animal noises, insults, sexist remarks… The harassment of female gamers, a scourge that poisons online video games

Sexist and stereotypical comments. Threatening behaviors. Insults. Mockery. Negative reactions linked to poor performance. Disparaging remarks. Threats of rape and sexual assault. Or stalking (stalking) on ​​other platforms. These practices, as numerous as they are diverse and more online than in physical form, are commonplace in the world of esports towards female video game players, whether amateur or professional. While the Roland-Garros eSeries is currently taking place with an emphasis on female participation, france info: sports wanted to take the measure of this fact of society that poisons the world of esports.

“Harassment in the game affects everyone, but women are targeted first,” recognizes Eva Martinello, a former semi-professional player turned esports journalist. “As in other sectors, there is a glass ceiling for women in this environment. With equal skills, we do not have the same chances of succeeding”, says Pauline Puybareau, manager in the esports section of Women in games, an association that promotes diversity in the video game industry.

According to the “Female Gamer Survey” by Bryters published in 2020, 50% of gamers are women worldwide. Female representation in France is almost the same as worldwide (47%) according to a 2021 study. And according to a survey carried out by Reach3 the same year, 77% of female players had already experienced discriminating remarks when playing. “It was hell, recalls Eva Martinello, about her past as a player. The other players spied on all our scores, always questioning our credibility. It was a pretty hostile environment.”

A “hostile” environment that takes shape on “chats” or discussion channels but also in a “vocal” way on games where players talk to each other to give each other indications in order to achieve team performance. These are formed randomly between players of the same level. This is especially the case with shooting games like Overwatch.

“When you speak into the microphone to communicate with your teammates, you inevitably hear that you are a woman, which will generally lead to harassment, teasing and insults. And this will have an effect on the performance of the players. “, explain Eva Martinello (an example of these behaviors in the video above).

“We will get inappropriate thoughts, hear animal noises, men will speak with a high voice to make fun of and if we miss our duel on the game, it’s normal, because we are a woman”, confirms Pauline Puybareau.

So, to protect yourself from this kind of behavior, “some women use software to transform their voice, in order to make them masculine”, adds Eva Martinello. Still others prefer to keep quiet to avoid attracting attention.

“The majority do not transform their voice. They do not dare to speak. They prefer to deprive themselves of this communication, which is essential, when they just want to play like everyone else.”

Pauline Puybareau, esports manager in the Women in games association

at franceinfo: sport

This need for protection is so essential that many players, whatever their level, choose neutral or masculine nicknames, to once again camouflage their gender. The practice is also very widespread. According to a survey carried out by Reach3 in 2020, 59% of women players hide their gender, in order to avoid any kind of discrimination.

This observation did not escape their male counterparts. “It has always been harder for the players. And if they underperform, they get burn more than men”, explains Arnaud Billaudel, former high-level player and now coach for the BDS team. An opinion shared by the streamer Rivenzi. “Some of my colleagues have told me that they cut off the camera when they get up to go to the bathroom, that they are careful about how they dress when they are on the show, and that they are afraid of where could find the images of them afterwards.”

These behaviors thus push many players to leave esports, known to be an environment where millions of players evolve, but where only about thirty can live financially. “Even if the atmosphere is less hostile at the professional level, the problem is that we all go through the amateur level, which is very hostile. It’s discouraging”explains Eva Martinello.

Consequence: if they represent 51%* of general public players (without ranking, without competition), they only represent 35% of recreational sportspeople (with ranking, without competition). Their presence even drops to 7% of amateur sportspeople (with ranking, with competition).

How to explain such a phenomenon ? For sociologist Nicolas Besombes, specialist in video games, this phenomenon is linked to several intertwined factors. “First, we live in a society that is socially gendered where the construction of children is done from an early age according to their gender, begins the sociologist. We thus allocate character traits more easily to one gender than to another, such as collaboration for the girl and competition for the boy.

The arrival of the first home consoles in homes took place in this context at the turn of the 1970s and 1980s, with very gendered marketing that targeted boys. “With esport, we are at a crossroads between video games and competition, perceived as something masculine”, summarizes the sociologist. Second, the video game industry was designed by and for men.

“Historically, female characters have been trophies for a very long time, like Princess Peach in Mario. exaggerated.”

Nicolas Besombes, sociologist, specialist in video games

at franceinfo: sport

In this context, there is also a practice that is not specific to video games: the anonymity favored by online gaming. “Behind a screen, on condition of anonymity, we notice that the people are more likely to make discriminating remarks than if they were in front of the person”, supports the sociologist Nicolas Besombes.

If the problems of harassment and sexism persist in esports, it is in particular because the sanctions are not yet up to the acts. In the vast majority of cases, the penalties remain on the game. “On free games, it is easy for the players in question to close their account and start over with another one. On paid games, publishers can ban players temporarily or permanently. In this case, the player loses all their levels achieved”, explains Eva Martinello.

“There is not enough regulation. If laws against cyberbullying exist, it is rare that people are sentenced compared to the extent of the phenomenon.”

Nicolas Besombes, sociologist

at franceinfo: sport

Considered a crime, the cyberbullying is punished a fine and/or imprisonment. The maximum penalty incurred, if the victim is under 15, is 3 years in prison and a fine of €45,000.

However, proving these behaviors can be complex. If publishers try to filter the discussion channels to identify cases of harassment, it is not always easy to identify sexist or harassment-related comments. So, more and more players and streamers take screenshots or record the words or behaviors they have to face before making them public on social networks.

To try to move the lines, initiatives have been put in place such as the creation of women’s leagues on certain games, in parallel with mixed leagues but in fact, too often reserved for men. These women’s leagues want to promote diversity in competitions. But the initiative shares in the middle. “I am rather against it. We are lucky to be able to associate men and women in esports, because there is no physical difference. But indeed, initially, these leagues can help with integration, and enable a change of mentality to be initiated”, believes Arnaud Billaudel.

Illustrative photo at the premises of the Vitality team, in November 2021, which is among the best esports clubs in Europe.  (THOMAS PADILLA / MAXPPP)

“These leagues were a must in order to show that there were women in esports. But today, in 2022, we know it. Now, we need diversity”, meanwhile calls Norman Chartrier, known as Gen1us, animator, streamer and professional gamer. However, even today, on physical events, there are less than 5% of participants for 95% of boys. “There is a real urgency, believes Nicolas Besombes. No one wants to discriminate against the practice of video games based on gender. However, if it can be useful to 10 or 15 people, it should be done.”

Even if the step is still high to put an end to these behaviors, the horizon seems to be clearing up and mentalities are beginning to change.

“Ten years ago, the players were counted on the fingers of one hand. Today, there are hundreds of them. And behaviors are changing. A few days ago, I played with a player for 3 or 4 hours, with nothing to report. Ten years ago, there would have been incidents”observes Arnaud Billaudel.

“The integration of women in esports is not yet perfect, but we have already taken a big step forward. Ten years ago you couldn’t even play”, adds Norman Chartrier, who has been in esports for 17 years. According to him, their better integration into the environment was enabled by the influence of streamers, on Twitch or Youtube, for example. “Today, they are a bit of the standard bearer for players who are in the shadows. They show that you can be a woman and perform in games that are perceived as ‘masculine'”. And thus prove, once again, that they have their place there.

*According to the 2021 France Esports barometer.

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