I'm An Anonymous Woman Gamer

Arianna Reiche - "…we shouldn't be having to hide online, and this is unfair. I should be able to tell people I'm female and not expect crazy to come out of it."

"The first rule is: try to avoid pronouns." A tall order, especially when it comes to the basic act of writing. And taller still given that Brittany (whose full name and publication she wishes to remain anonymous) has worked in editorial media for several years. "I mean, of course you end up using them. But if it's on Reddit or The Guardian online-anything with comments or feedback-it's the same: you're going to get shit if readers figure out you're female."

Since the internet's explosion into the mainstream, the idea of harassment has been thrown into the same semantic cyber-danger pot as "chatroom predators", "identity theft" and "Craigslist personals". But as online experiences which have long been solitary become increasingly community-based, receiving abuse via interactive technology has become, it would seem, a given-and widely absorbed into women's online routines.

Kim Pittman is a level designer for Toys For Bob, an Activision studio based in northern California. In addition to working in the game industry, she is herself an avid gamer: "I got into gaming because of my mother and my brother," she says. "My first conscious memory is of a video-game. I've always played them. It was just a family thing at my house."

Pittman studied at the Guildhall at Southern Methodist University, which has offered an accelerated graduate program in video-game development since 2003. "As a designer, it's kind of my job to study new games. So I try to spend 30 minutes to an hour every day playing something new: everything from Facebook games to iPhone games to Xbox 360 games. But most of what I play for my own pleasure – not deconstructing anything – is World of Warcraft."

"EVEN THE MOST EXPLICIT online mud-slinging is easy to kind of ignore or just not internalise. But there's this feeling, from everyone from the readers to the active commenters to your real, flesh and blood editors, that if you get creepy responses, you were sort of just asking for it– just by mentioning you're female, or offering a ‘female' perspective on something that doesn't have an exclusively female following." – Kim Pittman

Blizzard Entertainment's massive multiplayer online game World of Warcraft has gained notoriety in the past decade for its die-hard, often socially reclusive fans, coupled with massive commercial success. But Pittman remains conscious of the stigma attached to advertising gender within its gameplay. "You do not share the fact that you're female," she states. "Despite the fact that I play solely female characters, everyone assumes that you're male. And when you play these games, you just let people assume you're male, because it's easier. You don't have to worry about ‘creepies', you don't have to worry about people ‘falling in love with you' – it's just easier. Then when you get to know people, eventually you reveal yourself. You can say ‘Well, you know, I'm not really a guy,' and then you have to combat the initial disbelief. People think you're just trying to get something out of them. I actually played with a guild in World of Warcraft for over a year, and we finally got a vent server and were suddenly all like ‘Oh God, you really are a girl!' I'm just said, ‘I've been telling you that for over a year now!' They didn't believe me."

A 2006 statistic from the Consumer Electronics Association revealed that women ages 25-34 were out-playing men in "casual" (non-console) games by 30 per cent. Three years later, a Nielsen report would find that women over age 25 make up the largest constituency of gamers in the United States. And in the UK, women have been projected as made up 48 per cent of World of Warcraft players. "It's a little relieving to not be singled out as that odd girl doing something she shouldn't be," Pittman explains. "Video games still have that kind of stigma – that they're for children, or that they're a waste of time. Over the years, as I've met more and more people, I've begun outing myself as an actual female. And more often than not speak with people you thought were male - and they're not. Suddenly they're like ‘Oh thank God, another woman!" and suddenly you build these friendships where you're just clinging to each other like someone drowning clinging to their life jacket."

The irony and self-perpetuation of online anonymity is not lost on female gamers and new-media users. "I went to PAX - the Penny Arcade expo up in Seattle - and it was an eye-opener. Up 'til that point I saw myself as something of a unicorn," a metaphor Pittman finds particularly apt, and returns to often, "being a female gamer. At something like that there are going to be thousands of other girls running around, just as nerdy as you, if not drastically more so. It kind of reached this point where I thought, OK, this isn't abnormal; we shouldn't be having to hide online, and this is unfair. I should be able to tell people I'm female and not expect crazy to come out of it."

"I REALLY LIKE THE FACT that we're taking away peoples' anonymity," says Jennifer, i.e. "OMGitsFEDAY," the third of FUoS' editors, "which I think is a huge reason why people think sending these kinds of messages is OK-because they can get away with it. Not anymore, suckers! And we're also helping showcase an actual issue that many people don't even realize happens, though it's a part of life for any female who's ever played an online game and had the audacity to reveal her gender."

But out of this unsettling trend has come comfort in the form of the ever-useful screenshot. FatUglyOrSlutty.com, launched early this year, allows gamers to share the creepy, comical, inane, and often deeply disturbing feedback female gamers receive, most often via the chat functions in the World of Warcraft and Call of Duty franchises.

"I shared some of the messages I had received with GTZ [co-editor Grace*]and other friends," explains Ashlee, a co-founder of FsoU, "and we were all laughing about them. I said something like, ‘Everyone is the same. I'm always either fat and ugly, or a slut.' GTZ said I should make my own site in which I just post all of the messages I get, and our friend Marcus suggested we call it FatUglyorSlutty.com. It started out as a joke, but we quickly realized it would be an awesome idea."

One "whisper" reads: "wow retard r u on ur rag or somethin." In a Call of Duty chat-log: "you fat fuckin tomboy go kill yourself."

The site has received widespread media attention since its launch, including profiles on Kotaku and GamrFeed, and news aggregator Reddit, which launched an extensive discussion among both male and female gamers. One Reddit user contributed: "I never realized how bad it was until my girlfriend got into gaming. She started with L4D [Valve's Left 4 Dead]on the 360. She would constantly get bombarded with disgusting voice messages and lewd comments. I've been playing online games for a long time and never experienced anything close to what she has to deal with. I'm not even talking about comments like ‘lol a gurl, get back in the kitchen', I'm talking about extremely vile things. Like the little kid who voice messaged her that he was going to chop her up into little pieces and have sex with all the pieces. I mean, seriously?"

Like all areas of waking life, women in online media are caught somewhere between indignation and the frustration at having to be indignant: the distress of being targeted, and the backlash at discussing factors which still allow women to be targeted – particularly in ways which many view as vestigial of a time long past. "I know, rationally, that random insults are exactly that," says Grace. "But I still find it hard to brush off. Maybe I'll grow that thick skin, but I don't feel that the onus should be on me to do so."

For Pittman, her history of harassment in gaming don't begin and end in the digital world. Since entering the Guildhall in 2005, she has left an internship because of a co-worker's obsessive behavior, and been asked by a previous studio's human resources department to delineate her own definition of workplace sexual harassment ("because," she explains "it wasn't so much a question of if and by what circumstances it would happen, but when it would happen, and I think they wanted to be prepared"). She also shares a story about being kicked out of a guild by a female leader upon realising that she - Pittman - was also a woman: "You know it's funny, I've never encountered anything even remotely close to that in a game of Call of Duty. I played Team Fortress 2 quite a bit, and even in that it was like, ‘Oh you're a girl? Big deal – HEAL ME!'"

"There is no reason we should have to hide our gender to play games," says Jennifer. "I'm not going to go all Mulan and cut my hair, deepen my voice and wrap my boobs. The comment we get a lot is: ‘Just don't talk or let people know you're a girl.' And it's bullshit. We shouldn't have to hide. We like games, so get over it."

Originally published on iHollaBack.org, a blog and international movement to end street harassment using mobile technology. Arianna Reiche is a writer dividing her time between the east and left coasts. Visit her online at AriannaReiche.com.

Illustration by Sam Spratt. Check out Sam's newly redesigned portfolio website and become a fan of his Facebook Artist's Page.

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Comments

    While it does suck that there is an overly sexist (and racist) crowd of gamers, people need to use the built-in options to report violators of the EULAs etc and just keep playing.

      "Overly"? Give people this percieved, near-anonymous voice and you'll hear their views. =)

    It makes me wonder how much of the comments they receive are because they are girls vs. the usual filth from people online.

    Being male hasn't prevented hundreds of nasty messages being sent to me. Wether it's because your better than the other person and keep beating them or not up to their standard. Even get messages from people I've had almost no interaction with telling me that they are going to kill and rape my family.

    Solution is to laugh. Really. Some (most) of these people are little kids who think they are being cool. The ones who arent are just sad. Most mature players really don't care if your a girl. My wife plays online with a very feminine psn and doesn't get anymore crap than me.

    Dickheads online will always be dickheads.

      I agree. I feel for them, I really do, but what international network do they think they're on? There's always going to be these comments, directed wherever the delinquents feel it's needed most. Maybe they get more because they're perceived as an easy target, but everyone gets them.

      I'm not one for random, anonymous insults, but I do enjoy riling those who are, up. And on the other side of the coin, running guilds in WoW, I've never held back from criticism just because my target was female.

        Oop, one more thing, I did want to mention about the study saying that 48% of UK WoW gamers were women. From my vast experience in the game, your average 'mature age' guild is only 5-10% women. My last guild was about 40%, but only because I primarily recruited couples.

        Methinks their data is skewed, possibly by their source of information, which I reckon, if not a focus group, would be the subscription info. There'd be a lot of mums or wives credit cards paying subscription.

        You both seem to be missing the point that women *do* get it worse online than men do. As the article states and as you can witness quite easily jsut by watching a female gamer play online for a short period of time, the specific and spiteful remarks aimed at women are in a league above those that just get flung around in the heat of battle.

          My point was that I don't think they get more, but it is easier to make a targeted attack on a woman. Same if you are gay, Christian/muslim/whatever or foreign to the insulter.

          I agree, Brendan. This isn't normal trash talk, it's aimed at them specifically and explicitly *because* they are female.

          Also, it's difficult to laugh off a death threat or twelve. Try it some time.

          It's ludicrous to suggest this stuff will always be around and people have to deal with it.

          'Maybe they get more because they’re perceived as an easy target, but everyone gets them.'

          As Michael said, I believe that they may get more as they're perceived as a minority.

          As for missing the point, the article is raising awareness of the issue by sharing her experiences. Both my ex-girlfriend, her sister, my current girlfriend and my best mate's wife game and their experiences have been largely harassment-free, so my experience is different.

          My sample of experience doesn't account for much time on XBLA however. I understand (as someone said below) that there's a lot of puerile morons there.

      Do you think the online networks has a factor in this? I play on Live/PSN/PC networks and found that on Live I receive a lot more rage messages, PSN less and PC rarely...I suppose the type of games you play would also be a factor, with FPS taking the top prize in receiving rage messages closely followed by sports games....of course thats my experience

      I'm sure they could do a study to see how much more % of rage messages a female player receives compared to a male player...

    I think someone forgot to end the Italic tag...

    I feel kind of disappointed that the only hate message I've ever gotten was a guy telling me I suck in the original Starcraft.
    That aside, of all the online games I've played, I've only ever heard women playing TF2. And I don't know if it's 'cause we're all Aussies there, and we don't pull this shit, or if it's the game, or what, but I've never so much as seen someone make any kind of fuss about it. Hell, in TF2 the only people I've seen get chewed out is the 12 year old boys with microphones.

      In my experience, TF2 seems to foster a supportive community.
      Whether it's because of the incredibly balanced maps and gameplay, or the fact one rounds enemy is the next's teammate, as long as you're playing a part of the team you're welcome, no matter what gender you are.
      Actually being hated is something you need to earn.

      I don't know about that:/ I've heard some pretty gross shit from Aussie gamers. it's rather disgusting. I was once playing a steam FPS (forgot what is was called) and it usually never has anyone under the age of 19 fill servers. Though one night this kid was insulting this woman so terribly i would of cut off his tounge If I saw him.
      His words were '...I sound hot, if I met you in real life, I'd rape you.'
      And from then everyone on the server just totally destroyed this kid, the only problem is that we couldn't kick him.:/

    It's not just gamers online who think these things though people IRL think negatively about women gamers and gamers in general so what's really needed is an overhaul of society's attitude to gamers in general.

    I have a hard time believing the problem is anywhere near as bad as people claim. My sister has been gaming for years and has never gotten any derogatory comments and she plays things like WoW and Halo where it's apparently really bad for women.

    Now I'm not saying it doesn't happen because I know it does and it sucks. I do think though that people are only having one or two really minor experiences and that instead of just ignoring them they hold onto them for ages and let it dictate their view of the online world.

    In a somewhat related matter I'd also like to say that in all my years of gaming I've never encounted the douches people are always complaining about. I've played Halo quite a bit on xbox live and I've never been in a match with 12 year old kids that always swear and that apparently live is flooded with. I've used the dungeon finder in WoW regularly since it came out and despite all the WoW forum posts about how the system is full of jerks I've yet to meet one.

    Maybe me and my sister are just lucky?

      Sorry if this sounds harsh, but your anecdotal experience of being lucky and avoiding abuse doesn't mean it's non-existent.

      Check out that website, check out any number of studies on online abuse (and not just to women) and it's arguably obvious that this problem is both widespread and endemic.

      That being said, *even if* the problem isn't as severe as this article suggests, it would still be a problem. Nobody would accept death threats or sexist taunts doing any other activity. Gaming shouldn't be any different.

        'That being said, *even if* the problem isn’t as severe as this article suggests, it would still be a problem. Nobody would accept death threats or sexist taunts doing any other activity. Gaming shouldn’t be any different.'

        No, it shouldn't be any different. However, the difference is the screen of anonymity of the internet. People with something to prove come in their droves (see http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2004/3/19/), especially 'troubled teens'.

        This, however doesn't mean they, or we, should put up with it. Anyone who doesn't want to be cast in the same light as the dribbling idiots that spout said taunts need to step in if and when they see it happening.

    I have never really gamed on either XBL or PSN, sticking mainly to PC gaming. I rarely hear about stuff like this happening and when it does it gets banned fairly quickly.

    I am finding more often than not the average age of the people I play with is the late to mid twenties and in most cases they are over this childish stage of their life.

    IMHO I think it essentially comes down to the general view most young men have of women these days. This is society's fault. I think attitude towards women is a result of one's upbringing and education. Most young men these days tend to objectify women, I see this behaviour out in town on Friday and Saturday nights. I try very hard while out with my friends, not to do this and I consider myself to be a fairly nice individual. It just seems to be socially acceptable amoungst men. Mix this with the anonymity of the Internet and you have one potent cocktail.

    This is the very reason why I often don't like to play on Xbox Live with people I don't know. It may be cynical, but I work by my 95-5 rule; 5% of all online gamers are OK, 95% are not. I find that this rule can be applied to society in general.

    "We shouldn’t have to hide. We like games, so get over it."

    Nice strawman argument there. The point is not that you have to hide, the point is that no one wants to know. I'll repeat this as it seems to go right over people's heads; NO ONE CARES THAT YOU ARE A GIRL PLAYING GAMES ONLINE, that you have to announce it and expect special treatment because of it is pure entitlement.

      Nonsense.

      Plenty of people care, and they care enough to post death threats about hacking someone to pieces then raping the pieces. I'd hardly call abusive voice and text messages, often sent anonymously, proof that "no one wants to know."

      Did you even read the article? Using gender neutral pronouns because you're afraid of the reaction doesn't count as expecting special treatment.

      For the record, not wanting to be vilified online is not "expecting special treatment". It's common decency. It's hardly entitlement to want the "fat, ugly, slutty" to stop.

      You see, people who say stuff like this fail to realize just how much effort it takes to not give away the fact that you're a chick online. Most girl gamers aren't going around saying 'imma girl 4 realz so give me lootz lololol'. They just want to be able to do things like, say, not have to worry about being made the target of abuse because they forgot where they were and mentioned that they have a husband. They want to be able to use voice comms without everyone freaking out, having to put up with half an hour of 'omg a girl there are no girls on teh interwebs!' or half of the vent channel hitting on them. They want to be able to join in a discussion about a topic they're interested in and not have to pretend that they're a guy and have the viewpoint of a guy to do so.

      So, yeah, check your own sense of entitlement, mister.

      This guys name suggests he's a troll, but I'll bite.

      The day a girl/woman can go into an online gaming community and not have to modify her behaviour for fear of abuse, negative treatment, threats or unwanted sexual advances will be the day we can all say 'no one cares.' Points of the argument:

      1) before players realise their team-mate/opponent is a girl, their behaviour is 'normal' (as bad as normal is on online communities anyway)

      2) as soon as people find out the truth, the behaviour changes.

      I think its reasonable to feel entitled to be treated just like everyone else, regardless of gender. This is not special treatment, and your belief that it is special makes you, I believe, a douche-bag.

      I'd agree with that.

      I know I'm probably not qualified to offer an opinion on this but... there it is.

    Argh! You forgot to close the bracket and now we are all italicised!

    I play CoD and WoW, among other games on PC.

    With WoW, letting people know what gender you are is not as scary as it is on other games. I've been playing WoW for a good four and a half years now, I remember back in classic being a girl was received a lot differently than it is today. The guild I'm in currently is a raiding guild, and I'd say a good 40% of our most active members are women. From this, we get absolutely no stick for being women and playing games.

    Now, well, Call of Duty is a different matter. Since I play on PC, and the CoD games nowadays are installed through Steam, anyone who wishes to talk to me outside of the game would have to send me a friend request. If they've been insulting me throughout the game, you know to refuse the request.
    I've configured my profile settings so that anyone who isn't my friend cannot write on my profile with derogatory comments. If I don't get at least one insult a day from playing a couple of games on Call of Duty, it's a good day.

    All of this because I refuse to use a non-gender alias while playing games. Women work just as hard as men to get somewhere in a game, why should we get insulted just because there's so many narrow-minded people out there?

    Personally I don't care what your gender is...

    I thing the behaviour is reprehensable, no matter who it is.
    I think the punishments should be swift and so severe that the very thought of them is enough to strike fear in all players.
    Remote console bricking, permanent server bans at the first infraction... resetting of all achievements on acconts, monetary fines, complete removal of speach features from accounts, big permanant signs over their avatars that denote them as troglodytes.

    Change will come through combined fear and humiliation, by punishing not only the perpetrator... but the console owner or the person funding the account you magnify the punishment by making the oblivious hate the person doing the libel and slander too.

      But I paid for the console and online subscription and can do what I want with it. It's mine.

      Sound familiar?

      I like your thinking though. Great idea.

    It really bums me out when I see this shit happening online and conversely it's really nice when there's females on a server and people aren't behaving any differently.

    I think it should be a staple rule on any large gaming network that sexist targeting has zero tolerance, put the fear of god into the little freaks. Maybe that's something the website could try and organise with the larger networks, I know I'd be grateful for it in our Australian networks, just so people would stfu and play the game.

    Why do women feel the need to say anything?

    I should go on Xbox LIVE every day and say "Alert everybody! I'm a male. Hear me roar!"

    If you want equality, how about start acting as if you are equal instead of asking for special treatment? Generally the internet doesn't give anyone respect regardless of sex, so don't act like you're different.

    I don't need this wall of text.

      >I should go on Xbox LIVE every day and say “Alert everybody! I’m a male. Hear me roar!”

      And chances are you do inadvertently every time you talk into the mic or simply by your username. The issue here isn't that female gamers are asking for special treatment, they are asking not be victimised simply for being female. I hope you have the brain capacity to understand that, though I'm not holding my breath.

      As for the issue itself, I would happily go as far as saying I actively look for females to play with online simply because past experience has taught me they have a much higher "better person to play with" ratio than males. They are polite, not annoying, skilled at gaming and actually use team work where it's required. So to all the girls out there I say come on in - we aren't all 14 year old boys who are confused and excited about our first erection. Some of us are comfortable with our sexuality and yours and are just looking for some good gaming.

      So you have nothing constructive to contribute, except that you feel personally slighted about a post on a gaming blog mentioning a topic you don't care about and don't need?

      The abuse mentioned in the article isn't a lack of respect regardless of sex, it's a lack of respect because of sex.

      There's a quote by Bioware's David Gaider that I've always found interesting:

      "... beware of majority privilege. It's very easy for people who don't have an issue that the minority feel (and this applies to race and gender-- in gaming, particularly-- as well as to sexual orientation) to believe that something is "not a problem". "I don't see why you're so uptight about it!" Realize when you make these sorts of comments that you have no idea what you're talking about, for all our sakes. You don't know what it feels like to be marginalized, and it behooves those in the majority to use at least a modicum of sensitivity when it comes to addressing such issues. "

    Geez these ‘woman gamer’ articles are lame and a waste of time, thankfully I know chicks that play games and that aren’t anywhere near as necrotic as this. When my wifes not wii fitting and playing some 360 games online occasionally, she just enjoys being one of the boys and if people say anything she just ignores them. As I said though, very bizarre we are constantly reading this 'damning account of sexist males' tripe, when 90% of the time it’s just some 12 year old freak being 12. If your confidence is that low Arianna Reiche that people you have never met or will ever meet are so hurtful, I recommend seeing a therapist instead of playing games with your time.

      "necrotic" -- I do not think it means what you think it means.

      And you just validated the point of the entire post. Congratulations, you are part of the problem!

    Wait, Wait, Wait. I'm not hardcore because I play non-console games...
    Also, nobody in my guild on WoW has ever been harassed for being female. You just need to find a decent guild and stay away from all the less awesome guilds. Though, trying to find a well adjusted person on WoW is a challenge, let alone a guild full of them. I'm lucky I managed to find a decent one.

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