The #MeToo movement has brought many highly visible people to the light as predators, abusers, and rapists. Recently, the movement has taken shape in the world of gaming. Gaming companies are starting to respond to a wave of sexual misconduct allegations. Before we dive into the current movement, we need to uncover some of the blatant sexism within the industry.
The blatant sexism within video games
If you’ve ever played a videogame, you’ve probably noticed the significant differences between male and female characters. The way games portray different genders can influence people’s perception of gender norms and roles. These games tend to augment and normalize gender stereotypes. For instance, men in videogames are more muscular, compared to the women who are depicted as fragile and sexy.
These stereotypes influence the self-esteem and body image of many gamers and can cause them to emulate these characters in real life. The sexuality of the female characters in gaming is very strongly portrayed in many games. For example, Bayonetta is a very popular, female-lead based game. It has a strong woman as the main character. However, she is highly sexualized throughout the game. At the start of the storyline, she is fighting the Angels of Paradiso, and throughout the battle, her clothes are ripped off slowly. With every swing of her weapon or dodge of a bullet, she moans sexually. She is the lead character of the story, and yet, she is portrayed as highly sexual, rather than powerful.
Another example of the use normalization of gender roles is in Super Mario Bros. Princess Peach is always being kidnapped by Bowser and is unable to save herself. This establishes a damsel-in-distress paradigm and places the onus on Mario to be brave. Throughout the storyline, she will randomly call out to Mario in a distressed, helpless voice. This game is played by children as well and establishes these gender differences from a very young age. The sexualization of women and the portrayal of the damsel-in-distress storyline has contributed to the basis of the #metoo movement in the gaming industry. How do these values translate to the treatment of female gamers?
An unsafe space for female gamers
It probably comes as no surprise that female gamers experience higher rates of verbal abuse online. While playing games, it is common for women to receive comments such as “go back to the kitchen.” There is also the other side to these comments where players sexualize female gamers by saying sexual comments when they beat them in battle. These comments stem from the gender role and stereotype normalization within games. They create a very uncomfortable and unsafe environment for female gamers. The blatant sexism present in video games and the gaming industry as a whole has established the foundation for the current #metoo movement.
More than 100 people in the gaming industry, mostly women, have reported being discriminated against, harassed, and sexually assaulted. Many of these allegations were posted online through Medium or TwitLonger, and even have names of the alleged abusers. The explosion of stories came after a Twitch streamer named Hollowtide tweeted that a “Destiny 2” streamer was “scum.” This led to a domino effect, and many others started to post about their stories and experiences. After the tsunami of responses, some streamers were forced to come forward. Wolv 21 responded to his allegations and accepted to touching someone sexually without consent. Another streamer named iAmSp00n was also accused of sexually abusing two streamers and using derogatory terms about Black people. He apologized and admitted to these accusations. The list goes on with streamers who have been accused of sexual abuse, the use of derogatory terms, and sexual misconduct.
How is this influencing the industry?
Gaming platforms such as Twitch are now coming forward and taking the initiative to investigate these allegations. These allegations are not just about streamers though, they climb the ladder towards executives in the industry. Ashraf Ismail, the creative director for the upcoming Assassin’s Creed Valhalla game stepped down due to accusations of engaging in multiple relationships while married. Another example is Chris Avellone, a critically acclaimed videogame writer, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by four women. One of the women reported being groped repeatedly at a nightclub in 2014. Another woman posted screenshots of sexually explicit messages from Avellone in 2013 when she was first trying to find a name within the industry. He has declined multiple requests for comment.
Up until recently, the #metoo movement has not picked up traction within the gaming industry, like it did in Hollywood. The recent sexual allegations, streamers admitting to sexual misconduct and assaults, and executives within the industry being called out, it is finally gaining traction. But is rocking the boat enough to create lasting change in the industry? Real change will only be established when gender norms stop being reinforced, female gamers feel safe online, and more women enter the gaming industry without fear of harassment or abuse. These changes will take time to make but are essential in creating equal opportunities, and safe spaces.