Written and Researched by: Emily Matthew
There are certain common conceptions about sexism and gender as they relate to gaming. Influenced by the recent influx of gender and sex-related video game discussions within the community, I was interested in finding out how much of these are actually true and how much they affect gamers– both male and female – as well as the gaming community. For this reason, I designed a twenty-question survey to find out more.
I am well aware that sexism isn’t just an issue of men versus women, and I wanted my study to reflect that. My survey was aimed at gamers of all genders in order to see who sexism affects in the gaming community, who is perpetuating sexism, and to what extent the things that we think we already know about sexism in the community are true or false.
This survey was created online and distributed to various gaming communities online as well as through social media such as twitter and facebook. The survey remained open for participation for approximately one week and garnered 874 responses – almost a third of which were accompanied by additional comments, examples, and clarifications. I also received nearly 200 comments on the purpose or topic of the research itself. Some of these comments were as telling as the hard data, and some are included in the report below.
IS SEXISM PREVALENT IN GAMING COMMUNITY
Immediately following the demographic questions, participants were asked “Do you feel that sexism is prominent in the gaming community?” The response was overwhelmingly “yes.” 79.3% of all participants believe that sexism is prominent in the gaming community. 7.1% responded “no,” and 13.6% of respondents were not sure if sexism is prominent in the community. A “yes” response was 7% more likely to come from a female gamer than from a male gamer. Male gamers were almost twice as likely to respond “no” than were female gamers – a telling response when one considers how perspective affects opinion. Men and women who were not sure about the prominence of sexism in the gaming community showed a difference in percentage that is within the margin of error.
When asked if they had ever been the subject of “sex-based taunting, harassment, or threats while playing video games online,” 35.2% of participants said yes and 61.3% of participants said no.
Women were four times more likely than men to have experienced taunting or harassment, with 63.3% of all female participants responding that they had. The stories that these women told me regarding their experiences are similar to what one might think of regarding this topic. “Cunt,” “bitch,” “slut,” and “whore” were common slurs. The threats were largely of sexual assault. Much of the harassment was based around asking for or demanding sexual favors or comments that revolved around the traditional gender role and stereotyped behavior for women in Western society. Many of the insults were based on the subject’s weight or physical appearance.
15.7% of men also reported that they had experienced sex-based taunting, harassment, or threats while playing video games. While this is in the minority, it is still of concern as sexism. The comments directed at these gamers, however, are different from those directed at women in some very telling ways. Most of the men who provided additional information on their “yes” response to this question experienced comments that revolved around them not fitting a masculine gender role. These men were often called “fags” and compared to or told that they were women and labeled with stereotypically feminine words.
For those who identified as intersexed, identified with a sex that was not listed, or did not identify with any sex, the sexual harassment that was experienced largely related to not fitting into any norm. Those participants in these demographics had almost all experienced intentional misgendering from other players.
For women, the sexism experienced is about being female. For men, it is about not fitting a standard of masculinity. In short, this sexism is always about “male” being the normative sex and “not male” or “not sufficiently male” being reason for insults, shaming, and bullying. This means that men who fit (or present) a masculine, normative standard are those who are most unlikely to be the victim of sexism.
The responses to the question “Have you ever received an unsolicited proposition while playing video games online?” shows that this happens in much the same ratio between men and women as does general sexism, but that propositioning is slightly less common than sexual threats, taunting, and harassment. 32.0% of all participants said that they had experienced an unsolicited proposition while playing video games. 59.7% of women and 12.2% of men.
The difference here, as found in the comments and clarifications that I was sent by some participants, is largely in the tone of the proposition and the reception therein. Both sexes reported receiving propositions with the exchange of money, goods, and in-game assistance as a deal. However, men were more often offered sexual favors if they would pay for them (“I’ll send nudes for gold” was a provided example.), and women were more often offered payment if they would perform sexual favors (“Show me your tits and I’ll help you,” quoted one female participant.). In addition to this, more women described the propositions that they received as “gross,” “dirty,” “vulgar,” or “inappropriate” than did men. From the clarifications I received, when men were approached with an offer of sex they were more likely to accept the offer than women were.
A further distancing between men and women in terms of experienced sexism is apparent when reviewing the data that the survey received in response to the question “Have you ever experienced sex-based harassment that began while playing a video game and continued outside of the game?” Only 9.8% of all participants reported that they had experienced this sort of harassment. However, women were nearly 7 times more likely to experience this than men were (at 19.5% for women and 3.0% for men). This suggests that those who harass women are motivated to pursue the subject of their harassment once the game is finished in order to continue to harass them. Those who harass men don’t experience this motivation to the same extent, and so women are more likely to experience sustained sexism than men are.
Similar numbers were reported in response to the question “Have you ever felt unsafe because of sex-based harassment while playing a video game?” 9.6% of all participants answered “yes.” 19.4% of women and 2.2% of men experienced this. This means that women are nine times more likely than men to feel unsafe in this situation. A handful of women commented further on this, and all of them expressed that their fears were rape or sexual-assault related, which is unsurprising considering that some studies report that as many as 1 in 4 college-aged women is sexually assaulted. Where rape is a real, common occurrence for women in the average gaming age group, it is not surprising that threats of rape made while gaming causes more concern for women than for men.
Women were also much more likely to quit playing a game because of sex-based harassment than were men. 35.8% of women reported having quit playing temporarily because of sexism, and 9.6% reported that they quit playing a certain game permanently because of harassment. The numbers for men in the same areas were 11.7% and 2.6% respectively – about a third of the percentage for women in each case.
Another polarizing question was “Have you ever obscured or lied about your sex while playing video games to avoid unwanted attention or harassment?” 67.5% of women said that they had obscured their sex. Only 5.8% of men said the same. That means that women are nearly 12 times as likely to feel the need to conceal their sex while playing video games as men are. Two men sent clarifications to me regarding why they conceal their sex sometimes when they play video games. Both prefer to play with female avatars, and both have previously been harassed because they identify as male but play female characters. Again, they are being harassed because they don’t conform to normative masculinity.
When asked if they had ever avoided playing on a public server to avoid being a target of sexism, 50.6% of female respondents and 10.3% of male respondents said that they had. Beyond this, many women clarified by saying that they don’t play video games online at all in order to avoid sex-based harassment either that they had previously experienced playing online or that they thought they might experience. While women are five times more likely to avoid playing on a public server to keep away from sexism, there is another difference between when men and women choose to do this. Many men sent clarifications about this question to say that they avoid specific servers that they know to foster a sexist community whereas many women said that they avoid all public servers and play only in environments they know that they will be comfortable in.
When asked “Have you ever been the subject of sex-based comments, taunting, harassment, or threats in the gaming community while not playing a video game?” 45.5% of women said that they had – almost 5 times the percentage of men who said the same. Similarly, when asked if they had ever had their gaming taste, ability, or skill questioned because of their gender, 77.8% of women said that they had (compared to 6.4% of men). Those men who said that they had been the subject of these comments and judgments related that they were often judged for liking games that were “for girls.” One man said that he had been called a “faggot” when he said he didn’t like playing violent games. Yet again, the sexism against men is not because they are men but because they aren’t “male enough.”
Occasionally, women in gaming are labeled as something like “attention whores.” The woman who plays video games for attention or uses her sex for special treatment while playing is a common stereotype in the gaming community. The response to “Have you ever intentionally used your sex as leverage when asking for favors, goods, or attention while playing video games?” shows that this stereotype is only true in the vast minority. 9.9% of female respondents said that they had done this at least once. What is perhaps more interesting is that when asked “Have you ever lied about your sex in order to receive favors, goods, or attention while playing a video game?” 12.9% of male respondents said that they had.
The comments and data from these two questions point to an interesting conclusion: Some male gamers use the stereotype of a female “attention whore” to their benefit by pretending to be female in order to garner special benefits. Many of these men even kept images of women that they found on the internet in order to supply those gamers who helped them with nude photos and proof that they were female. In essence, an individual using femaleness to attain special favors and gifts from others while playing video games is more likely to be a self-identified male posing as a woman than to actually be female.
When they were asked if they had ever participated in sexist behavior and comments, only 9.4% of participants said “yes,” with 10.6% of men and 7.3% of women giving this answer. Men were only 3.3% more likely to exhibit sexism – a number within the margin of error. This means that men and women are exhibiting sexism at very similar rates. Comments sent in by these people to clarify their answers also show that individuals who exhibit sexism do not only do so to people of the opposite sex. Men are perpetrating sexism against other men, and women are doing the same to other women.
When asked if they had ever intervened in a conversation to stop sexist comments and behavior, 53.2% of participants (54.6% of women and 51.9% of men) said that they had. Both men and women sent in comments regarding why they had trepidation about defending others from sexism while gaming. Both were afraid of having the negative attention turned toward themselves – men often concerned with the label “White Knight” (which relates to a man who defends a woman in the hope of sexual favors) and women were concerned with the same sexual harassment that was being received by the person they might have defended.
SEXISM STUDY DEMOGRAPHICS: WHO TOOK THE SURVEY
The survey opened with some general demographic questions. When asked “What sex do you identify as?” 499 (57.1%) of the respondents were male and 356 (40.7%) were female. These numbers – particularly the ratio of men to women in gaming – are similar to those which have been reported by other studies. They support the idea that the majority of the members of the gaming community are male, but perhaps some might be surprised that the number of female members comes even close to that of the male majority.
32.4% of all participants were between the ages of 20 and 23. Only one participant, a male, was under 13, and only one participant, who identified with no sex, was over 51. 77.7% of all participants were between the ages of 16 and 27. The average male participant was between 20 and 23, as was the average female. There was no statistically significant difference in the ages of male and female participants – the distribution across age ranges was roughly the same for both groups.
Participants were asked which genre of video games they play. The most popular genre was “RPG,” which garnered 14.8% of all responses. The least popular genre was “Simulator” with 6.0% of all responses. The difference between the percentage of men playing a particular genre and women playing that same genre was never greater than 3.2 (12.6% of men and 9.4% of women played “Shooters”), which falls within the margin of error for this study. This suggests that men and women have roughly the same taste in video games.
This information is interesting in light of arguments posed in response to other studies. Some of these arguments suggest that the population of women in gaming (41%) is only so high because there is no differentiation between “casual” and “serious” gamers – that people who play only casual games should not be considered gamers and that making the distinction would lower the number of female gamers as reported by such studies. This study shows that this is not the case. In fact, no women who responded to this survey played only casual games. Women were 2.0% more likely to play casual games than were men (again, a number within the margin of error), but these same women also enjoyed other game genres.
Similar data ranges were apparent in response to the question “What devices do you use to play video games?” The most popular device for gaming is the PC, which garnered 24.9% of all responses. The least popular device for gaming is the Mac, with 3.4% of the responses. The difference in the percentage of men and the percentage of women playing video games on a given device were statistically negligible. The largest difference was between men and women playing the Nintendo Wii; women were 1.1% more likely to play this console than men were. While this is a number well within the margin of error, it is the only difference between men and women as far as consoles and devices are concerned that was over 1.0%. The rest of the responses were only different by a fraction of a percent. It is clear that there is no real difference in the gaming devices selected by men and those selected by women.
49.4% of gamers who participated in this survey play video games for a few hours a day. Women were 4.6% more likely to play video games a few hours a week than were men, whereas men were 6.2% more likely to play video games a few hours a day than were women. The percentages of men and women who play video games more than four hours a day were only 0.8% different from one another – with 16% of women and 15.2% of men playing at this frequency. The average male gamer and the average female gamer both play video games for a few hours a week.
SEXISM SURVEY COMMENTS AND COMMUNITY’S REACTION
According to this study, most gamers recognize sexism as a prominent force in the gaming community. While it is mostly directed at women, some men experience it as well. Only a minority of gamers say that they’ve perpetuated sexism, and a majority say that they’ve stepped in to stop it. These numbers are heartening for anyone who, like me, is concerned about how the gamers, and people in general, treat one another.
I myself received some interesting reactions and treatment when I opened this survey up to the public. For the sake of statistics and simplification, I counted the comments that I received that were directed at the purpose of the survey (as opposed to those that were in direct response to survey questions) and then categorized them as either: Definitely Positive, Definitely Negative, and Non-Definite.
Encouragingly, those comments which were distinctly positive outnumbered the comments which were negative. The majority of these were methods of solidarity and encouragement – praise directed at myself for undertaking the project or support for the project itself. Comments such as “I’m proud of you.” and “You’re doing a great thing.” were common. Perhaps the most encouraging were the handful of comments – 9, in total – that came from people whose outlooks were changed because of the survey.
One individual said that he was surprised about the topic. He hadn’t previously considered that sexism occurred in gaming. After having taken the survey, he spoke with his wife (who is also a gamer) , asking her if she had ever experienced sexism while playing a video game. After she said that she had, the man became more conscientious of what he and other players were saying and how they were behaving while playing games online, and he decided to start speaking out against sexism when he saw it.
While these responses were quite encouraging (as I personally like to see a community aware of its biases and discrimination), there were plenty of comments to provide a counterbalance to the positivity. I received 34 comments that I would classify as “negative” – just over half the number of positive responses. These negative responses were largely comments directed at me personally as opposed to the purpose of the research, and most of them were vile, sexual, and entirely profane.
An even dozen of the negative comments that I received addressed the topic in a way that showed negative opinion while remaining what I see as professional in tone. The 22 remaining negative responses were consisted of or contained personal, profane attacks against myself. All of these comments came from men, and they all contained gender and sex-based insults. Eight of these comments featured sexual content – descriptions of what should be done to me. One of them was four paragraphs long and particularly vivid. These eight are not anything that I would deem acceptable to reproduce here. This comment is fairly representative of those made by these 22 men: “Yoru[sic] survey is retarded and so are you. There’s no sexism in the video game community, you stupid cunt. All you bitches play cause you like the attention that nerds give you. You can’t get it anywhere else cause you’re fat disgusting whales. You ruin video games. Shut the fuck up, tits or gtfo, and make me a sandwich. I’d say I hope you get raped, but you’re such a slut you’d like it.”
What was most surprising, and slightly disheartening, were many of the 87 comments that fit into neither the positive nor negative categories. A number of these comments did not involve personal opinion on the subject matter in the study. These were things like “I’d like to see the results of this.” or “This is an interesting survey.” Such comments composed approximately a third of the non-definite responses. The remaining two-thirds, however, might be represented by this comment: “I really do feel for the people who are discriminated against when they play video games. I know that a lot of women get harassed just because they’re female. But I don’t see what we can do about it. Is sexism a problem? Yes. Is is bad? Yes. Does it happen in the community? Yes. But there’s no fix for that. There are always going to be bigots, so what’s the point in fighting it?”
While I can understand this opinion, to me it represents a sort of conciliatory perspective. It’s a recognition of the problem, but an unwillingness to stand up against it. The people who made such comments – both men and women – are those who have either given up or never tried. In some ways, too, I feel that these individuals misunderstand the ways in which sexism can be fought and in which gains can be made for gamers who want to see a community free of sexism.
I can’t argue that eliminating sexist opinion from every individual in the community is realistic, and it’s not one of the goals that I personally hold when arguing against sexism. What I do think is achievable, however, is eliminating the normalization of sexism in the community. When people stand up in sufficient numbers against those who harass players because of their sex or gender – when we stop laughing, joining in, or letting it slide and start handing out bans, saying “That’s not okay,” and refusing to play with bigots – then eventually there is a standard that even those with sexist leanings will begin to conform to.
Surely not every bigoted person will be swayed by public opinion enough to stop expressing their sexist thoughts, but there’s going to be a number of them (how big that number is I can’t be sure) who will consider being judged, scolded, ostracized, or made to look foolish when they use sexist slurs and insults to be enough of a deterrent to stop using them in mixed company. When sexism is less expressed, it becomes less normalized for those entering the community as well. When new gamers see that calling a woman a cunt or taunting a man for being beaten by a woman is frowned upon, they are more likely to learn not to do it. It’s a change that will take time, but it’s one that I and others believe is worth working toward.