Sexist language in gaming remains as men defend notion that video games are their domain

Eliza Tagle

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Sexist language in gaming remains as men defend notion that video games are their domain


Sexist insults such as being told to 'go back to the kitchen' still exist in gaming

I was already aware of the infamous toxicity in League of Legends, a multiplayer online video game, when I started playing in early 2021. I heard stories of players getting cursed out by their teammates.

I watched famous League of Legends streamers garner large followings because of their angry behavior. Yet it still came as a shock to me when I received the same toxicity at Level 14 when a teammate started shooting me in-game messages like “U R A BITCH” and “UNINSTALL LEAGUE AND GO BACK TO THE KITCHEN” when I made mistakes.

These messages shocked me enough to spend in-game currency to change my username from my usual ‘misselizard’ to a more gender-neutral ‘elizard’ so that maybe I wouldn’t be targeted with such comments in the future.

Growing up, I knew video games were always gendered. Boys in my school played the violent and action-packed Call of Duty (a first-person shooter game) while my female friends and I played virtual domesticity through Cooking Mama (a cooking simulation game).

There is a gender divide in the video game industry which facilitated in-game sexist comments like the ones I experienced. However, video game skill and enjoyment does not depend on one’s gender, so why do people feel the need to make sexist remarks? To attempt to answer this question, we must first understand what sexist language entails.

In a study in the International Journal of Language, Literature and Gender Studies, “linguistic sexism” is utilized not to merely label a person, but also included a strategy during mixed sex interaction to silence or depreciate women. Sexism appears in language through how people label and refer to women in order to degrade, diminish, or hurt them. Quite simply, sexist language had been employed as a tool to damage women.

Thus, if a teammate remarks that I “suck” and I should “uninstall the game,” the insults are gender-neutral and do not target me as a woman. But, if a teammate interjects that I’m a “bitch” and to “go back to the kitchen,” the words are specific to my gender identity and play off of the assumption that women belong in the kitchen and should be subservient to men. 

The language that is normally used towards women in gaming is drastically different from the language used towards men. Female video game players recounted many sexualized insults such as ‘‘slut,’’ ‘‘whore,’’ and ‘‘cocksucker’’ while playing online. I read of one female player describe a time when she won a game and the guild leader threatened “to tear [her] breasts into bloody shreds.”

So why are these comments prevalent in gaming? A group of researchers looked into this question and they believe that some male players view female players as a threat to their social identity and, therefore, attempt to demonstrate their superiority and defend what they consider “their” domain by insulting and harassing female players.

It seems that the sexist comments are a reaction to a threat and male players assume a sort of macho posturing in order to hold on to their power. The male-dominated industry seems it isn’t used to women “encroaching” on their territory, so they employ linguistic sexism to silence or depreciate women. 

Additionally, the gender divide in the advertisement of video games solidifies the notion that video games are for boys which, in turn, causes a territorial reaction when a girl shows a slight interest in the games that boys mainly play.

Men hold onto this primal, archaic belief that only men can play video games and they must “defend” their domain by driving away female players through targeted sexist messages.

I’ve seen female gamers speak out against sexism for past several years. But why has there been little progress towards eradicating this vernacular? Perhaps it is because there is not enough power from within the industry to enact change.

The video game industry is still male-dominated. Despite women making up almost half of the gaming community, only around 24% working in the gaming industry are female by the start of 2020. The small female representation in this field causes a lack of empathy and change. Very recently, gaming studio Blizzard has been in the headlines for the misogynistic behavior of its male employees, leading to the departure of its president J. Allen Brack.

Men may easily brush off comments like “I totally just raped you with this shotgun” because they do not experience this assault to the same extent as women. It’s easier for men to dismiss this language as a joke while women do not find it funny at all.

I believe that to advocate against use of sexist language in gaming, we have to address the root cause. We have to educate those who do not recognize that it is a problem. My gender shouldn’t have to matter when it comes to video games nor should I have to face sexist comments.

There have been steps forward for women empowerment and equality with global movements like the Women’s March and #MeToo. I have also noticed that sexist comments like “Go back to the kitchen” have slowly been phased out of the norm on social media. Why can’t the same progress be made in the video game community? Women shouldn’t settle for anything less than proper treatment in all aspects of life. –

Eliza Tagle is a Rappler data team intern, and a Data Science student at New York University. She enjoys science research, plays J.S. Bach on the piano, and loves Harry Styles. 

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