Jess McCabe // 12 January 2009
Any gamers out there, I’ve got to recommend checking out the latest issue of Cerise Magazine.
The online magazine “by and for women gamers” concentrates on the “socially conscious gamer” for its first issue of 2009, and there’s plenty for feminist gamers to get their teeth into, in particular these two articles:
‘Virtual rape’ is a contentious term – meaning, basically, an assault on a person’s character or avatar in a game or virtual world such as Second Life. (You might remember that Belgian police investigated a case of rape in Second Life last year).
Casey Fiesler gives a thoughtful overview of the prevelance of sexual harassment in online gaming worlds, and how – though not as serious as rape in the real world – this is none-the-less a problem that must be tackled:
And even though Second Life may not be considered a “game” in the traditional sense, this kind of behavior can happen in less-obvious forms in any virtual world where players have control of avatars. I read in one World of Warcraft player’s blog about how she was approached by two male characters on a boat taking them to another continent and spammed with text about how they were “raping” her while their characters chased her around the boat. Although she knew that neither she nor her character were in any actual danger, she felt a sense of helplessness from being trapped there. In another example, apparently in the World of Warcraft beta – when there was no language barrier separating the two opposing factions – a game named “Strip or Die” became popular. Imagine being a relatively powerless new female character suddenly jumped by a group of much stronger opponents who demand that you strip to your underwear or they’ll kill you. Refusal may not just mean death – a relatively minor inconvenience for WoW players – in this case, but being targeted and continually harassed, essentially destroying your gaming experience for the day.
Don’t mistake me; I am definitely not saying that these events, whether the term “virtual rape” is appropriate or not, are anything like real-world rape. I am not suggesting that abusive WoW players be thrown into jail as sex offenders. However, even if not as serious, these acts do have real impact on the victims. Many roleplayers can attest to just how close they become to their avatars, especially for hardcore gamers; if you spend nine hours of a day as your character, that may be even more of your waking hours than you spend as yourself. The potential psychological damage of watching someone who is basically an extension of yourself in such a position is very real. This is to say nothing of the real life victims of rape and sexual harassment playing these games as well, who might be forced by this type of virtual behavior to re-live real life trauma.
Amy Hopper weighs up a scholarship offered by Sony for girls and young women interested in going into game development, with the explicit objective “to positively impact the way females are depicted in video games and create and influence content to be appealing to women”:
SOE, by creating G.I.R.L., has acknowledged the proverbial elephant in the room. As a major company, and part of a major international corporate family that is doing revolutionary things within the gaming industry, Sony Online Entertainment has recognized that the gaming industry has a major problem: sexism. While sexism in the industry, both in terms of the creators of games and the consumers of games, has long been obvious, this formal acknowledgment of it as a problem within the industry is groundbreaking. This is especially true because, in creating G.I.R.L., SOE has not only acknowledged the problem, but taken steps to rectify it. G.I.R.L. represents what has the potential to be the beginnings of change in a very gendered industry.