After reading Jordan Belamire’s article, “My First Virtual Reality Groping,” several thoughts raced through my mind on similar experiences, as well as questions about what could be done to help prevent this from happening again.
Last weekend, I hopped on to Overwatch to play with a friend. We joined a party already in play, which turned out to include some boys who sounded like they were either in middle school or high school. We started the normal gamer talk only for the boys to get excited after hearing my feminine voice. They were disbelief though, one of them going so far to say, “No, that can’t be a girl. Girls don’t play Overwatch!” I had to take a stand though so I replied, “Well this girl does…” Then they said, “No! It has to be a boy…” Notice they were calling me an “it.”
“So wait,” another one began, “are you serious? Are you seriously a boy or seriously a girl?”
“I’m seriously a girl, playing Overwatch.”
That quieted them enough to start the game and get in the rhythm of defending the payload. They eventually came back after halftime, asking how old I was, where I lived, and other bits of personal information you never give strangers. Then they asked if I could give them my Snapchat username and one boy promised, “I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours.” Disgusted, I told him it wasn’t happening. He persisted though so I dropped the party chat and left the match.
I then hopped into another match and kept playing Overwatch until 2am.
Interactions like mine happen all the time for female gamers on various platforms. The frequency increases when you play more masculine games, but the threat is always there. Anonymous gamers will degrade, harass, and even proposition female gamers in many lewd and disturbing ways through what are supposed to be innocent channels of communication.
Unlike many avenues predators can take, the virtual world is escapable. One of the most empowering abilities any human has is to walk away from a negative situation. Sometimes, in the real world, that’s not possible. In the virtual world, though, it is. When those boys started harassing me, I drew a line as to where I would tolerate their immaturity and where I wouldn’t. When they crossed the line, I walked away.
This is something that I feel Ms. Belamire should have done as well. I’m left wondering: Why didn’t she?
While the gaming world has made strides to promote equality between the sexes, it still has a long way to go. There’s no way to police chatrooms or voice channels except between each other. We have the power to say, “No, I am not going to let this happen.” We have the power to say, “No, you shouldn’t say things like that.” We also have the power to turn off the game.
Ms. Belamire didn’t turn off the game though. She played through, keeping her avatar around where the stranger was attacking. She should have walked away. There is no one to protect her from that except herself. I wish there was someone to help, but sometimes our knight in shining armor is us.
Our society will not change overnight, and the patriarchal hierarchy will remain for a long time. As female gamers though, we can push the gaming world towards the correct direction. It is our right to have a say in what is acceptable and what is not. No other gamer has a right to dictate how we can play a game or how we are supposed to be treated in the games we play. This is a venue where women truly can take an equal stand with men. We just need to seize it.
Following scandals like Gamergate, sexual harassment is starting to get noticed in the gaming world. People are beginning to talk about their experiences and bringing awareness to fellow gamers who may not realize the degrading things they say. We can do so much more though.
The behavior Ms. Belamire suffered was unacceptable and now it’s time to bring other voices to the table. Male, female, or genderflux. I want to hear your story. Write it down in the comments section and let’s bring more awareness to this overlooked topic. No longer do we need to play the victim. We can play the heroes.
If you’ve made it this far into the article, please leave a comment and share your story. Have you ever been harassed while playing video games? What did you do? What do you want other gamers to know so that it won’t ever happen again? Leave a comment and let us know!