In relation to my continued analysis of gamer culture, and my own response to Tropes Vs Women in Games (The videos for TvWiG can be found here and here) I want to take a look at an aspect of gaming culture that is often ignored when discussing women and female characters in game content, The Internet Backlash That Everyone Faces.
Although the vitriol responses to women in gaming has been covered quite a bit recently in not only gaming media avenues, but also in the mainstream media, what is ignored is the notion that gaming culture has an outright problem with mob mentality and hysteria, regardless of the sex of the industry worker. Although usually focused on the creation or change of a female character or on a female gamer or developer, the dreaded “Internet Troll” can rear its head over any minor disagreement on game content.
League of Legends (known for its sexy females) has recently faced this with the creation of a new champion called Taliyah. Most comments mention how she is very similar aesthetically to the Last Airbender, but what is also happening in the gaming underbelly is the severe reaction to her character design. Keep in mind that Taliyah is a child and that some people are upset that she does not fit into the narrow definition of what a “standard” LOL Champion looks like. The game purposefully wanted to create more female characters that are diverse beyond the “sexy” look, there are at this moment 33 Sexy Females, and only a handful of Champions who are not. They wanted to diversify the characters available.
As artists, Riot reads and takes in all of the criticisms of their game content. So Daniel Klein (Champion Designer) issued a response to the hostility of Taliyah’s character design. He also drops a mic in the process.
League has a less than perfect record objectifying lady champions. There’s nothing wrong with a champion putting her sexuality front and center if that’s what they’re about. MF and Ahri? Makes total sense.
The problem isn’t that there were some objectified women, but that there was NOTHING ELSE (if not a child/yordle). Restricting body types is limiting to us as creators. We can only make the one type? Screw this.
Our more recent ladies have been much more interesting. From Kalista’s monstrous looks to Reksai being an actual monster…From Illaoi’s badass broken-bones-teach-better-lessons-than-sermons looks to Lamb’s ethereal animal-like take on gentle death.
Those takes not your cup of tea? Cool! We already have 33 sexualized women in the game (I went and counted). I’m certain we will make a sexy lady again in the future. She will own it, and it will make sense for her.
Taliyah is a young girl struggling with an elemental power unlike anything anyone’s ever seen before. She’s a girl struggling with protecting her loved ones from an ancient power vs worrying that SHE will hurt them. She’s a girl coming of age in a time of strife centered on her homeland, and her journey is one of mastery over her power. Where in that does it say “and meanwhile I’m going to get sexy for my date at the Shurima social”?
Look at how cohesive all of Taliyah is. Who she is, what she does, what she looks like…They make sense taken as a whole. Why does she look the way she looks? Because it MADE SENSE.
Where the Internet starts to go down the road to crazy town, is when fans start to harass Klein in other mediums, like his personal Instagram, where people have attacked his partner after they posted pictures that have nothing to do with League of Legends.
As much as certain media outlets would like you to think that only women face this kind of heated hate over an in game character or story element, the internet has become a breeding ground for slinging mud at anyone and everyone in the industry.
Doxxing is a real problem within gaming. This is when someone online posts a developer, actor, or gaming celebrity’s personal information like home phone number or mailing address to the public without their permission in an effort to intimidate their target because of some perceived affront. Many developers of games have had this happen to them, this is not just a problem that women in the industry face, but it is a culture wide epidemic.
“These calls cost thousands of dollars in manpower and resources. Even in a small area like mine, we had 30 deputies, 2 K-9 units and a helicopter deployed for an hour, leaving the county very vulnerable to real incidents.”
Some in the gaming community do not take these acts of harassment seriously, as some of the comments to Kootra’s Swating shows (link above). The trauma to the victim and the loss of police man-hours to focus on a fake threat is taken seriously by everyone involved.
“This is not a game. This is a very serious response that could’ve had serious consequences and we’re just fortunate that didn’t happen this time. It puts officers’ lives at risk when you respond to something this serious. It puts the citizens’ lives at risk.”
Although fans are expected to be kind of “fanatical” there is a tipping point where being too invested is damaging the industry. Game companies encourage the grey area of super huge fan and fanatical fanbase, to an extent. Once the fanatic becomes a harasser, they become a detriment to the industry. It affects not just the production of games, but the quality of the games, and even the content that companies are willing to produce or release. If a company is worried that content will create a deluge of harassment, they might reconsider the content completely or cancel the project entirely. As Felicia Day has pointed out on the Guild, with the creation of the character Floyd, it is hard for anyone who has a presence in gaming to ignore the hatred and outright vile comments people make online.
The way gaming works is by players being invested in the characters and titles they play, and on some level, an investment in the companies they like. This leads to a sense of entitlement within gaming. Some companies encourage the fanbase to be involved in the creation or change of their products, but most do not encourage this level of investment, they just want you to buy their product and enjoy it as is. Criticism of games is often encouraged when it is a constructive critique of the final project. Reviews help to determine where the industry is going, as well as criticisms of inherent flaws to either the characters or the setting. What hinders games today is when criticism is perceived as an attack on the industry as a whole, that the criticism is applied universally on all games, that a games evolution is a slap in the face to the gamers who made the title popular, or that a certain game being popular means every game is going to be a carbon copy from then on.
Games need to evolve in order to meet market demands (as mentioned in an earlier post, games are a product that need to make money.) As much as a small number of (very vocal) fans would like the outside media to think, games and gamer culture as a whole have changed over the decades to be more inclusive and welcoming. More gamers want to see options in games. Options that reflect their beliefs, persona or sexuality. The problem arises when some people see these options as a means to devalue them as a voice in gaming culture, when it is not an attempt to devalue a specific type of gamer, but a way to include a more diverse gaming experience for the diverse gaming culture.
As easy as it can be to blame fanatics on the continued harassment online the anonymity that the internet creates encourages this hostile environment.
“The problem with today’s world is that everyone believes they have the right to express their opinion AND have others listen to it. The correct statement of individual rights is that everyone has the right to an opinion, but crucially, that opinion can be roundly ignored and even made fun of, particularly if it is demonstrably nonsense!” – Brian Cox
It is a general perception that gamers are rather introverted in real life, and although that is true for gamers like I or Felicia Day, it isn’t really indicative of the entire gaming population. There is a certain sense that people, regardless of their personality, can say things online without reprisal, or that they have the right to express their opinions. This certainly seems to be the case with online harassment. When you don’t know the real name of the person harassing you there is a sense that the perpetrator can get away with it. This isn’t always the case, people can and do get caught, with the the very real chance of having your mother find out about your internet shenanigans or spending time in jail.
The average age of the gaming community is rather young. As of 2012, the median gamer age was 30, with 32% of the gamer base under the age 18 according to a study conducted by The Entertainment Software Association. So is age a deciding factor in the veracity of online harassment? Not entirely. Not every under 18 gamer is going to be an asshole online just because they can. The biggest factor in my opinion is accountability. How often people are held responsible for their actions online, or for their actions when outside of the gaming environment. This is explained by the theory of Crime Opportunity which suggests that offenders make rational choices and thus choose targets that offer a high reward with little effort and no risk.
The occurrence of a crime depends on two things: the presence of at least one motivated offender who is ready or willing to engage in a crime, and the conditions of the environment in which that offender is situated, to wit, opportunities for crime
The inherent anonymity of the internet makes it a ripe location for the bridges that trolls live under in order to harass and discourage others online. There is also no reason to assume that those harassing gamers, critics or company employees are just men. People can be online with using only a handle rather than their real names creating an environment that encourages others to be anonymous. Most often internet harassment is brushed off as part and parcel of having an online presence, so where should the industry draw the line? Most often it is when the harassment starts to bleed into the real world or follows people around to other projects or communities that have nothing to do with gaming. Basically, online harassment is taken seriously once it becomes a legal issue of the victims safety and the fear of being stalked in real life. Should we allow it to get that far though?
Although companies and police services have started to seriously crack down on online harassment, it is still difficult to find those responsible and punish them. How would you punish someone for saying mean things online? A lot of it is someone saying something nasty for the sake of it, because they can, versus in real life where they wouldn’t be so nasty to someones face. They might feel the need to be nasty online in order to be taken seriously as a gamer. It is simply “Trash Talk” online. Where do we draw the line of trash talk and harassment? It is a very arbitrary distinction, as a simple exchange can lead to real world consequences.
It is a difficult subject to broach, especially when you cannot police the internet, nor should anyone try. Attempts to place accountability in the internet has crashed spectacularly because you really can’t. The most companies and gaming personalities can do is ignore it, make copies of the exchanges and get the appropriate authorities involved when they need to.
Harassment is a problem that everyone in the gaming community faces, and it is a problem that the community as a whole should work on to curb. It isn’t simply men versus women, it is gamers versus gamers.