Playing video games has come a long way — they are not just for those stereotypical, pale, shiny boys who smell of Red Bull and Cheetos anymore. They have evolved, and appeal to people of all ages and genders. There are games for everyone. However, certain games (and certain aspects of gaming culture itself) lend themselves to a sometimes toxic mix of testosterone, high emotion and the anonymity of screens.
Research supports the notion that for girls and women, gaming is the least welcoming of all of the online environments, and that girls and women, in particular, are more likely than boys and men to be targets of physical threats, sexual harassment and stalking.
If your daughter plays these games, the reality that, at some point, she will be targeted with gender-based, sexually influenced, misogynistic and hateful messages, simply because she is a woman.
When your daughter plays video games, she should be alerted that certain types of games (typically war and shooter games, and also games in which communication is a primary feature of the game) lend themselves to more aggressive attitudes than others do.
If your daughter plays these games, the reality that, at some point, she will be targeted with gender-based, sexually influenced, misogynistic, and hateful messages, simply because she is a woman. In fact, she is statistically 25 times more likely to be the target of sexually explicit, threatening, and malicious messages if her screen name, user profile or avatar is feminine.
So what's a video game-loving girl to do? And how can you, as her parent, coach her to cope with the misogyny that she may experience while gaming?
When your daughter becomes a target, here are some things that she (as a girl) can do:
- Tell the trolls to stop. Tell them that further action will result in authorities being contacted. Tell them this once and once only.
- Then block and report them. All game systems have blocking and reporting options, and sometimes (mostly because of these issues) even formal complaint processes through which the more aggressive jerks can be properly banned.
- Tell her that no matter how personal a troll may try to make it, these attacks are not about her; they’re about what she represents to the troll. If she takes action quickly and remove that player’s ability to continue to target her, the person’s motivation can be diminished.
- Encourage her to talk to you, as well as other safe adults, and her friends. Not only do you not have to put up with misogynistic crap, but you don’t have to deal with it alone.
- Talk to other players on her team or in her clan. They can offer support and help her complain, report and block as well.
- She (or you) can also contact game moderators, the website hosting the interaction, and other players’ ISP providers.
- The police should be contacted if the troll is actually threatening things that would be illegal in real life, such as threats of death, rape, or other bodily harm (especially if there is a sense that the person on the other side of that screen is anywhere in the vicinity of serious).
- Keep evidence of any threats. Digital records may be important if any legal action is taken later, but pictures, screenshots, and time stamps are important as well.
- Encourage her to say something when other players are attacked. Help her understand that she shouldn't stand by and watch these people do it to someone else. She should say something, either in support of the target or about the behavior of the aggressor.
- But — important note — she shouldn't engage the aggressor directly. When you engage (or “feed”) the trolls, it only makes their behavior worse. But by doing what you can to turn the troll’s obnoxious and toxic behavior back on the troll, where it belongs, it helps everyone — including, quite possibly, the troll. When aggressors’ own behavior causes them enough distress, they will be motivated to change.