to do with other friendly people who have common interests.

As men, aren’t we biologically hardwired to protect women? Isn’t it something that we’ve done since we were all living in caves and riding dinosaurs? What’s changed? When did we stop protecting women and children and start mistreating them? What has happened for us to inspire this toxic environment? I’ve said it twice, I’ll say it again, I am ashamed of my gender. We should all be ashamed. Not all of us do it, and not all of us endorse it. However, as the many who do rightly allow women to tarnish the male gender with the same brush, it is now up to all of us to change that perception.

Ready player one banner

We should all inspire change, and invite others to do the same. We should protect the minorities, not just women but everyone. We are all outcasts after all, we feel we’re rejected in the real world so we seek refuge online, the one place we can be whoever we want. One of my favorite movies is “Ready Player One” because it highlights this perfectly. People in the real world were so tired of dealing with real world problems so they escaped to the virtual world to become someone else.

Taking from that what l did, if we’re all outcasts, then we should all be banding together to build a better world to game in. If we decide who we are in the gaming world, then why not decide to be respectful to everyone and as a whole we can all enjoy the experience together. Inspire change and be better, inspire change and do better. If you hear or see someone harassing another gamer because of their gender, inspire change and speak up.