Achievement Unlocked: Video Games

Girl Gamer: How I Have Learned to Deal with Harassment In-game

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I have actively played online video games for around seven years, and have definitely seen the best and the worst of the gaming community, both online and in person at conventions. In a perfect world, you could exist in-game alongside the other players and be treated no differently because of your gender or sexual orientation. Unfortunately, that sort of utopia doesn’t exist in every game. In my experience, the best way to deal with harassment can be summarized very simply: Mute, Report, and Ignore. That being said, I have also found a few ways that help to avoid harassment in the first place. Your experience may vary on what works for you, as well as the mechanics of the game itself. Keep in mind that not all online game communities are created equally: some are friendlier than others. Find what works for you and stick with it, and soon you’ll be slaying foes next to your brothers-in-arms, not against them.

Let’s assume you have downloaded a game, and upon playing online, have been met with harassment of any kind.

The first line of defense is to mute and ignore. When you’re being harassed, the best way (in my experience) to deal with it is to completely ignore the player, and many games offer an in-game option to mute specific players. Explore the options menu for a bit, paying particular attention to the multiplayer settings, and look for a way to mute players. This is by far the easiest way to deal with harassers. When I was a kid, if I was bullied, I found the best way to deal was to ignore completely. Your bully will see that they aren’t getting a reaction out of you, and will likely leave you alone.

The second thing to do when you are being bullied in-game is to report. Many games will have an option to report harassment. If there is one, use it. Always report harassment, even if you think nothing is being done to resolve the situation. The type of person who will harass someone for playing the game is toxic to the community as a whole, and all players will be better off without them.

What if that doesn’t work?

If that still doesn’t work, your best option is likely to leave. Go play something else for a bit and come back at a different time, or switch servers. Do something to get away from the person that’s bothering you.  I was playing Halo 3 multiplayer with friends when I received a rape threat. I muted the player, and then upon hearing the others laughing in response, left the game completely. I started my own game and a few friends followed, showing me who my actual friends were. Its a really crappy thing, to be forced to leave a game due to harassment, but often times you’ll find other people to play with. No game is worth your mental well-being. If you are upset because someone is harassing you, leave.

What if I want to avoid harassment in the first place?

There are a few steps I’ve learned to take in order to avoid harassment in the first place. First, play with people you know. I have a small group that I play games with on an almost-nightly basis, and I trust them to never bully me. Of course, you might be new to playing the game (or any game) and not have a group to play with. In that case, there are a few places you can go to find people to group up with. Reddit has a few places for gamers to gather, for instance. See the GirlGamers subreddit if you are a girl or identify as one, or the Gaymer subreddit if you are LGBT and want to discuss games in a friendly place. Both are communities of between 30,000 and 40,000 people, and both host game nights and have Steam groups where you can connect with people interested in the same games you are. If you’re looking for a friendly group of people to play games with, check those out.

Harassment can often come once you plug in your mic to chat with team members. Unfortunately, if you’re experiencing harassment only after you talk, unplug your mic. This can seem like a detriment, especially in team-based games, but if it makes it easier to play the game without, do it. I do not use a mic when playing multiplayer games, unless I’m with my group, and often play team-based games like Team Fortress 2. I actively use the chat to communicate with my team, and have never had a bad time because of that. Many games will have multiple ways to communicate with teams, including text chatting, so if you’re being harassed via mic, get rid of it for a while.

Another way to avoid harassment is to have a gender-neutral name. This seems strange, sure, but I’ve found it helps a lot. In my experience, having a gender-neutral name allows the player to have the freedom to chat and be taken seriously (without a mic). Players will have no information to harass you for, because your name doesn’t reveal anything about you. Of course, your experience may vary. If you are perfectly fine using a gender-specific name, use it. For me, using a gender-neutral name puts me on an even playing-field to begin with, as many players assume I’m male. On the plus side, if you use a gender-neutral name, it can make for an epic reveal. Imagine: You bring your team to victory, and everyone is praising you. “You’re really good, man,” a player says. You smirk and reply ala Eowyn in Return of the King:

Probably the most frustrating thing for bullies is to try to harass someone who isn’t bothered by them. I have found a good way to stop harassment, regardless of your name, is to shut your bully up by being better at the game than them. They’ll be too busy bothering you to pay attention to the game. If you can, ignore what they say and focus on the game. Be confident in your abilities and have fun without them. This also works in-person. I had the pleasure of attending PAX Prime, the gaming convention that takes place in Seattle every year. One year, I walked up to the Rockstar booth to get some free swag, as they were promoting their Grand Theft Auto game for Nintendo DS, GTA Chinatown Wars. The person manning the booth, upon seeing me approach to grab some stickers, asked me in an accusatory tone, “Do you even play Grand Theft Auto?” I replied that I did, grabbed my stickers, and left. They had no right to quiz me: I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone. Taking this approach in-game works as well, and ties into the whole idea that if you’re not bothered, they’ll quit.

The important thing to remember is that you’ll find a game you love, with a community you love eventually.

All this talk about harassment makes the gaming world seem like it isn’t a place for the soft-hearted, but that’s not true. You will find a game you love with a community you love. Some communities are just great on their own (see my post about Lord of the Rings Online, for instance), while others will have a crappy public community but really awesome semi-private communities. Take Team Fortress 2 for example: the public players can sometimes be pretty rude and crappy, but there are a ton of community-run servers that have awesome people who are very accepting. If you love the game enough, you’ll find a place where you belong. Even if you can’t find somewhere, create it yourself. Be the change that you want to see in the game.

The best way to overcome harassment online (after reporting it) is to continue playing the game. Don’t let one bad fruit spoil the bunch. Remember:  Mute the offender, Report them, then Ignore them.

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