59% Of Women Gamers Use Non-Gendered Names Online To Avoid Harassment, Study Finds

59% Of Women Gamers Use Non-Gendered Names Online To Avoid Harassment, Study Finds
Image: iStock/Marco_Piunti

New research from Lenovo and Reach3 Insights has revealed what many gamers already know: that women face a disproportionate amount of harassment while gaming online. The survey, which analysed the experiences of more than 900 women across China, Germany and the United States (and 98 men in the U.S.), determined that the majority of abuse women cop stems from gendered stereotypes.

The survey showed that 70 per cent of participants reported facing judgement of skills based on their gender, 65 per cent reported gatekeeping, while 50 per cent reported experiencing patronising comments while gaming online.

A whopping 44 per cent also stated they received unsolicited relationship asks while gaming — a sad occurrence which happens far too often. (It should go without saying that women gamers aren’t there for the pleasure or entertainment of others.)

To avoid facing these aggressions online, around 59 per cent of respondents revealed they use non-gendered or distinctly male identities while gaming online. This is described as a defence mechanism to avoid conflict and harassment. Given that women are playing the same games as men (88 per cent of respondents were playing competition-style games, while 75 per cent were playing action/survival games) and men don’t report the same issues, it’s clear something needs to change.

While the survey calls on video games marketers to portray more women in gaming ads to create a greater sense of equilibrium, the solution isn’t an easy fix. In the past, video games have been actively sexist and aggressive towards women, and while this is slowly changing, an entire cultural shift is needed to make sure everybody feels safe while gaming.

As reported by Forbes, women gamers are on the rise. In the United States alone, women now represent 41 per cent of all gamers — and in Asian countries, this looks more like 40 to 45 per cent. That’s an incredibly significant number but despite this, women still face frequent, targeted harassment and sexism online.

With more women gaming than ever before, it’s time to address the systemic abuse they face while gaming online.

Game should be inclusive, and women should feel safe to be themselves online. That 59 per cent of women don’t feel they can identify their gender while playing online is a shocking statistic, and one that demands to be addressed.

There’s no easy fix, but it starts with understanding how comments made online can impact women. It starts by fostering more inclusive spaces. It starts by calling out the people who harass women online and holding them to account.

To be absolutely clear: if you gatekeep women playing online, if you abuse women playing online, if you ask women gaming online to start a relationship with you, you are the problem. If you turn a blind eye to behaviour like this, you are the problem.

Everybody deserves to feel safe online, and it starts with all of us.


  • Looking at my 115 person Steam friends list only 17 are gendered, around 15%. On the internet anonymity is part of the point.

    None of which should be taken to imply that harassment isn’t an issue, just that non-gendered names is an odd entry point for having that conversation.

    • The link here is that the study found women were purposefully choosing these non-gendered names to avoid harassment, rather than just because they chose a non-gendered name.

      • “The link here is that the study found women were purposefully choosing these non-gendered names to avoid harassment, rather than just because they chose a non-gendered name.” by asking only women (oh and 98 men) hardly a non biased statistic. the majority of men choose non gendered names also, some even use distinctly female identities. without an unbiased sample you cannot infer anything accurately and its entirely useless.
        “If you turn a blind eye to behaviour like this, you are the problem.”
        and no. moderating other peoples behaviour is not my responsibility.

        • If you cut out the men entirely, you have a sample size of 900, which is easily large enough to pull data from. We don’t know a lot about them, but we do know the women are from multiple geographical and cultural situations, which helps provide a varied demographic vertical slice. Knowing their ages and the games they play would also help but for a quick and dirty survey it works fine.

          The pertinent thing is what you quoted. it’s not the fact that they choose non-female names, it’s why they do it. There is a significant pattern there. The fact that other people who don’t fit the study do the same thing is meaningless when they don’t fit the study and we have no information on the reason why. It’s impossible to prove statistical significance without more information on the demographics, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to just pretend there’s nothing worth talking about.

          And yeah, you are responsible for moderating other peoples’ behaviour. You do it all the time. We all do. You just don’t want to do it when it’s about something you don’t care about. Not caring about women being harassed is your prerogative, but it’s pretty shitty.

  • In the context of the study what exactly is a gendered identity? Are we talking nicknames/gamer tags? Voice changers for voice chat? Profile pics? How they write in chat?

    From my experience, online identities are hardly a reliable or good indication of gender. (That’s not even getting into the fact that we’re saying “gender” here which is a lot broader than just women and men) There’s a reason the saying “The internet, where men are men, women are men and 16 year old girls are FBI agents.” exists. It’s more voice, video, or outright admission of gender in chat that will set you up for harassment.

    • So… are you saying the victim of harassment is responsible for it if they present as female online? Because that’s what it reads like.

        • No, that’s exactly what he said. Perhaps you should reread his comment, in which he says that disclosing “voice, video, or outright admission of gender in chat that will set you up for harassment.”

          Although not, apparently, if you do exactly the same thing in your gamer tag, because then you’re either a man or an FBI agent. The implication here being that people will assume that you’re most likely not a woman and therefore not worth the effort of attempting to harass? That’s some fucked up shit right there.

          • What he said was in fact that these outright identifiers are when harassment begins. names usually don’t indicate a thing. if the only thing they have to go on is a name no one makes a comment. once that veil of uncertainty is lifted then you get problems.

            There is apparently an issue of harassment but, usernames don’t really cause the issues.

          • @blazenite104
            even being perceived as commenting contrary to the woke agenda is enough for the likes of pokedad or angorafish to direct their harassment towards you, as is shown here. it doesnt need to be backed by facts.

          • @blazenite104 He did say that, however 59% of the women who participated in the study say he’s wrong.

            Both his and your assertions are just that. It’s really hard to see how you can jump straight from the opinions of a couple of random internet commentators to “usernames don’t really cause the issues” despite the fact that over half of the women surveyed disagree.

          • @angorafish
            While I tend to lean towards Germinals view on things, I mostly comment on these because I want to be sure people aren’t misinterpreting things.
            I feel that every arguement should be battled on its merits rather than because someone didn’t quite understand the point being made and jumped.
            I also prefer to judge comments with good intentions rather than malicious unless it is blatently so.

      • // So… are you saying the victim of harassment is responsible for it if they present as female online? Because that’s what it reads like //

        Even IF they are saying that, judging by your other post:
        // And yeah, you are responsible for moderating other peoples’ behaviour. You do it all the time. We all do. //
        You apparently agree with them.

        You either think victims ARE at least partly responsible for moderating the behaviour of others (including those that might harm them), or nobody should be responsible for moderating the behaviour of others.

        So which is it?

        And no, I’m not twisting or removing context. Because your comment about moderating people’s behaviour goes directly to people taking some personal responsibility regarding their own safety. Such as moderating people’s behaviour through actively not doing things you know may cause assholes to target you. Which is the VERY thing being discussed by this article. Taking preemptive action, in order to moderate the behaviour of others, to avoid being a victim.

        Is it right that people should have to take such measures? Not even a little bit. It is the world we currently live in though, like it or not.

        So either everyone is responsible for moderating the behaviour of others, or nobody is. But make up your mind and stop cherry picking where this responsibility for moderating others’ behaviour applies, and where it doesn’t, just because it personally suits you… Or because you don’t like a particular person so you need to paint them as some kind of villain.

        • I got to the point where you deliberately misrepresented what I said and then claimed to not be doing it and stopped. So if I’ve missed something, too bad because I’m not going to address an argument in bad faith. I will explain up to that point, though.

          We – as people – moderate the behaviour of others constantly. That’s what social rules are. We – as a whole – are responsible for making sure this harassment doesn’t happen. If we don’t, we are demonstrating that we condone it. The was no content whatsoever on the people being harassed for merely existing being the instigators of the abuse they suffer.

          • i love this ridiculous notion that if we arent actively against something then we are 100% for it. ill keep it on topic and just say that when i log on for an online game i am there to play, not waste my time role playing team america and policing the world. if you want to waste your game time white knighting for whoever you perceive to be a victim instead of playing the game, then be my guest, but it does not mean everyone else has to, or condones ANYONES behaviour.

    • And that there is the problem.

      Women and girls know that just being identified as women and girls sets them up for a lot of bullying, and have to deliberately choose, for example, not to use voice, or use a gender-neutral pic and tag online. Any sign of non-cis-male gender attracts assholes who think they have a right to be assholes.

      “Outright admission of gender” sounds like you think we’re either confessing something or being provocative by identifying as a girl or woman online. That’s bullshit. We don’t deserve harassment simply for existing, in meat space or virtual spaces.

      • I think the point he is making is less that you deserve it rather than usernames not generally being the problem. a username doesn’t typically create an avenue of harassment. it’s only when there is some level of certainty involved that it begins.

        • That has not been my experience.

          Female-sounding user names or avatars have been enough for people to suggest I need a good raping after I’ve got the better of them.

          • You must’ve hit some turbo morons, because the harassment I copis usually after they hear my voice. If I scored harassment for playing a female character or having a female name, it would’ve been the very early days of WoW, but I don’t see that anymore.

            Then again, if you’re playing something like Overwatch or a FPS I’m sure the experience would be different given the audience those games attract on average.

        • Could I just step in here, be totally idealistic and say that there shouldn’t be such a thing as “an avenue for harassment”, as if the gender of a gamer should be considered a drop of blood in the shark infested waters? Like, how the fuck are we where we are at here?

          • This is just flat out victim blaming and then people tying themselves in knots to pretend it isn’t.

            “You wouldn’t be harassed if you didn’t admit you exist” followed by “well yeah it’s bad but they could avoid the badness by hiding. Not victim blaming! It’s common sense!”

  • Breaking news: majority of users at Kotaku try to downplay a report that covers how women feel unsafe playing online games. Experts are baffled, quoted as saying “This has never happened before”.

    • Yep, you can guarantee that every time an article appears on Kotaku detailing the experiences of anyone who isn’t straight, male or white that the same 3 or 4 straight, white males will come and explain to use how there isn’t actually any problem at all.

      • Straight, white male here.

        First… I’d LOVE to see your list of names for these supposed straight, white males. And then I’d love for them to show up and let us know. Because based on the history of comments I’ve seen where some of the more lovable posters, who have had it pretty heavily implied that they’re just pesky straight white men, I’d take a bet that you’re more wrong than you are right.

        And you can’t now use my name either, that’d be cheating. Though I can’t recall disagreeing with an article like this anyway. I might disagree with aspects of how an author frames things in basically any article, but I don’t think I’ve ever gone, “Nah, doesn’t happen. Not a thing, bro.”

        Second… I’ve personally seen first hand precisely what this article is talking about through having characters with names that came off more feminine than masculine. So it’s really quite impossible for me to disagree that it happens, even if you do consider me one of the evil straight, white male villains of your story.

  • That is just sad 🙁 what have male gamers got against female gamers? I am happy that there are female gamers 🙂 games are for both male and females not just males, all of those guys should take a hard good look at themselves.

  • Looking at the site the article references is rather sparse on details, and I couldn’t find the actual study itself that the numbers are being plucked from, just sub sites about how awesome they are. Which is a pity since I’m curious about how they selected the small survey group, and the responses from the male gamers to the questions as well.

    That its giving 80% of female gamers being competitive gamers sounds like the survey respondents are skewed in that direction, and the experiences across it. Competitive gamers being toxic sadly doesn’t surprise me. Most people I know of either sex tend to have voice chat disabled just to not have to deal with terrible people.

    • competitive anything is generally toxic as hell. everywhere I look there is someone saying stupid things.

      this may just be a personal experience but, pretty much every social game I’ve ever played I joined casual groups and most people didn’t give a damn. there was ocassional jokes about no one being a woman on the internet an such often in voice chat with a number of them involved. they laughed like everyone else because the atmosphere was that everyone knew the joker was making fun of the statement.

      Seems like an atmosphere issue. People looking for low hanging fruits rather than wanting to chill out.

  • I’ve had a variety of usernames, feminine, masculine, neutral and otherwise and any harassment I received for being a woman was usually when I entered voice chat to do content. After which any harassment (far more of problem in FF14 with American players than WoW’s Australian servers) would receive a prompt “pay me or fuck off, I’m busy” and the problem would swiftly go away.

    That being said, I’ve had female friends who weren’t as straightforward and they stumbled across some of the most controlling and abusive men I’ve ever had the displeasure of setting eyes on. The creeps are alive and well, and I don’t blame any woman for not wanting to deal with it by picking a more ambiguous name. While normal people subscribe to “everyone on the internet is a man or a male FBI agent”, the harassers are too stupid to understand that they’re the reason the saying exists in the first place. Said harassers will go after female characters thinking that it’s a woman, even though 90% of those players are men.

    • you know the hilarious thing I’ve encountered is that often men play as women and the women play as men.

      Hell playing Final Fantasy 14 everyone in my FC/Guild changes avatar so often you’d never pick up on things outside of voice chat. Also that’s really sad about the American Players. My FC is full of Aussies and Filipinos and this has never been an issue for anyone. generally no toxicity of any kind really. there are good groups out there. Wish you luck finding them though.

      • It seems to me that you are genuinely trying to be helpful, but this is part of the issue right here – assuming that because “this has never been an issue for [my FC] generally no toxicity of any kind really” it’s therefore not much of an issue for anyone – all of this froufrou is simply addressed by looking around for a more chilled group to hang with.

        I do wonder, however, what the female members of your FC might answer if asked about their experience directly. After all, it’s really not something people like to spend a lot of time bitching about with their internet friends.

        • Honestly in my experience it has literally never come up. I have never personally seen it. I admit I am also the one that never get’s those weird glitches and such in games either. I must have some kind of wierdo repellence because pretty much wherever I go people seem pretty decent.

          It’s weird. I see it in streams or screenshots, but it never comes up around me so I can never really ask. I’m not saying there aren’t issues. there clearly are and that is really unfortunate. I don’t however believe it is entirely deepseeded in online play. there are communities out there that are genuinely awesome from every spectrum. at this point I don’t really know what to say. apparently i somehow only ever manage to be involved with decent people so I guess there isn’t much else to say.

          • Thing is that I’ve been in WoW guilds where this legitimately wasn’t an issue. It entirely depends on the membership demographics and the attitude of the guilt. If the GM is a sick bastard, the members will be too.

            Communities that are full of perverts attract more perverts and that directly leads to harassment of everyone and anyone who they think will be an easy target. And by easy target I mean there’s some really sick shit going on where guildmasters of mythic raiding guilds in WoW will request sexual favours from women in exchange for carries and it’s absolutely rife. I’ve had female friends targeted while attempting to apply for legitimate positions in mythic raid guilds and out of the ten guilds one of them applied to, nine of the GMs propositioned her for favours. She was uninterested and married with kids and so were some of them, but it didn’t deter these shameless bastards.

            The more power they have, i.e. they do hardcore content, the more likely they are only in that position for predatory purposes. The sad reality is that if women want a sexual harassment free experience in MMOs, they should really stay out of competitive raiding and anything require an application where the local pervert might be calling the shots. Those areas are dominated by the creeps and perverts and that includes women creeping on men, although it’s more rare (yes, that happened too because “OH MUH GAWD YOUR ACCENT IS SO HAWT” and yes, he was also married).

            Just… stay away from the hardcore groups, guys. You’ll live longer.

  • “Everybody deserves to feel safe online, and it starts with all of us.”
    As someone who experienced the internet in the 90’s and early 2000’s, i cant help but laugh.

      • I wouldnt say ‘i turned out fine’ far, faaaaar from it, some of the scars will haunt me until im dead, which i wont get into here, however this was more a laugh at the fact people who werent even born before those wild west days has this idea that the Internet is a ‘safe space’ for ANYONE regardless of gender, the mask of anonymity will always have people show their inner worst if they want to.
        I can only wish her luck on her mission.

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