Gaming is no longer a male-only domain, but have the men noticed?
In the past, gaming was considered a relatively solitary affair. The domain of lonely, single males.
This is no longer a fair representation of the gaming community (if indeed it ever was).
Thanks to the pervasive connectivity of the Internet, an estimated 60% of gamers now play in online communities.
Although team building and friendship can be found in these gaming spaces, hostile communication and aggression also abound.
The faceless miles of space between warring individuals provides safety in anonymity and the opportunity to vent.
The lack of authority online, the lack of nonverbal cues and a whole host of other factors make online communication a completely different creature from face-to-face interactions.
Women and gaming
In 2014, the Internet Advertising Bureau released figures showing that more women now play video games than men (52% versus 48%). Although the gender split in the online community is harder to gauge, women are thought to indulge in online gaming at least as much as males; still, they are generally considered a minority.
Male responses to women in what they think of as "their domain" varies from player to player. A study in 2015, concentrating on Halo 3 players, found that low-skilled male players acted in a more hostile way to players with a female voice than males. Conversely, high-skilled male players behaved more positively to female players.
The reasons for the ill-treatment of females in this arena is not fully understood, but theories abound. The author of the Halo 3 research gives one popular theory: "female-initiated disruption of a male hierarchy incites hostile behavior from poor performing males who stand to lose the most status."
Sexual harassment in online gaming
As mentioned, everyone involved in online gaming can expect to come across harassment in the form of embarrassment or insults. But it is the women who experience an extra level of abuse.
Female gamers report stalking and sexual harassment, and the levels of resultant stress are also higher for women. Although these events are known to occur, the way female gamers cope with these attacks is not well understood.
New research covering this issue has recently been published in the journal New Media & Society. Investigators at Ohio State University, led by Jesse Fox, surveyed 293 women from online forums, blogs and social media sites, to investigate the longer-term effects.
The respondents averaged 13 hours of online gaming per week, had an average age of 26 and represented 30 countries. The games most regularly played included Defense of the Ancients, Team Fortress 2, World of Warcraft and various versions of Halo.
The participants were asked abut their experiences of harassment, sexual or otherwise, how they dealt with it, how the game administrators or companies responded to it and how much they thought about the abuse when they were offline.
According to Fox, the research showed that most female players understand the prevalence of trash talk; they are not necessarily keen on it, but they can handle it. She continues:
"What disturbs them is being targeted simply for being a woman. They don't easily forget those comments and continue to think about them when they're done playing."
Handling online sexual abuse
Threats, sexually related comments and rape jokes do not easily fade from female gamer's minds; they stick around. The majority of the women did not blame the gaming companies for the general abuse that occurred in-game. But, when the abuse turned sexual, they did see it as the company's responsibility.
Fox says: "Gaming companies do drive women away when they don't take an active stance against online sexual harassment." The team also found that the female gamers affected by sexual abuse online dealt with it in a similar way to abuse in real life: avoidance, denying that it is a problem, seeking help and blaming themselves.
Another technique used by many of the gamers is gender masking. For instance, instead of choosing a gender-specific name, such as "Miss Kitty Princess," they will choose something neutral like "User 42." This deals with the problem, but as Fox remarks: "Women shouldn't have to do that."
This also makes women an invisible force within gaming, she says, adding:
"Gaming companies assume that there aren't many female players or that women aren't interested in online games when they're really just hiding their identity."
Online gaming is a relatively new social phenomenon; it hides under much of society's radar. As such, research in the field is minimal but growing fast; intriguing findings are sure to mount.
Medical News Today recently covered research investigating the hyperconnected but easily distracted brain of the gamer.