Mario the Misogynist – Sexism in Gaming Culture

One great thing about video games: you can be anyone through your avatar – a rotund dinosaur with a chameleon tongue, an adventuring archaeologist in a tank top or a mushroom-stomping plumber. Still – as in real life – players who step into the zone as a woman might arbitrarily encounter higher difficulty levels, so to speak. While a Pew study on online harassment showed that men are more likely to be called names, publicly embarrassed and physically threatened, women experience more stalking and harassment, with comments (NSFW) that range from the sexist to legally-punishable threats:

Get back in the kitchen and take your god**** hands off a video game controller.

And taunts designed to devastate:

I hope your boyfriend beats you. Nah, you can’t get a boyfriend.”

Some of the worst online abuse women can face was highlighted in the 2014 Gamergate controversy, in which video game developer Zoe Quinn was subjected to sustained harassment involving the spread of nude photos, death threats, as well as numerous attempts to hack her website. The same year, Brianna Wu, a video game developer and Gamergate critic found her personal details published online. A user subsequently sent her a string of rape and murder threats along with her home address, leading her to move out for her own safety.

What drives this monster of misogyny? Well, according to one who has faced it and laughed, its true size probably resembles a lizard more than a titanic dragon – composed of a minority of men with a disproportionate knack for mockery and mayhem. It finds its home in some game communities and not others, and a study suggests that the aggressive impulse to put down female players comes in part from less-skilled male players who feel their social rank threatened by female newcomers. This is referred to as toxic masculinity, a social construct that propagates the idea that the masculine gender is violent, unemotional, sexually aggressive, and basically an alpha male – and it’s not just harmful to women, but also to men. It’s exactly the same idea that drives women to look too skinny/beautiful/perfect, etc.

Even when female gamers are successful, haters gonna hate, like in the case of South Korean gamer Geguri, a top ranking player in Overwatch, who was accused of cheating because some of the guys did not believe she could have gained such high scores without some illegal tactic. So confident were her two accusers that they promised to leave Overwatch if they were shown to be mistaken. One public livestream performance later, her mad skills were proven, and her accusers have apologised and quit the scene for good.

And as female gamers would know, despite positive trends over the years, game companies still make more games catered to the male demographic. For instance, a survey of the games presented at the 2015 Electronics Entertainment Expo found 9% with solo female leads, and 32% of them with solo male leads, despite the fact that female gamers now account for about half of gamers in the US. Where present, female characters are also more likely to be sexualised, possibly due to the fact that female game writers still remain in the minority, something that Gamergate highlighted.

Thankfully, Singaporean female gamers do not seem to encounter as much gendered insults as overseas. For local female gaming group Asterisk*, gender bias is a rare issue, with their main concern being a lack of funding for the gamers, although that too is starting to change.

On the plus side, the Gamergate controversy has spurred several big names to encourage the tech industry to hire more women developers (i.e. Intel, Riot Games, etc), adding balance to gender perspectives, and helping to take the unnecessary aggression out of what should be an enjoyable gaming experience for everyone.


Award star belongs to Lestatdelc

Small-Mario belongs to Sameerzaveri

Written by Vincent Tan