Video games are powerful cultural and creative media, increasingly recognised for their distinctive ecology of production and play. But are we giving the required attention to the fact that video games can present toxic environments for women and perpetuate gender stereotypes which are harmful to unsuspecting children who are indulging in these games?
In June 2020, the company Ubisoft — which makes popular games like Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry — saw top-ranking employees resign from their positions as accounts went public on Twitter and in mainstream media of sexual harassment, abuse and other misconduct at the company being covered up and ignored. Despite the familiarity of these tropes in gaming culture, we seem to rediscover every few years or so that video games can present toxic environments.
Age-Inappropriate Video Games
The history of video games is as much a chronicle of sexual harassment and misogyny as it is one of the technological advances. The recent incidents involving sexual harassment on the part of male-dominated video game developers is another momentary public reenactment of what has become an ever-present practice within a predominant online gaming discourse. Such incidents, according to all feminist perspectives, understand that videogames have been a gendered, primarily masculine domain, and it would seem to be no surprise at all.
The industry at large has recently been given a much-needed wake-up call over the treatment of women in gaming, with the launch of the Gamergate hashtag catching fire on social media. Despite the familiarity of these tropes, we seem to ‘rediscover’ every few years or so that making and playing video games can present toxic environments for women.
Suggested Reading: Let’s Break These Weird Stereotypes About Women
For many people, #Gamergate is a throwaway story: one of the many, many scandals that happen in geek culture. But what if we dug a little deeper? What if everything that happened in 2014 was the result of an agenda-pushing hashtag attached to such sexism and harassment? Video games, like any other form of popular culture, are not free from the sexism portrayed in our wider society. Parents in particular, should be critical of games that portray women as sexual objects or things to be rescued.
In a recent tweet by Surat-based psychiatrist, Dr Devashish Palkar, he spoke about a worried mother of a 12-year-old boy, sharing some screenshots from her mobile phone. Her son had installed a game called Long-WINd on her android. She said that the online game where one can either dress up a (computer generated) woman in different clothes, make-up and hairstyles. According to Palkar’s tweet, it is a very addictive game and you can play as long as you want. The point of this game is to attract the guy’s attention by dressing up the “female” character. You can buy different outfits with in-game money, which costs actual money. The game has more than 10 million downloads already and this shows how popular it is among young kids.
Games like The Overwatch League raises questions about diversity within media: why aren’t there more professional women gamers? Women gamers streaming on Twitch, an American video live streaming service, were most likely to receive sexual and toxic comments, compared to the men who had received comments based on their gameplay success. This shows that there are deeper-rooted problems in the gaming community towards representation of women. The high proportion of men across the market in the gaming industry has severely impacted the proportion of “female” professional players. Many “female” gamers experience abusive language and sexual comments and this problem can be addressed by reducing gender role stereotypes in games and encouraging a sense of inclusion in particular, but also within the gaming community as a whole.
“Can we blame the teenager kids for getting hooked to this game? I don’t think they are at fault here. It’s our hypocritical standards of beauty that are getting reflected in this game. The game developers are surely very smart and know how to make such addictive games! ” Palkar further wrote in his tweet. We agree with him.
While we see the issue at hand, it is also quite challenging to address it. Technology, which is changing more and more with each passing day, there remains one thing that continues to remain static: no stricter punishments for offensive game developers. It is about time we change this and make the online world safer and free of biases.
The views expressed are the author’s own.