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Brief Published: 10 Sep 2014

Gaming’s Harassment Problem


A study from the Entertainment Software Association has found that in the US, female gamers aged over 18 now outnumber male gamers aged 18 and under (36% compared to 17%). But the news followed Canadian-American pop-culture critic Anita Sarkeesian's Twitter announcement that she had been driven from her home by the latest social media threats made against herself and her family.

In a sobering demonstration of Lewis' law – which holds that "comments on any article about feminism justify feminism" – Sarkeesian receives these threats in reaction to a series of video critiques called Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, where she examines the marginalisation and abuse of women in some games' narratives.

This is far from an isolated event, as can be seen in the recent #GamerGate controversy surrounding American games developer Zoe Quinn (UK paper The Telegraph takes a closer look). Things are coming to a head, as the FBI is now involved in monitoring the harassment situation in the gaming community.

Women are still largely non-playable characters in games, rarely more than glorified (and frequently brutalised) background texture. And change is slow in happening. For instance, in June, US developer Ubisoft scrapped plans of adding a playable female character to Assassin's Creed: Unity – the next game in the popular franchise – citing the difficulty and extra workload in creating and animating a female character.

But gaming's cultural issues are moving into the public eye and creating friction between critics and users, and with more than 2,000 gaming professionals signing an open letter to their community opposing the surge in harassment on Medium last week, awareness of a need to hit the reset button is beginning to take root.

We profiled Sarkeesian in our Icons of New Feminism report. For more on gaming culture, see our Macro Trend Post-Digital.