SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN ONLINE GAMES: BUG OR FEATURE?

Kristine Ask, Stine H. Bang Svendsen

Abstract


In 2012 a massive online hate campaign directed at the media critic Anita Sarkeesian brought the sexism of game culture to the forefront. Her kickstarter project about gender tropes in video games was met with extreme harassment, threats and general vitriol.

While her case is extreme, her experience is not unique. Despite a dramatic increase in the number of female gamers and games catering to a female audience, women are still struggling for legitimate participation in gaming culture. Websites like
www.fatuglyorslutty.com works as a submission archive for sexual harassment female players have encountered online, yet there are few research projects mapping and analysing the extent and form of harassment found in video games. This paper addresses some of these concerns. The title of the paper plays on the notion the disagreements concerning sexual harassment in games with some communities stating that sexual harassment is simply "part of the [gaming] culture".

In this paper we present results of a recent study on how sexual harassment impacts play experience and choices in online games. Based on an online survey* conducted in the spring of 2014 (N > 1000), the paper presents how and to what extent Norwegian online gamers experience sexual harassment in games. The survey measures the the use of what in other contexts is widely understood as homophobic, misogynist and racist language, such as ”whore”, rape threats, ”faggot”, ”gay”, ”nigger”, and to what extent players finds such language offensive. It addresses the extent of sexual harassment as a reason for quitting gameplay, and for anonomous gameplay. The survey is supplemented with group interviews (N=18) for in depth discussions on how they experience harassment and derogatory language.