A Weekend On Valorant As A Woman Solidified Why I No Longer Use Voice Chat

A Weekend On Valorant As A Woman Solidified Why I No Longer Use Voice Chat
Contributor: Alexandra Koster

When I first installed Valorant,  I did so with the expectation that I would probably play it once or twice with friends, and then never touch it again. We were in lockdown, after all. Almost in an effort to cement this expectation as truth, I chose the most embarrassing, cringey, icky username I could think of – one that was so bad people just had to make fun of it. And thus, G4m3rgurl was born.

It’s bad, I know. While I created the name in jest (because we don’t call guys who play video games ‘Gamer Boiiz’ so women shouldn’t get lumped with the term, right?), I wasn’t prepared for the kind of reaction I’d get online.

It’s pretty well documented that online multiplayer games, especially first-person shooters, are a Very Bad™ time for women and gender-diverse people. Like most women, I’ve been a victim of online gender-based harassment. One of my first experiences with it was playing Call of Duty (mistake #1) as a teenager (mistake #2). I loved video games already, and at the time, the integration of voice chat into online multiplayer games was such a novelty. To me, chatting with randoms on Call of Duty seemed like a really cool opportunity – and a worthy rival to the creepy and phallic-infused Omegle that so many of us were drawn to.

But these lofty ideals and rose-coloured glass were quickly smashed by the harsh reality that we know all too well (Taylor’s Version) today — harassment and online gaming go hand-in-hand, especially for women. I wasn’t prepared for the type of slurs and insults that were slung my way, especially the ones that have now reached some kind of perverse legendary status, à la “Go make me a sandwich” or “Get back in the kitchen” (creative). Understandably, my experiences made it clear that these were spaces I wasn’t welcome in, so I naturally put the headset down and gravitate towards video games that were safe spaces for women (all of which had no online component).

But I think I’ve always craved that sense of social connection intrinsic to online multiplayer, which is why I was so excited to enter the scene again with a Covid-induced Valorant rampage. The idea of finishing a day’s work and jumping online to chat with people while doing something that I love (which they also love!) has always been kind of cute to me. I’ve had wholesome interactions with strangers on Valorant, who insist on giving me their skinned Vandals without me even asking. I’ve played with strangers that went on to become old friends. I’ve jumped on voice chat after a rough day and been greeted by people whose life duty, it seems, is to make people laugh. I’ve seen how wholesome and lovely strangers can be to other strangers, if only for a thirty-minute match. Perhaps idealistically, I thought the days of gendered abuse on video games was dunzo, or at the very least, confined to very specific games.

While my experience was fine at first, as I began to play more games by myself and away from the comfort of my friends, my interactions with other players started to become more unpredictable. It was like a pick ‘n’ mix, but I never knew what kind of person I was going to get. The reactions were varied: at the sound of my voice, I’ve had teammates become overly excited and desperately try to outdo each other in a self-proclaimed “rizz-off.”

But other times, I’ve spoken and have been immediately catapulted into my Call of Duty days. I’d have teammates laugh and joke, hypothesising about what my body looked like (“Don’t worry, boys, she’s probably fat.”). I’d get the stereotypical sexist remark (“something, something kitchen”). According to them, I’m a bitch. I’m a slut. I’m a whore. I’ve had men threaten to rape me. I’ve even gotten death threats. It’s one thing to get into an argument with someone mid-game, but when you incessantly receive insults purely because of your gender, it’s a whole different game.

A recent study from Maybelline New York found that 83% of female-identifying gamers have experienced offensive behaviour or discrimination online. 73% of us feel the harassment we receive online is severe. And over half of us (55%) have decided to turn off our microphones in an attempt to avoid harassment while gaming.

Eventually, I, too, decided to turn my microphone off. Initially, it did help ease some of the sexist commentary I would experience, but the abuse would still resurface thanks to my half-baked, cringey username. While some of the jokes were actually kind of valid (after all, who would actually choose G4m3rgurl as their username? I’d bully me too.), others simply took my name as confirmation that even though they couldn’t hear my voice, they knew I was a woman. To them, this was the punchline.

In order to avoid gendered harassment and abuse, I’ve now needed to take extra measures to conceal my gender online. The microphone is now firmly off, even if it makes communicating with teammates harder. My username is now hidden from anyone that I’m not friends with, making me permanently ‘Sage’. Just Sage. Valorant is no longer the social haven I once viewed it as — it’s just a shooter.

But even though I’ve made the decision to turn off my microphone, there are still nights that I crave the social intimacy and connection that I used to find with online multiplayer — and the strange comfort that chatting with strangers on Valorant has brought me in the past. But if I’m being real, I’m exhausted. I don’t want to exist in a space where any interaction could be violent. I don’t want to deal with lacklustre report systems that mean very few (if any) perpetrators actually face consequences for their abuse. I don’t want to excessively monitor what I say for fear of the harsh vitriol that I might become subject to. For now, I’m logging off. And I’m sure many other women are too.

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