A disproportionate amount of verbal abuse

A new study provides evidence that yes Virginia in online gaming women are harassed much more than men. (This is in sharp contrast to philosophy, math, computer science, engineering, the military…wait…)

Using Halo 3 and choosing its most popular playlist as a sample group, they established three gamer tags, each assigned to either a pre-recorded male or female voice, or no voice at all, and recorded the reactions of their opponents after playing back innocous phrases designed to engage, but not anger, them (ex: “Hi everybody” or “I like this map”).

Taking into account negative and positive comments as well as neutral queries, this simple experiment (the full methodology of which you can read here) revealed that of the three gamertags, the one established as female received “roughly three times as many” directly negative comments than the male or control (no voice) gamertag did.

While the conclusions are unsurprising to anyone who plays games online, nonetheless the study provides verifiable evidence that women are in fact on the receiving end of a disproportionate amount of verbal abuse, and the many entries at Fat, Ugly, or Slutty are not isolated incidents so much as they are a grim illustration of status quo.

And the verbal abuse is just for being female, not for saying anything irritating like “I have an opinion on this.”

H/t Sarah Moglia.



  1. says

    But you forget, Ophelia…
    (a) Paula Kirby has not been verbally abused as a gamer. Therefore, verbal abuse of women gamers doesn’t exist. And anyone who disagrees is a bully, bully I say!
    (b) Verbal abuse of women gamers? Do you know how much harsher and more inhuman conditions women in the Middle East, Africa, or [-insert country of appropriate outrage here-] face? Everything else pales in comparison, I tells ya! Wimmin gamerz, forsooth!

    [Ewww. While typing these in, I threw up in my mouth a little. Sadly, the memories are still fresh.]

  2. sailor1031 says

    I suppose a proportionate amount of abuse would be the acceptable norm then? Why should there be any abuse?

  3. Wowbagger, Designated Snarker says

    I remain skeptical of whether that data is valid, and even if it is, whether it can be considered applicable to the atheist movement, and even if it is whether changing anything will make a difference because maybe that’s the way it’s mean to be.

    We don’t we all go over to Dan Fincke’s blog and, after signing his pledge, spend the next seventeen years civilly discussing it but at the same time not changing a damn thing just in case you’re wrong?

  4. Who Cares says

    Wowbagger I have some fairly anecdotal tales that confirm this.
    For some reason the WoW guild I played in was known as female only or close to that. Not exactly true (seeing that most were couples playing) but that mistake might have been the result of every single ranking member happening to be female. I happened to have two healers. One in the guild and the other outside. Didn’t have a microphone at that time so you couldn’t tell through voice chat (mandated by raiding) that I was male. Two times I’ve been able to get into a raid with the non guild healer while those raids were supposedly full when I applied with the guilded healer. And yes I considered myself good enough that I dared to go on PUG raids. Similar stories from other members of the guild. And you should have sometimes seen the invectives hurled in PvP when we were winning, it was so much easier to pour out a trash bin over women then men.

  5. edithkeeler says

    That link to the full paper goes to an academic database you have to pay for if you don’t have institutional access. If anyone wants a copy sling me an email at klavdiavavilova@gmail.com I finished uni last year but have access til March so might as well put it to good use 😉

  6. Denverly says

    Which is why I have an androgynous gamertag and PSN id and I don’t use any verbal team speak. I learned my lesson the hard way.

  7. says

    I remain skeptical of whether that data is valid, and even if it is, whether it can be considered applicable to the atheist movement, and even if it is whether changing anything will make a difference because maybe that’s the way it’s mean to be.

    I would agree that not changing anything is definitely the way it’s mean to be.

  8. aweraw says

    As someone who does a bit of online gaming (TF2 mainly), my opinion is that this is a form a sledging, the purpose of which is to gain a psychological advantage over your opponent. It’s bad sportsmanship, but I’d assert that the difference in volume of insults is not due an outright malice against women, rather a notion that woman are percieved to be easier to “psych-out” in this manner.

    Based on my own experience/anecdata, derived from playing against female gamers in things like Super Smash bros, I’d have to say that compared to my male gaming opponents, they typically are easier to psych-out verbally. Take that to mean what you will, but I’ve found that the girls who can give it as good or better than they get often do fine… and it’s the same for males – those who can’t handle any sledging often don’t last long.

    That said, the Halo multiplayer community is a different beast than what I’m used to; there maybe there is a case to be made that they just outright hate women. I don’t know or care enough about Halo to get into the community.

  9. Wowbagger, Designated Snarker says

    Sorry, I probably should have included a sarcasm tag in there somewhere; I have no doubt whatsoever about the validity of the data and its wider applicability into most (if not all) contemporary communities.

    LOL, georgewiman. There definitely should be a ‘t’ there!

  10. johnthedrunkard says

    I think the topic is close enough to justify the link and quote below. About the huge resistance to recognizing and/or acknowledging bizarre and evil behavior in real life. I think the example speaks to trolls and misogynists in the Atheosphere as much as to pedophiles in the Catholic church.


    Opening paragraphs of Caleb Crain’s review of James Lasdun’s account of being stalked and harrassed:

    “One night more than twenty years ago, I was followed on my way home by a drunk who wanted to get into a fight. A block from my house, he started throwing punches. I yelled, in a Texas accent that I didn’t know I still had. He broke my glasses. And then, to my surprise, I punched him back. He ran off, and when I got home, I was happy to find a little of his blood on one of my knuckles.

    “Over the next few days, I told the story to anyone who would listen. I expected sympathy, which many offered. But to my chagrin, quite a few listeners suggested that I must have done something to provoke the assault. Had I challenged the man? Maybe I had made a pass at him? It was my introduction to the human weakness known as the just-world hypothesis. As it turns out, many people wish so strongly to believe in the safety of their environment that they prefer not to acknowledge that a bad thing can happen to someone who has done nothing to deserve it. In the just world that they imagine, no one gets cancer unless he has eaten or smoked something naughty. Bicyclists aren’t run over if they wear their helmets. And no one is assaulted who hasn’t at least leered at his attacker.”

  11. brianpansky says

    nice oblivious euphamism, aweraw. These people are just “psyched out” when this happens to them. Women are just more easily “psyched out”.

    So whatever that means, it must be totally ok! No problem here!

    also, no one care what the offenders have “in their hearts”. Their casual justification for their behavior is part of the problem.

  12. brianpansky says

    maybe you weren’t excusing it. but please bear in mind that your hypothesis doesn’t change this being a harrasment issue.

    also note how there may not be just one cause. note how some forms of justification for these behaviors can actually mask more territorial reasons etc.

  13. glodson says

    @ 8

    Excusing the vile harassment as gamesmanship is rather disgusting. It is one thing to talk trash, it is another thing to do so simply based on the gender of your opponent. Maybe some are looking for a psychological edge, but many are just spewing hate.

    This is not good for gaming, especially as we see companies make online multiplayer more important. Instead of a gaming arena were people can play, we have a vile cesspit where morons can mouth off with near impunity because of excuses like the one you just made. Even if it is just for a psychological edge, it is still misogynistic drivel that takes advantage of cultural attitudes towards women. It’s still wrong.


    Take that to mean what you will, but I’ve found that the girls who can give it as good or better than they get often do fine… and it’s the same for males – those who can’t handle any sledging often don’t last long. [emphasis added]

    Women. When you call women “girls,” it is an example of infantilization of women, a trend we are desensitized to.

  14. fastlane says

    @8. Maybe you should check the methodology of the report (I haven’t yet) and see if they controlled for that.

    Saying to an opponent, “I’m gonna blast you into tiny little pixels.” (or whatever the appropriate trash talk might be) is one thing, but if the ‘trash talk’ is sexual or gender based, includes things like the word ‘rape’ or actual rape threats (even if that same player might have used the same threat against a male gamer), it is still harassment of a different kind.

    Maybe you should go read the paper. Then, check your privilege.

  15. brianpansky says

    @8 that is also a “the environment is equal, men just handle it better” in the face of evidence that shows the environment is not equal.

    And then your reasoning is “it’s unequal because men and women are unequal”.

    And then you must obviously believe some version of “and men and women are unequal…just because. it is nature, not nurture!”

    Please go back-ways: “nurture” has an effect, the women and men become different because of the unequal environment, which escalates the problem in a viscous cycle. simple.

    “the girls who can give it as good or better than they get often do fine” this is pretty much the definition of an environment infected with bullying. Eat or be eaten. This happens in work spaces too (not always because of authority or gender).

    So when I say “escalates the problem in a viscous cycle”, it’s something that could be seen a mile away. The “eat or be eaten” stuff you just handed us could have been guessed. It’s not new information in any discussion of unhealthy environments.

    (now personally) I’m thinking no one should need this “edge”, it is not their right to have it. It’s not part of the game. I think the games would be great without this. kill it with fire etc.

  16. glodson says

    @ 8

    I would also direct you to read the study itself. I just have finished it. It does not support your idea that the comments were meant to be for gaining a psychological edge. In the testing, the researchers also looked for a correlation between skill level and negative comments. No correlation was found. There was a correlation that was found in the number of queries when the avatar and voice were female, and there was a correlation between positive directed comments and skill level when the avatar and voice were female.

    This is an indication that the comments are generated not by a need for a psychological edge, but rather driven by the perceived gender of the gamer.

    When the female condition
    said ‘hi everybody’, the other gamer responded with ‘shut up you whore’ followed a
    few seconds later with ‘she is a nigger lover’. When the female condition said, ‘alright
    team let’s do this’, the other gamer replied, ‘fuck you, you stupid slut’. Later on in the
    game the female condition was again referred to as a ‘slut’. Similarly, in another game,
    the female condition was asked questions like ‘are you good?’ and then told, ‘your
    voice is beautiful’. Further into that game, that gamer asked the female avatar to be his

    Taken from the study.

    This interaction seems to be driven by an underlying sexism. The female condition, as called by the study, resulted in much more abuse. But this wasn’t correlated with skill level or wins. It also generated more directed positive statements in regards to wins and skill level. You might say “how is this sexist?” It is a bit sexist as it seems to indicate that the female condition was expected to preform poorly. And there was a clamoring for attention. A good follow up would be a study to see what happens if these queries and friend-requests are dealt with.

    Based on the higher volume of negative directed responses, and what I’ve seen online around the net in general, I would imagine that rejections or negative responses to advances would result in even more harassment.

    Finally, there’s this from the study:

    Future gaming and gender research should continue to examine
    the significance of the gamer and his or her impact on the game content. Game
    developers may go to great lengths to avoid stereotypical portrayals of women in their
    games, yet it may be possible for gamers to continue perpetuating sexualized and stereotypical
    portrayals of women in their actual gameplay. Coming to a more thorough
    understanding of this phenomenon and providing answers to various different stakeholders
    is an important next step for game and gender researchers, especially as our
    society continues to develop and adopt new communication technologies.”

    The gaming community has a toxic attitude towards women, and I cannot say if that is the view of the majority, or just a vocal minority. In a way, it doesn’t matter, as it won’t affect the harassment women will face. It is more a poor understanding on how to treat women, a case of privilege run amok, and not justifiable. The idea that it is just, or even partially, a case of gamesmanship is not reflected in the evidence.

  17. eric says

    @8: Just to add to what others say, Isn’t that a self-fulfilling prophesy? If the gaming community constantly hurled lots more abuse at people with the tagname ‘eric,’ then over time ‘eric’s would likely become more susceptible to abuse.
    Its like picking somone out on a game of doubles tennis or volleyball and constantly hitting the ball just to them, never their partner; they’re going to get worn down faster. Which is not necessarily a sexist strategy per se, but always picking out the woman, across multiple games of the same type and every type of game certainly is.
    If the gaming community was using the ‘pick a target’ strategy in a nonsexist manner, I’d expect something like: always insult the healer. After all, ‘target the healer’ is a pretty standard tactic in how you allocate your fire, so why not your figurative, social fire too? Or how about: insult the first opponent to die. Makes sense too; that person is likely to be having self-doubts abouth their ability if they died first. Either (and many more) make a lot more sense from a use-insult-to-put-opponent-on-tilt strategy. Always picking the woman is not optimal, its not even reasonably justified. Its clearly coming from sexism.

  18. Thomas Hobbes says

    I think this is a very important study. I myself have wondered about what difference there was between male and female harassment online. It’s nice to see some data. I hope this sort of study is replicated over and over again. It shouldn’t be hard.

  19. says

    I am not sure how I feel about this. I am female. And I have been online gaming since the late 1990s. I am OPENLY female . . .and old. LOL Occasionally some asshat will say something rude and . . . well, it’s not pretty. I have over 20 years of flamewars to my credit and I can give as good as anyone. But I don’t find that I am verbally abused anymore than other folks in groups. My daughter has also been an online gamer as long as I have. She reports that she gets regular marriage proposals and gifts, but has never been ridiculed or abused. Of course, the fact that she can outplay almost anyone in any game probably helps. And the fact that she can be vicious when ridiculed . . . she will virtually castrate a stupid man.

    I sometimes wonder if the problem is that girls are such easy targets . they get upset so easy and they don’t know how to fight back. Maybe we should teach our girls to be tougher?

  20. Jane Maple says

    @Gwenny Todd: Your suggestion of teaching our daughters to be tougher is still misguided, it is validating the appalling abusive sexism. We should be teaching our sons to behave properly instead of acting like neanderthal oiks.

  21. Thomas Hobbes says

    @Jane Maple:

    Could we perhaps have a two pronged strategy? If I had a daughter, I would want to work to teach her to be tougher, AND work teach “our sons to behave properly.”

  22. glodson says

    I sometimes wonder if the problem is that girls are such easy targets . they get upset so easy and they don’t know how to fight back. Maybe we should teach our girls to be tougher?

    I think this is a doomed idea. Not everyone will get the same level of harassment. All this study did was to try and find a baseline. Two flaws that come to mind is that they only looked at one genre, and one game in that genre. Now I don’t think that’s a major flaw for the FPS crowd, but there might be a larger number of misogynistic harassers in one community relative to another. Seeing a study hit multiple big titles, and across multiple genres could be more revealing.

    Be that as it may, this study didn’t follow male and female gamers to see how the community responded over time. It could be that the initial harassment is high, but finding a niche lessens it over time. However, this study was just putting the genders in a vacuum to see what happened.

    Not everyone will be harassed, not like that. And not all the time. And the study did find the female gender got more direct positives as well. This doesn’t make up for the harassment, but it helps mitigate the damage.

    Also, I would note the marriage proposals and the overt attention to your daughter. I’m sure you’ve likely gotten that attention from guys online as well. I would imagine that many women have. The study noted how women in gaming were portrayed. Fetishized and made into objects of rewards, often. Not always, but many times.

    I am glad that you and your daughter have managed to get past the harassment and have fun. This study is indicative that not everyone has this experience. It isn’t that we need to stop the trash talk, but rather hold the community itself to a higher standard. It is one thing to talk shit, it is another to viciously insult someone for just having a female gender.

  23. Niktike says

    Sorry to necro, but I just wanted to chime in @Gwenny Todd.

    You and your daughter are both obviously very good players, better than most of the men you game with, in fact. You put this out as a reason for getting less harassment, and you’re probably right about that. But, it shouldn’t be just the women who can beat all the men who are capable of playing without being harassed. Women who are only as good as an average man, women who get beat a lot, women who are new to the game or the console or just got a new keyboard, and women who flat out suck should all be able to play games without being called sluts or whores or having to deal with rape threats. “Teaching girls to be tougher” is an ineffective strategy because it creates a (pretty hefty) emotional entrance fee for women that just isn’t there for men.

  24. aweraw says

    “Teaching girls to be tougher” is an ineffective strategy because it creates a (pretty hefty) emotional entrance fee for women that just isn’t there for men.

    You’ve implied that the same emotional entrance fee does not apply to men also. Do you actually think that, or is this just a poorly worded summation?

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