With the growing trend of competitive gaming and streaming, as well as the global lockdowns caused by COVID-19 over the past couple of years, more and more women have turned into gamers.
According to a 2021 study by Niko Partners, women make up 41% of the gaming population. In Southeast Asia alone, women have spent up to US$600 million on console games and around US$1 billion on mobile games.
But even as the growing female population in gaming continues to open up some much-needed dialogue, the need to continuously address and improve how female gamers are treated and supported persists.
In observance of Women's Month, Yahoo Gaming SEA asked the members of Girls Who Game PH — a community of female gamers from the Philippines — about their struggles and experiences with prejudice as female gamers. Here are some of their stories:
(To protect the identities of the women speaking out, they will be referred to by nicknames)
One member of the Girls Who Game PH community, "DJ", said she thought prejudice against female gamers was quite prevalent in mobile MOBA (Multiplayer online battle arena) games like Mobile Legends and League of Legends: Wild Rift, saying that players of such games “curse a lot.”
While trash talking is quite prevalent in these competitive games regardless of gender, sometimes the insults hurled at women can be too much.
“The worst one ended up with my headset thrown in disgust and me crying and not playing for days after,” said "Cho", another member of the community.
While playing VALORANT as a newbie, some of Cho's teammates kept insulting her throughout and calling her “tanga” (stupid in Tagalog). She said that she was bot fragging (bottom of the number of frags) at the time so she swallowed the insults at first.
“But then they started saying that the other teammate and I must be dating cause we’re both stupid and that we’d make stupid babies,” Cho added.
"Leizi" said she hated turning her microphone on whenever she's playing PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds Mobile (PUBGM), because once other players find out she’s a girl, they would keep bugging her by asking about her age.
Ignoring these questions sometimes have dire consequences in-game, like not getting revived if she gets downed.
“It’s exhausting,” Leizi pointed out.
But these aren't limited to competitive multiplayer games. Harassment also happens pretty often in MMORPGs.
One MMORPG player, Leandra, recalled never wanting to turn on her microphone because she would get a lot of indecent proposals.
Leandra recalled one time in a dungeon run for the MMO King of Kings when she had to use her mic.
“Oooh, your voice is so sexy!” Leandra recounted one of her guildmates saying. And it was even worse on guild chat and private messages, which included messages like “Say my name out loud please!” and other more indecent ones like “let’s hop over to Snapchat and have some fun”.
Leandra brought this up to the guild leader, who only criticised her for being “too sensitive” despite the online sexual harassment she was receiving, and she subsequently quit the game after a few months.
Even when women try to hide their identities, things don't always work out. In a private RAN Online server, xLuna and her female classmates kept their identity secret to feel safe.
However, a “spy” joined their clan and discovered that they were, in fact, women. Since then, they have been on the receiving end of insults and “disgusting stuff”.
Even among friends, discrimination in-game still exists. Some male co-workers, classmates, and close friends sometimes let such attitudes slip through when playing games.
This happened to "Agares", who usually plays MLBB with her co-workers.
“One of them would often try to joke that I'm the weakest member of the team,” she mentioned.
"We lost in the end, but I was the losing team's MVP, so joke's on him,” Agares shared.
Another gamer, Kiguru, also recalled an instance with her close friends in Monster Hunter World: Iceborne.
In a fight against Alatreon, one of the harder fights in MHW: Iceborne, her close friends asked her to “sit this one out” because they wanted to get someone with “more experience” to fight the monster when it first arrived.
“I told them I understood, but that really hurt me, to be honest,” Kiguru said.
Not all experiences bad
Not all experiences with male players have been unpleasant, however. Many tend to be quite cool, supportive, and respectful.
“Having been playing since Dota 1 in high school, I am pretty immune to trash talking, and sometimes I even participate just for fun,” "Cams" mentioned. “Nevertheless, I seldom experience being laughed at and verbally abused in Dota 2. There are mature players out there; kudos to you guys.”
Agares also had a positive experience in MLBB.
“There was one time when I first used Zhask in ML, and I couldn't quite get him right,” she shared.
Instead of being insulted, one of her random teammates stuck with her during the game and helped her time her attacks right, despite knowing she’s female from her profile picture.
Cho agrees that there are nice guys in VALORANT, too. Since her previous experience as a newbie, she’d get a bit wary and would apologise for her KD (kills to deaths ratio).
“Nice players would say ‘that’s okay’ or ‘you’re doing okay,’” she said.
Another VALORANT player, RM, also had similar positive experiences.
“When my teammates heard my voice, and I was bottom fragging in VALORANT, they didn’t give me a bad time,” she said.
“I was [communicating] properly and my utility use helped the team a lot. And when I finally scored more kills, they even congratulated me,” she added. “No simping, no flirting. It was just pure games. Loved that.”
What needs to change to make gaming a safe space for women?
In the gaming world, trash talking is widely the norm regardless of gender, to the point where companies like Riot Games chose not to activate voice chat in League of Legends.
And it's not just in casual play or among competitive players. Professional players have faced sanctions, bans and fines over their in-game behavior, with a recent case in Singapore's Mobile Legends scene seeing four players slapped with professional bans over their remarks caught on livestream.
However, numbers speak for themselves. FandomSpot.com, a platform for fandoms and online communities, conducted a poll of 2,000 female gamers worldwide to find the most prevalent gaming habits of women.
It was revealed in the survey that three quarters (76%) of female gamers have disguised their gender while gaming, and that 93% of those who do choose to do so because of sexual harassment online.
In the same survey, one out of five women feel unsafe or uncomfortable using a microphone while gaming and 25% of all respondents have quit a game because of the abuse received.
But a good majority (87%) said they would not quit the gaming community altogether, which shows that women in gaming are here to stay.
Members of Girls Who Game PH also chimed in on what changes they thought needed to happen to make the community a better place.
Many of those who responded from the group stressed that gaming companies should take reports and incidents more seriously, especially if the harassment is sexually, racially, or gender-charged.
This should help in deterring offenders in games, the respondents said.
Some gamers, like "Nika", believe that proper female representation in video games and in the gaming industry will be a key influence in bringing positive change.
“How do they design their female characters in the game? Does it cater to the male gaze? Do the female characters have a place in the lore, if any?” Nika said.
The good news is that according to a 2021 report from Feminist Frequency, 18% of new games feature clear female character protagonists, and this trend may continue to increase in the future (we listed some of our favorite female characters in games here).
One community member, "Babae_Yan", pointed out three key focus points — culture, communication and marketing, and community.
“It’s 2022. Gone are the days when gaming or any esports are believed to be male-dominated," Babae_Yan said. "There must be some robust methods to deliver this message. This includes having females in the workforce."
This is where marketing and communication are important. Games should be marketed not for a specific gender, and the message should be the same across the industry, including in esports, Babae_Yan said.
In January, The MLBB Women's Invitational 2022, organised by MLBB developer MOONTON Games in partnership with ONE Esports, was held to "celebrate female strength and empowerment" in esports.
While there have been efforts to organise esports activities for women, such as the FSL in Southeast Asia, very few female pro players have made it into regular competitive rosters.
The most important piece is community.
“GGP (Girl Gamers Philippines), GWP, and other Girl Gaming Groups must be supported and protected in all ways. Create a sanctuary for women to empower one another, a place to rant and recharge and to become full, so that even (if) these bully men may take and take, we may still be overflowing,” Babae_Yan said.
“It’s the gaming communities, organisers, and developers themselves that should be responsible for creating a positive culture by using their platforms in advocating for equal treatment,” said another member, Faye, on the responsibility of the community.
Ultimately, though, it all boils down to respect, regardless of gender, race or status in life.
“It's all down to respect — not just for women. Gaming can be pretty toxic for anyone,” Kiguru said. “I’m very guilty of this as well.”
Anna is a freelance writer and photographer. She is a gamer who loves RPGs and platformers, and is a League of Legends geek. She's also a food enthusiast who loves a good cup of black coffee.