Women in gaming:

fighting sexism within the gaming industry


We look at the hurdle's female gamers face as the industry looks to improve and how you can help.

2017's #MeToo movement cast an overdue spotlight on the harm of sexist attitudes rampant in multiple industries and lifestyles – with women, people of colour and the non-binary among those most affected. Unsurprisingly, the realm of video games was far from exempt, with many streamers, creators and players all having their own experiences.

The truth is: women in gaming deal with substantially more challenges than men from the moment they press the power button – just because of their gender. From taking extra safety measures to avoid harassment, to having their achievements undermined, it’s a serious problem – but gamers and streamers are doing what they can to push back and create safe spaces for all. Companies can play their part too. EE’s Power Up programme seeks to provide a safe space to help women gamers break into the world of esports, while EE are also lead sponsor of Team EXCEL’s first ever female Valorant team.

Still, there’s work to be done. Here are some of the further challenges women gamers face, and the steps being taken to overcome them.

Don't feed the trolls


Most comment sections on content made by women creators will feature some kind of discriminatory remark. It’s clear that the advice to “ignore the comments” isn’t always effective.

“People create content to the detriment of other people to benefit their own channel and make themselves money,” pro game streamer Leah Alexandra – AKA Leahviathan – says. “Platforms have slowly developed tools to help protect against the influx of attention that can follow from this sort of thing, but there’s probably more initiative that can be taken with helping educate audiences about outrage culture.”

It’s called bait for a reason. One of the worst things anyone can do is engage with hateful content, especially by reposting it on social media – even if your intentions are good. If you encounter hateful comments, Twitch streamers, mods, and community managers recommend you report them – and spend your energy on supporting a streamer who’s a positive role model instead.

The Animal Crossing effect


Hateful language might be an obvious sign of sexism, but some subtler forms can slip under the radar – while still being harmful. Stereotypes about women, their relationship to technology, and their ability to play games only reinforces the idea that women don’t “belong” in the space. One study by EE showed that 47% of online gamers don’t believe that women are taken as seriously in esports as men. In addition, 56% believed more female role models were needed, and 30% cited an unrealistic depiction of female characters as being one of the main challenges women gamers face.

Some unconscious biases are so ingrained that we see them in media and marketing. “Games for girls,” for example, quietly reinforces the idea that women can only play certain types of games like Animal Crossing, The Sims, or Stardew Valley, and that sentiment takes root in gamer communities.

It’s easy to downplay this stuff, but the results have far-reaching effects. Women are less likely to use voice chat in games, for example. EE’s research also found that 31% of gamers believe one of the biggest challenges women gamers face that they have to go to great lengths to appear more masculine online. Threatening comments against women are common in online gaming, and while streamers may feature in headlines, women players of all abilities often find themselves dealing with similar.


Making your spaces safe


Fortunately, these attitudes aren’t being left unchecked. Streamers and even some game studios are taking action to create safer spaces.

League of Legends maker Riot and Assassin’s Creed studio Ubisoft are working together on new technology to identify patterns of behaviour and language that predict abusive behaviour before it happens.

“Disruptive player behaviours are an issue that we take very seriously but also one that is very difficult to solve,” Yves Jacquier, executive director at Ubisoft La Forge, said. “We have been working on concrete measures to ensure safe and enjoyable experiences, but we believe that, by coming together as an industry, we will be able to tackle this issue more effectively.”

These efforts dovetail with the actions popular streamers say companies need to take to create safer spaces.

“More strict text/phrase filters directed towards sexism and hate towards women; more verification on accounts (e.g. form of ID),” Team EXCEL’s Jupi said, when asked for solutions. “I find a lot of people who insult others are usually on fake/alternative accounts as it makes them feel invulnerable.”

Reporting sexist behaviour helps flag abusers who might slip past those filters. It’s a small, but meaningful action everyone can take, and it’s even more important in online communities.

Creating behaviour expectations in a community helps set the tone as a safe space and encourages everyone to work toward keeping it that way. One of the best examples of this in action is the Splatoon community, widely recognised as one of the most diverse and welcoming in games. Splatoon streamers call it “intentionally welcoming” and point to fans’ willingness to call out sexism and homophobia and refusal to tolerate it as the reason.



Power off and recharge


Even with the best intentions and safe, supportive communities, pushing back against harassment can feel like a losing battle. It did for Leah as well, but her experience at least brought some perspective she would like to share with other women in gaming. The most important tip? Go outside your following and spend time with friends.

“It’s important to protect yourself in any online industry as you can feel vulnerable and alone when it comes to receiving hate,” Leah says. “Don’t let yourself be jaded – keep trusted friends around you to keep you grounded and rooted in reality. It’s one of the best shields you can have. Having people around you who aren’t connected to your online following can be incredibly refreshing and remind you of the larger world outside of this small industry.”


EE Power Up: Because gaming is for everyone


EE are committed to making safer, more inclusive spaces for everyone in gaming. Partnering with Team EXCEL’s first ever elite women team is just the first step in working towards enhancing opportunities and access for women gamers across the industry.

EE Power Up is another – a four-month training programme for aspiring professional gamers who identify as women, helping them work with esports stars to unlock their talent and launch their gaming dreams.

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