// 12 January 2009

cerisecover.gifAny 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.

Comments From You

dirt // Posted 12 January 2009 at 3:16 pm

I am so glad you posted this. I’ve been wondering why so few people are talking about women and gaming lately. I wrote an article about it, and many of the commenters simply laid into me for being a gamer (apparently it’s a terrible thing) and didn’t even acknowledge the sexism issue. I hadn’t heard of this magazine before, so I’ll check it out. Thanks for being a positive voice for women. :-D (The article is here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2009/jan/09/gamestop-wii-fit-magazine-subscriptions)

Jess McCabe // Posted 12 January 2009 at 4:27 pm

Thanks, dirt!

Talking of Wii, did you also see that Wal-Mart was slated for installing Wii Fit in the women’s clothes department?

Clare // Posted 12 January 2009 at 8:28 pm

It may not constitute physical rape, but it certainly does constitute harassment and specifically sexual harassment. Surely it should be possible to report such behaviour to the company running the game and for the players involved to be punished or banned? If the companies themselves don’t have policies about players and abusive behaviours, then the countries they operate in/from almost certainly do. If gaming companies are not responding appropriate to these complaints and in line with their user policies and the laws of the countries they operate in, then we should name and shame them!

Brinstar // Posted 12 January 2009 at 11:42 pm

@ dirt: There’s actually a lot of women and men talking about women and gaming, and we have been talking about women and gaming for years. :-) Games don’t get a huge amount of coverage by feminist sites. And when we do get coverage by large gaming sites, it’s because the sad, misogynistic fucks from mainstream gaming sites want to troll and flame us on our blogs. If you would like to visit a safe space for feminist gamers, check out the Iris Gaming Network: http://forums.theirisnetwork.org/index.php

I occasionally include feminist-related posts on my gaming blog, and when I have discussed issues in the past, and the post is linked by a major gaming site, I get a lot of idiots coming through and spewing their ignorant, bigoted crap all over (though no one sees it, since I moderate everything). So I feel for you.

Legible Susan // Posted 14 January 2009 at 5:04 pm


Another place you can read about women and gaming is Geek Girl at geekgirlsrule.wordpress.com, and her blogroll. Her latest post is on a related feminist issue (talking about women’s appearance when pretending to review their work).

Carly // Posted 15 January 2009 at 10:59 am

While Second Life has great potential – indeed is already used well – for networking, activism, education and awareness raising, it also has countless areas which promote and nurture a rape culture.

There are places designed specifically – with alleyways, abandoned buildings etc – for the simulation of rape and sexual assault; areas where real torture and extreme pornographic images adorn the walls of rooms filled with torture equipment and (now hidden) areas where child sexual abuse scenarios are enacted, complete with the creation of children’s toys, bedrooms and child avatars (mainly, it is assumed, played by adults).

What Second Life, or parts of Second Life, I should qualify, and other virtual worlds present for us, is another angle in the debate about pornography. They mix the animated environment of gaming with real pornography – and non photographic pornographic images -in an interactive, immersive way. It’s no longer necessary to merely be a passive viewer of pornography or to completely passively harbour a ‘rape fantasy’ or child sexual abuse fantasy. One is now able to craft areas representing those wishes and to actively participate in them with other people.

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