In 2021, the gaming industry was valued at a whopping $173.7 billion, with experts predicting it could reach $314.40 billion by 2027. People of all ages, all over the world, use video games as a form of entertainment, escapism and a way to meet new people. The phenomenon of online gaming, which involves playing the same game with other gamers from anywhere in the world, has been around for years, with games such as Fortnite and Call of Duty amongst fan favourites.
Women and other minority groups often have a very different experience when it comes to online gaming. Blaze misogyny and sexist comments such as, 'you belong in the kitchen' and 'make me a sandwich' are the norm. However, it often gets a lot more extreme than that, with some individuals subjected to rape and death threats.
But in an age where we seem to be so hyper-aware of our progression towards equality, why is this happening? Why are women and non-binary individuals being subjected to this hate for simply existing in the same spaces as men?
Recently, the online community was at war when one of Twitch’s most popular female streamers, Pokimane, received a ‘hate raid’ on one of her livestreams. A hate raid is when a streamer sends their fans to infiltrate another streamer’s broadcast with massive amounts of often sexist, racist and homophobic vitriol.
The raid conducted on Pokimane was organised by fellow streamer, JiDion. In his stream, he began spewing sexist remarks about Pokimane, telling his viewers that "she [Pokimane] is not going to f**k you, bro, she has a man! I don’t care how much you donate, I don’t care how many hours you watch her, she is not gonna f**k you!" Effectively saying that the only reason people watch her is that she’s attractive, and that she’s somehow manipulating her male fans into thinking they have a chance with her, when in reality, she has a secret boyfriend. His fans then proceeded to harass Pokimane during her own stream with hateful and degrading comments.
Twitch confirmed JiDion would be banned from the platform for 14 days. Clearly not understanding the implications of his actions, he gravitated to other platforms in a whirlwind of rage to speak out about the supposedly unfair ban. In doing so, he changed his Twitter profile picture to a photo of Pokimane without make-up, which just added more fuel to the fire and led to Pokimane receiving even more hate. After this outburst, as well as other streamers speaking out in support of Pokimane, Twitch banned him from the platform permanently.
But it’s not just the biggest streamers facing these issues. Content creator and Twitch streamer, Beckii Whiting, has been playing video games since she was young. "Pokémon was my first love when it comes to gaming," Whiting says, explaining how she started streaming for fun during the pandemic, but began taking it more seriously in October 2021. "I just love being able to meet people with the same interests as me. So far, the community has been amazing, and it’s just a nice platform to be a part of."
Yet there have been times when Whiting, and many other female and non-binary streamers, have been harassed and objectified. "I’ve had a few trolls in the chat throwing insults," she says. "There are quite a lot of comments regarding my body, but I tend to ignore them or pretend to be confused at what they’re saying."
Creating content on social media is clearly not for everyone; it’s crucial to develop a thick skin and try to ignore the hate as much as possible. But, more recently, it seems like it’s not just sexist stereotypes fronted as ‘banter’ being thrown around in the comment section. Often, it can get a lot darker.
Online gaming communities have become popular breeding grounds for incels, which have gravitated over the years to controversial forum sites like 4Chan. Within these forums, there is a growing culture of pure hatred for women, largely stemming from young men being romantically rejected by women. They exchange anti-feminist discourse and openly discuss fantasy or real-life experiences of stalking, harassment and rape. They have even created their own slang to communicate with other incels. Connections with the alt-right are almost always guaranteed, with many alt-right individuals grooming young men into a lifestyle of extreme sexism, racism and homophobia.
Streamer and OnlyFans creator, Yasmin Baker, has had some particularly scary encounters. "Once, I was playing Dead By Daylight and the killer, another online player, was chasing me in the game. He made comments about how he wished he could find, chase and kill me in real life because it would be a thrill, and that if it was real life I wouldn't be able to escape.
"I’ve also been compared to one of the hookers in Grand Theft Auto and told I should be
raped. I used to sell my PlayStation name so that my OnlyFans subscribers could play online with me, but I had to stop after that."
It’s disappointing that female and non-binary gamers have to take such action to protect themselves. Baker explains how she sometimes avoids using voice chat and plays as a male character to avoid being targeted for being a female gamer. "It shouldn’t have to be that way," she says.
In May 2021, Reach3 Insights and Lenovo conducted a study into the experiences of female gamers. It concluded that 77 per cent experienced some form of frustration when gaming because of remarks made about their gender, such as having their skills judged and receiving patronising comments. Fifty-nine per cent said they played as a non-gendered or male character to avoid conflict.
So what, if anything, can be done by gaming communities to combat this? Platforms like Twitch taking responsibility and banning offenders like JiDion is a good start. But the case involving Pokimane is a unique one, as she has such a vast influence within the streaming community and had a lot of people speaking out in her defence. The average streamer with a much smaller following does not have that luxury and would find it much more difficult to get their offenders banned.
Having ID checks when you sign up to a platform is another possible solution. This has been widely debated for a few years now and definitely has some advantages.
"I feel like most people say what they want because they are hidden behind ghost accounts. If they have to show ID, they would be more likely to stop in fear of being held accountable," Whiting explains.
"There needs to be some kind of filter that bans certain words," Baker suggests. "On OnlyFans, the word ‘rape’ or anything like that is banned, and so the message won't send with that word in it. This should definitely be available on other platforms."
Both seem like helpful solutions, particularly the latter one, as it’s easy to implement, especially if other platforms are already doing it.
Finally, we should not underestimate the power of bringing these horrific experiences out into the public domain, showing that we aren’t going to tolerate that kind of behaviour and that actions have consequences. You say something sexist, racist or homophobic, then expect to feel the repercussions of that. Social media has had a huge impact on allowing survivors to speak their truth to the world, and hopefully, be listened to.
"Women have started to be more outspoken in calling out negative experiences," Whiting says. "The #MeToo movement has enabled us to have that voice."
It seems to be society’s deep-rooted sexism that still perpetuates the idea that men are better than women. There are probably many other, more nuanced explanations, but this seems to be the most simplistic, overarching answer. "The gaming community is seen as a male thing that a woman shouldn’t have fun doing, and their egos tell them that women can't be better at games than them," Baker explains.
Sadly, it’s hard to see sexism being truly eradicated any time soon; all we can do is continue to fight for equality. Ultimately, within the gaming world, it’s up to the streaming platforms and gaming companies to take action in order to protect a large and important part of their community. Everyone deserves the right to exist safely in the same spaces and enjoy the same activities as men without being targeted based on their gender.