And you thought comics had it bad. It’s been a banner year for video game sexual harassment—or at least video game sexual harassment awareness. The Anita Sarkeesian Kickstarter and subsequent online abuse has been well documented, and it’s been discussed so much that the Times is ON it with a piece that nonetheless serves as a good roundup. This is the last frontier, as anonymity and youth add up to a culture of harassment—which spills over into the real world as when a female gamer was harassed by the captain of her own team IRL (above.) The Times says it’s gone so far even video game makers are trying to do something:

Executives in the $25 billion-a-year industry are taking note. One game designer’s online call for civility prompted a meeting with Microsoft executives about how to better police Xbox Live. In February, shortly after the Cross Assault tournament, LevelUp, an Internet broadcaster of gaming events, barred two commentators who  made light of sexual harassment on camera and issued a formal apology, including statements from the commentators.

Even so, Tom Cannon, co-founder of the largest fighting game tournament, EVO, pulled his company’s sponsorship of the weekly LevelUp series, saying that “we cannot continue to let ignorant, hateful speech slide.”

“The nasty undercurrent in the scene isn’t a joke or a meme,” he said. “It’s something we need to fix.”

Elsewhere the article brings up some statistics that are quite interesting in light of the whole “cooties” discussion we’ve been having at The Beat.

Jessica Hammer, a longtime player of video games and a researcher at Columbia University, said the percentage of women playing such games online ranges from 12 percent to close to half, depending on the game type. Industry statistics from the Entertainment Software Association say 47 percent of game players are women, but that number is frequently viewed as so all-encompassing as to be meaningless, bundling Solitaire alongside Diablo III.

Even the lower number—12%—is greater than the percentage of women who read comics in most surveys — 7% being the DC number. Are comics even more of a boys club than video games?


  1. I suppose that in this context, “comics” means “superhero comics.”

    One factor is the absence of actual marketing of the comics. Teaser campaigns, previews posted on comics Web sites, interviews posted on the same sites, etc. don’t constitute marketing in that the publisher isn’t trying to reach mass audiences. It’s only trying to get more dollars out of people who are already interested in or predisposed to buy the product. The Previews system is hardly marketing in any sense.

    In the absence of marketing, consumers tend not to buy the comics because of their cachet, their quality, or another factor that marketing influences. They buy them because the comics fill a need. Sexual harassment often occurs because the harassment fills a psychological need.


  2. Sometimes the direct market can feel like a boys club when you look at it, but there isn’t the undercurrent of hate that comes with video games.

    When I was a teenager just getting into comics, I found that even if I felt uncomfortable at the comic store at first, the staff was helpful and encouraging (customers were sometimes a little weird but hey so was I). They would even look at my art and pull self published books aside to encourage me.

    However at the arcade people were competitive and nasty, getting pissed off if I beat them because I was a girl, and if I lost it was because girls suck at video games.

    I just want to stand up for comics here, and say that even in the mid-90s, comics was always accepting and inclusive of me. We might need more girls at the Big 2, but people are more open to the idea, and people who speak out for women aren’t bullied into silence.

  3. The Times isn’t “ON” anything. As someone actually involved in gaming and esports, I can tell you this story happened back in February and was already covered by the gaming press as it happened. Where was the Times months ago?

    And these traditional news outlets continue to wonder why they bleed subscribers and are becoming increasingly irrelevant.

  4. At SDCC I arrived to one of the panels I was attending early and there were open seats in the room, so I just sat down to wait. I wish I hadn’t. It was a panel devoted to Street Fighter X Tekken and the very first thing I heard from the moderator’s mouth was asking the creators for more hot girls. There were three women dressed as game characters just standing behind the panelists. They weren’t interacting with the panel, they served no other purpose than to be looked at. It didn’t get any better from there.

    Having mostly attended panels devoted to Image Comics and Dark Horse until that point, I hadn’t felt at all alienated or unwelcome at Comic-Con. I very much did in that room.

  5. @Becky: I’ll agree on the DM, but the fandom can still be pretty damned nasty — look at the comments section on any article where someone suggests there’s any sexism whatsoever in superhero comics, and you’re bound to find some comments ranging from condescension to insults to, in some cases, outright threats.

    I DO think there’s been a whole lot of movement in a positive direction amongst superhero fandom, certainly more than “gamer culture” (whatever that is). The gamer community’s getting there, though, and I think Sarkeesian’s project is a step in the right direction.

    I also like to think that in both cases, the misogynists and bullies are a loud minority. I’ve been both a superhero fan and a gamer all my life, and fortunately most of the fans I’ve encountered in both media have been very nice people.

    (Loved your work on Conan, BTW!)

  6. I gave up trying to play on Live. Left 4 Dead convinced me to sign up, and after that I would go through random matches. The tidal wave of insults, abuse, and racist, sexist, homophobic profanity was staggering. Even if I tried playing without a mic, it was a torrent of some of the most evil things I could have ever imagined, and some of it coming out of the mouths of just kids.

    At first I was angry and indignant, and refused to be bullied away. I met a few friendly guys, and would friend them. But as the months went on, it was just exhausting. Doing well (re: beating somebody) ment having to empty vile crap out of my inbox the next day. Eventually I just got worn down and gave up.

    I always roll my eyes at the ’40+ percent of gamers are women’ factoid. Social gaming on Facebook are not video games. When you remove that from the equation, it plummets dramatically.

    There’s nothing wrong with social gaming, but lumping the two distorts the picture. It’s like saying, ‘More women that men read comic books’. Because they read more books, and comics are a ‘type of book’, therefore they must read more.

  7. I generally think people all around need to toughen up when it comes to stuff like this, but most of what Ms. Sarkeesian experienced was unacceptable fucked up shit.

    Women aren’t the only ones called fat and ugly when they hurt the team or lay the smackdown on someone else.

    Thad, I don’t see any sexism in superhero comics. Granted, I’m not looking. Could you provide some examples?

  8. . . . I don’t see any sexism in superhero comics. Granted, I’m not looking. Could you provide some examples?

    The depictions of the superheroines in the comics are sexist, and have been for decades. Readers are given visual cheesecake so routinely that many of them hardly notice it. None of the rationales anyone has offered, in terms of character psychology, fashion, or “ideal physiques,” makes any sense, and only makes the person offering the excuse look silly.

    If the economic rationale, that drawing the heroines as individuals would take too much time and would be too costly, is correct, that’s a reason to damn the superhero comics format.

    If someone can’t imagine a superhero story in which the heroine has a normal physique and is in street clothes for most of the story, he’s writing it for the wrong reasons and people are reading it for the wrong reasons.


  9. Synsidar, funny when I read your post all I thought of was Bendis’ Alias. I think all this stuff is just part of life. Americans unfortunately are by enlarge busy bodies who have a compulsive need to define what right is and lord it over everyone. It’s our most annoying trait. The more we try to enforce morality the farther we get from the objective. The dialogue will continue to grow and change as people do. Are comics sexist sure so is society but not as sexist as it was 20 years ago. When I was a kid every beer commercial had girls in bikinis.

  10. SRS, sexual isn’t sexist. “Visual cheesecake” is tedious not sexist.

    All of the hand-wringing in the world will not make sexual stereotypes go away. Nor should they because like all stereotypes they’re based in truth. Also, let’s not pretend that tropes only exist for female characters.

  11. SRS, sexual isn’t sexist. “Visual cheesecake” is tedious not sexist.

    Trying to redefine the problem out of existence, a la libertarians on economic problems, isn’t a refutation either. If Marvel or another publisher were to do all women as blondes, all men as WASPs, or eliminate diversity in other ways, readers who felt they were targeted would feel offended and rightly so. Stereotypes in stories are offensive because editors, et al., think that their readers will find them familiar and comforting. The problem is with people who think that persistent use of stereotypes is fine, just a matter of choosing what to read, and feel threatened by material that challenges assumptions and prejudices.


  12. “Trying to redefine the problem out of existence, a la libertarians on economic problems, isn’t a refutation either.”

    If anybody is doing any redefining, it’s you. You can’t just slap “sexist” on everything you don’t like because it doesn’t always apply. If you don’t know what the word means, that’s okay, but then you shouldn’t be trying to use something you don’t know how to operate.

    This is why I asked for examples. A sexist character is exemplified by the male characters in Mad Men. There are a lot of sexist female characters in Y, The Last Man. But that’s not what you’re talking about, and it’s not what a lot of internet blabbermouths are attempting to talk about when they also use the term. If what you don’t like is female characters dressed in impractical outfits and doing anatomically questionable activities, then say so without using the word sexist because it doesn’t apply…but you should stop reading mainstream superhero comics, if it bothers you that much. I’d rather read Runaways than a majority of the other stuff Marvel and DC put out, but I understand that I’m in the minority and most Marvel and DC readers would rather read sex-and-violence-filled dreck so that’s what they get.

    When you get into arguments on why this alien from a sexually liberal planet dresses provocatively and has lots of sex, then you’re the silly one. It’s all made up. You may want it to be different, but your reasoning behind your arguments is often faulty. Then you try to turn that around by claiming the justifications for what the character is doing or how they’re dressed are silly, but it’s your complaint that’s really the heart of the silliness. When you’re not dealing with real people, it’s difficult to make the case that they should look and act like real people.

    Superhero comics and video games are not really where I go for realistic characterization in my fiction.

    Stereotypes are not really offensive. People that don’t fit the stereotype decide to be offended because they’re not accurately being represented, but instead of writing a letter to the writer, they start a facebook page or blog about it and encourage the pitchforks and torches method. The way to battle stereotypes is with diversity. You’re not likely to find diversity in companies that have such a deathgrip on their IP the way that mainstream publishers of superhero comics do. However, I don’t think a writer should be kept from having a character do something stereotypical just to avoid the shit-storm. Such an overcorrection is just as bad as, if not worse than, what it’s trying to correct. And if you’re creating a web series about how video game characters lack diversity and you can come up with 10 different types of characters, then you’ve kinda shot yourself in the foot.

  13. I’ve got an incredible idea, why don’t women leave men to their hobbies and we’ll leave them to theirs? And never the two shall meet?!?

  14. Snikt… how do you define what’s a female hobby, and what’s a male hobby?

    For example: barbecuing. That’s cooking, food stuff, stuff that happens in the kitchen. Aprons are involved.

    What about all those guys in Chicago who play softball? You gonna tell them it’s a girlie sport? I’ll be waiting over here, by the ambulance.

    And if you’re not careful, women might claim sex as THEIR hobby, meaning that any guy who engages in any sexual activity (either solo or plural) is an individual unsure about his sexuality (since he’s engaging in a female activity).

  15. ” One game designer’s online call for civility prompted a meeting with Microsoft executives about how to better police Xbox Live.”

    That’s kind of funny, considering MS used to de facto encourage bad behavior with their ‘Zone’ descriptor as part of a user’s Live profile. I don’t recall the exact wording, but if you selected ‘Underground’ — which sounds a lot more ‘cool’ than Family or Pro – it was to denote that you enjoyed no-holds barred smack talk. Why they’d even remotely encourage that is beyond me.

    I second Pink Apocalypse, I had a similar experience and aggravation with foul-mouthed youngsters. I used to play a fair bit of Halo, and would always play with voices muted unless I was playing with a friend, and even then we used a private channel. And I would get constant player feedback through the automated, anonymous system that I wasn’t playing the game ‘correctly’.

    While no voice meant I was at a disadvantage as a player — no verbal strategizing — that rarely seemed to be taking place anyway, and I was being penalized for choosing not to be annoyed by being on an open line with a bunch of strangers exhibiting poor impulse control. (And my stats weren’t that horrible for being ‘deaf’, I was a mid-level player and I doubt talking to others would’ve changed that.)

    Microsoft has a limited ability to deal with this, because you take some homophobic, racist little punk’s ability to act like an idiot with a captive audience, and they’re out the $50 a year access fee. And at this point I doubt even actively weeding out the garden would do much good, because the problem’s too out of control — laying down a strict banhammer to make a point would make half the servers virtual ghost towns and cost them millions in revenue. Better to preserve that $25 billion a year status quo and not rock the boat.