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In Response to Virtual Harrassment

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!

About Virginia (23 Articles)
A proud fangirl who somehow found a job getting paid to read and nerd out about books. She love all things sci-fi/fantasy. She read voraciously and friends find themselves hard-pressed to talk to her when her nose is in a book. She is also a gamer (FPS and RPGs mostly), cosplayer, tv/film lover, and budding comic book enthusiast. She lives in Westminster, MD with a room full of books. She has made guest appearances on the "410wned Gaming" and "From the Front Porch" podcast and is a regular on "Three Writers Make a Left" podcast.

14 Comments on In Response to Virtual Harrassment

  1. You make such sound and irrefutable arguments here, from the often neglected white elephant in the virtual gaming world, to who really holds the power within our interactions. Often we do not carry the shield of self confidence as you so eloquently described, as being our own white knight toward strength and responsibility.
    I can’t imagine how complicated gaming becomes when you have to fight against the imbalance of gender identification, than mixed in broad levels of maturity (or lack there of), and sprinkled with self doubt and/or empowerment! Bullies are everywhere and sexual harassment has long reigned one of the strongest tools, but here you give all gamers the chance to stand up for themselves, relinquishing the ‘it’ and although terribly cliché- be the winner! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. In the age of hiding behind the anonymity of a screen name & a cartoon avatar, these little sh&%s have become way too emboldened & brazen.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m not a gamer myself, but I can only imagine the strange interactions it fosters. On one hand, the internet offers anonymity and distance, allowing you to play with an avatar created by someone you’ll never meet. On the other hand, it’s strangely personal when you add the chat element, not to mention the mob mentality that can fan puerile comments. I’m sure the disclaimers and warnings that accompany these games could use an update about harassment. Obviously, it won’t deter everyone, but maybe a gentle reminder will make people think a millisecond longer before they speak. Until then, thank you for reminding people that need to be the change they want to see in the world, virtual or otherwise.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. And this is one of the many reasons why I feel a little tinge of shame when I am asked if I am a gamer or not. The culture is still very primitive, funny considering what we indulge in is cutting edge tech. Being a black guy, I have dealt with everything from typical stereotyping, which generally doesn’t bother me, to flat out being called a nigger on numerous occasions. Doesn’t happen anywhere nears as much now, so I can say there is progress, right? Actually, I think that is only partially correct. Whereas I have yet to deal with anything like that in my current online obsession, Destiny, I have witnessed it. I used to play with a group that was very eclectic. There was a guy that was gay in the group that is still one of the most impressive Destiny players I have ever seen. Well someone in that group invited someone else to the party chat we were and this guys did not have the run down on everyone in the group. This guy said some of the most horrific things I have heard any one say about homosexuals. Here’s the problem with that scenario, everyone let it go too far. I still feel guilty that I didn’t speak up right away. Someone did and demanded an apology. The guy nonchalantly says Sorry man. The apology made things worse and the offended party left. I did say my piece and said “Honestly dude, that is the most messed up thing I have ever heard online and I’ve been on Xbox Live since the beginning.” It is really rough out there when you are trying to put yourself out there and make friends online. We have to protect ourselves though. It took awhile and I finally have enough online friends where as I do not have to play with randoms. Every so often though, I will over here randoms talking and jump in on the conversation. Because of dimwits, I cannot allow them to totally destroy the fun I have playing online games and meeting new people. I still have to be cautious and protect myself. Sorry for the ramble, but your blog dredged up some unsavory memories. I really wish it were as simple as everyone should just be kind to each other. Actually, it is. We all have to abide though and I don’t see that happening in the near future.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s awful to hear, but thank you so much for sharing. I really appreciate it. It definitely wasn’t a ramble at all. I’m glad that you also feel the need to jump in and tell people that what they’re doing is wrong. We need more people like you!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I have to say, as a recovering gamer… this is one of the scenarios that I would hate to find my gamer daughter in.

    You’re right. There was the option to end the game and walk away. I agree with the sentiment “Why didn’t she walk away?” I think it was about how she felt in the environment before the VR groping happened. It sounds like she was getting addicted to how she felt in the game. And that is a concern with VR.

    I have never been harassed but I never used a voice channel. I always communicated via on screen text. Maybe we should go back to that.

    Great article!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Speaking as a female gamer, I have had and witnessed my fair share of harassment. A good friend of mine and I play CoD nightly. We are occasionally verbally harassed, or propositioned through messages while playing, we have gone through measures to make parties and verbal chats private to limit this. Messages and verbal harassment get reported. The policing is done through us and we stand up for each other.

    Even with this, things still get through. There needs to be a better system in place for reporting and harsher consequences. It’s about demanding respect and not taking any of the crap.

    Thank you for taking the time to write this article and standing up to face this issue.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for sharing your story! That’s awesome that you and your friend take measures to fight back against such awful treatment. Go you!

      I agree though. There should be a better system out there. I hope that if we can all stand together and fight it, then something will change. Strength in numbers. Thank goodness we have people like you to help us get started on the right foot. 🙂

      Like

  7. Hey Virgina,

    I think it’s great that you are bringing this into the spotlight. It’s really a question of morality and equality. Keep talking. We all nee to have minimum requirements in gaming. It makes a difference.

    Thanks,
    Dennis

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Dennis! I really appreciate the encouragement. We’ll be able to foster change together.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s what it’s all about, Virginia. Working TOGETHER to effect change. One person can only make but so much of a difference, so there is definitely strength in numbers.

        Liked by 1 person

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