Men and women occupy the gaming community in similar numbers. With the boom in video games and the involvement of more people within the gaming world, a lot of toxicity has unfolded. Due to some interactions within the community, it has been perceived hostile by its members as well as outsiders. These aggressive approaches include name-calling, trash-talking or harassment of many kinds. As the gaming world becomes more popular and the games continue with the multiplayer modality, there will always be an opportunity for toxic behaviours from the people playing. From some time women have been facing certain counteracting behaviours directed at them even though they are equally represented in the gaming world. This has been attributed to a few negative social interactions.
Most women have been seen as sex objects/prizes—victims who are only suitable for feminine roles far away from action characters who can be heroes. A study found that only 15% of games portrayed women as action characters or heroes (Dietz, 1998) and they were more often hypersexualized (Downs and Smith, 2005). Seeing women as action characters is so rare that it has its own term for it called “Lara phenomenon”. It describes the presence of a competent and tough female character in a dominant position (Mou & Peng, 2009). Even these ‘leading roles’ are depicted stereotypically with hypersexualization and adherence to beauty norms. Here it is essential to mention playing sexualized games leads to gender stereotypes (Behm-Morawitz and Mastro, 2009).
Women are subjected to stereotypes before they even start to play and while playing it affects the performance displayed, feeding into the stereotypical narrative. Some girls, even with an indication of good performance, have been blamed for a few lost rounds that have occurred during the game. Attacks have even been recorded before the actual game begins! Female gamers have shown more unsatisfactory performance when disconcerting ideas and misinformation cloud the lens that people adopt. A term called stereotype threat states that people perform worse when a negative stereotype is introduced about their group’s performance. Performance of females was found substandard in comparison to males only when a stereotype was induced within the play (Hively & El-Alayli, 2014).
Ideas like women play video games for attention which are similar to the notions of an e-girl, force women into stereotypes and self-fulfilling prophecies. The self-fulfilling prophecy is a process wherein the expectation(s) of a person/group towards another person/group can lead the other person/group to behave in ways which confirm the expectations. To explain this process, look at the case of gamer girls where due to the over-sexualization of women, they may be expected to act out in sexualized ways. When they do, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Owing to the stereotype of women playing only for men’s attention, and friendliness from the side of females may be seen as flirting. Some girls mention ‘being friendly’ to encourage men to play with them to build a more interactive, inclusive and non-biased gaming atmosphere. However, this initiation was seen as flirting. Another stereotype commonly addressed towards blocking advances from men is “I have a boyfriend”. Although many gamer girls have boyfriends, they don’t want to respond with the sentence due to concern of being called ‘bitchy’ (Khandaker, 2019).
To escape the threat of stereotyping, many gamers ‘disidentify’ with the space that creates the stereotypes (Smith, 2010). When treated in an unwelcomed way, participants feel like they don’t belong and respond by leaving the environment either abandoning the match or the game itself. Many other participants stay in the environment by sneaking around or endure the abuse. For those who tiptoe or sneak around the platform, the use of gender-neutral names, avoiding usage of voice chat or changing their voice to sound like a guy was prevalent. Many who cannot avoid using their voices as in the cases of ranked players mention developing a “thicker skin” towards toxicity directed at them due to being a girl. Unsurprisingly, many females prefer playing with their own gender, as men have been reported to display disbelief at a female’s high rank or assume she plays support instead of the main character. These behaviours continually reinforce existing stereotypes.
Evidence shows that men prefer rapid progress and levelling up. It also includes acquiring in-game status and rank with a primary focus on competing. At the same time, women have an inclination towards social interaction and forming long term relationships. Where men prefer to play as characters who fight on their own women choose more assistive characters. It was also found that since men spend more time playing these games, they rank higher than women. However, when the speed of levelling up was compared between the two genders, there was no difference. By statistically controlling the factors in analyses, it was understood that women advanced as fast as men did with the only difference in play motivation (Shen & Ratan, 2016).
There is also a correlation between STEM field and gaming, where the stereotypes attached to women such as the gender being worse coders in GitHub pass over to the gaming community as well. This leads to greater inequality and further stereotyping. These make it difficult to feel accepted in the community, and some attain the ‘gamer identity’ by incorporating traits of guys who play video games (Shen & Ratan, 2016). Although this feeds the narrative of masculine stereotypes attached to gaming, it also helps women to feel a part of the gaming space. “I’m not like other girls” and “you play like a girl” are some common stereotypes that women face while interacting in the field. When they succeed “I’m not like other girls” gets reinforced while when they lose “you play like a girl” gets confirmed (Khandaker, 2019). This throws light on how even when one is benefitting due to better performance. It may be at the cost of the identity of other ‘gamer girls’ who get sidelined as ‘not good enough’. No matter the outcome, these female players are likely to bear the brunt for negative stereotyping.
Bandura’s ‘Social Cognitive Theory’ shows how representations of the world are affected through models. Knowledge acquired through these models carves out the perception and interaction with others in future. When models which stereotype women are extended through media, they detrimentally affect the gender. This spills onto the gaming community as well; thus, it is essential to filter popular media through the lens of awareness and consequences associated with stereotyping.
Due to the hostile gaming environment can become towards women, games like Riot Games. Riot Games have created a system wherein players can review the misconduct of fellow players and vote for punishment. This system proved to reduce online harassment within the community. Besides, considering concerns like stereotype threat, some communities such as PMS Clan create spaces for women where they can game without any stereotypes (Shen & Ratan, 2016). Members of these communities are more confident and better at gaming. Since it has been established that many women play more support or assistive, a welcoming approach towards this gender for competitive matches might be the way forward. Some women mention getting asked for sexual favours for displaying poor performance or guy offering to ‘carry the match’ for them (Smith, 2010). In such instances, assistance or guidance for better performance may be beneficial for the whole community. By modelling better behaviour and propagating a safe environment, people can positively impact the behaviours of others. Studies also show that when women identify with a positive social identity as opposed to the one assigned to them through stereotypes, they display better performance (Kaye & Pennington, 2016).
Behm-Morawitz, E., and Mastro, D. (2009). Effects of the sexual objectification of female characters in video games on gender stereotyping and female self-concept. Sex Roles 6, 808–823. DOI: 10.1007/s11199-009-9683-8
Hively, K., & El-Alayli, A. (2014). You throw like a girl: The effect of stereotype threat on women’s athletic performance and gender stereotypes. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 15(1), 48–55. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2013.09.001
Kaye, L. K., & Pennington, C. R. (2016). “Girls can’t play”: The effects of stereotype threat on females’ gaming performance. Computers in Human Behavior, 59, 202–209. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2016.02.020
Khandaker, J. (2019). Girl Gamers And Toxicity.
Mou, Y., & Peng, W. (2009). Gender and Racial Stereotypes in Popular Video Games.
Shen, C., & Ratan, R. (2016). Debunking one of the biggest stereotypes about women in the gaming community. https://theconversation.com/debunking-one-of-the-biggest-stereotypes-about-women-in-the-gaming-community-60033
Smith, E. H. (2010). The Negative Stereotypes of Online Gamers and Communication Consequences. University Honors Program, paper 147(May). http://ecommons.txstate.edu/honorprog/147