'I'm a female gamer. I have to hide my gender to escape the abuse.'

"Girls shouldn't play this game."

"We are going to lose because of you."

"Are you single?"

"Go back to the kitchen."

"Oooh, a gamer girl, I bet you’re a fat c***"

These are just some comments gamer, Talita Tu‘ipulotu was forced to listen to when she dared participate in the voice chat during a game of Overwatch

An avid gamer for more than 20 years, 30-year-old Talita was just trying to help her team win. Instead, she was reminded why she doesn't normally allow other players to hear her voice. Another time, when Talita dared to speak, a male gamer requested to add her to his team. 

"I thought, 'sure, he played well, we could team up and play a couple of good games'. Boy, I was wrong. He added me just so that he could hurl abusive comments at me."

Watch: Gender Roles And Stereotypes. Article continues after the video

Video via YouTube/AMAZE Org

During her first in-person game of Dungeons and Dragons, she found herself face-to-face with a male opponent. Only, he wasn’t looking at her face. 


"He kept staring at my chest area and never at my eyes. Safe to say I left real quick."

Talita has been gaming since before she was 10, picking it up more seriously at around 20. 

"I really liked the escapism gaming offered. Being a big fantasy fiend, I loved being transported into other worlds or realms where I could fight off bad guys, build worlds or cities. Just escape from reality for a while."

When she first started playing, she didn’t give her gender a second thought. Online gaming wasn’t a thing back then, so she was simply having fun with her friends. During her 20s though, she realised that despite high numbers of female gamers, she was not only part of a 'boys' club', but a misogynistic one. 

"Over time, I have developed a thick skin. I have learnt that if I want to play games, this sexism and misogyny comes along with it, and I need to get used to it because it doesn't change. Boys do it, and grown men do it."

23-year-old Chloe Henry has been a regular gamer for the past seven years, after being encouraged to have a go by a friend, and instantly loving it. 

She’d heard about sexism in gaming, of course. She knew many games were specifically catered towards men and boys too, especially online multiplayer games. What she didn’t expect was to be constantly harassed by male gamers simply for being a woman, or to have to modify her own playing habits simply to protect herself. 

The first time she experienced overt sexism was during her early days of gaming. At the time, it didn't occur to Chloe to conceal her gender, choosing female champions and a feminine in-game name. 


"I’d often have teammates insult me in the in-game chat over my skill, and gender, often comparing the two, saying it was obvious I was female because I 'couldn’t play for shit'. 

A few months ago, during a game of Valorant, Chloe responded to a question through voice chat. As soon as they heard her voice, the derogatory insults came thick and fast. 

"This lasted the majority of the 40-minute match. Not only this, but they began blocking me in-game, so every time I tried to move my character, they stood in front of me and blocked me from moving, even during fights. This resulted in themselves and me dying multiple times, and ultimately cost us the game because I couldn’t play, and they actively decided not to, in favour of annoying me."

If the goal of extreme misogynistic behaviour is to deter women and girls from playing — it works.

Both Talita and Chloe have limited or modified their gaming practices, despite how much they love it. And they say, they're not alone, with many women driven away from their passion. 

"It honestly did deter me from gaming, as it put me into the mentality of 'why bother playing games when you’re clearly terrible at them?'

"I think the in-game toxicity that’s often found in many online multiplayer games is very off-putting for a lot of women. Most of the time, the best way to protect yourself from this behaviour is to mute all forms of communication in team-based games (voice chat, text chat, etc) and report the players after the game finishes."


A boys' domain created by culture. 

Bethany Thomas is currently completing her PhD, focusing on gender in the gaming industry. The early stages of her studies revealed gamers who identified as female could specifically identify their transition from a 'person who games' to a gamer. This is in contract to males, who quickly and comfortably identify themselves as gamers, without feeling the need to pinpoint a transition period to validate the label. 

"It really emphasised how female gamers have to continuously prove their 'gamer' identity is valid and that they belong in these spaces," says Bethany, a gamer herself. 

"There is a significant number of female players now, but so few actually call themselves gamers. There’s a lot of layers of negativity around 'gamer', so I understand why people avoid it. 

"For example, games are still portrayed quite unfavourably in the media and by society; playing games is often seen as childish or harmful, and female gamers themselves face stereotypes about their competence, are hypersexualised, and often called 'fake gamers'. 

"If we started to see a positive, inclusive shift of this identity, tackling these challenges, then maybe more female players would feel like they actually belonged. That’s what’s driving my research, I think it’s time to shift the narrative about who can be a gamer."

Bethany is also Women in Games (WIG) ambassador and believes the companies that develop and create games have a key role to play in changing the culture, and preventing the online abuse that’s so rampant in the industry. 


"If you look at the statistics concerning gender-based stereotypes perpetuated by games, it shows the overwhelming role that game platforms have in these tackling these issues," says Bethany.

"They create their in-game environments, their characters, and their storylines, so to take a stance that they have no control over the out of-game environment they facilitate just doesn’t make sense.

"It’s frankly disappointing that many of them do little to nothing, especially when research shows that games can have such a crucial impact on gender identity exploration and expression, yet they often continue to push narratives that prompt hostility and toxicity in these environments."

Despite being an active gamer, with a more in-depth understanding of the cultural problems within the gaming industry, Bethany too finds herself changing her behaviour to limit online abuse. 

"There’s a reason I only play single-player games or couch co-op with people in my circle, and there’s a reason so many women and gender diverse gamers do everything they can to hide their gender identity in gaming spaces—to protect themselves. 

"But it shouldn’t be like that, why should we be limited to certain types of play, or unable to engage with players from around the world just because we don’t fit the 'gamer' stereotype? 

"The social aspect of gaming is something I’d love to be part of, I’d love to go and try playing MMOs (massively multiplayer online game). It’s a whole genre I’m missing out on because I need to protect my space, simply because I enjoy gaming and I’m a woman."


Bethany Thomas is researching the role of gender in the gaming industry. Image: Supplied. 

Time for change.

"Gaming is marketed to boys. To add to this, there are (many) games that sexualise women as the hopeless damsel or the sexy girl who you can talk to in the game, but is not really the main character," says Talita. 

"(The gaming industry) is a boys' club, when females are just as capable, if not better."

Chloe agrees, and says it’s time for the industry itself to step and take action. While most gaming platforms have reporting procedures in place to report and punish players who participate in sexist and misogynistic behaviour—which can involve a temporary or permanent ban, she says it’s not sufficient. 


"This is not a huge deterrent as players can just make a new account to continue doing the same thing. In some instances, players even create additional accounts just so they can be awful to other players in-game without risking the loss of their main account," she says. 

"I would like to see harsher punishments put in place for players who participate in sexist or misogynistic behaviour towards other players online, such as long-term or permanent bans, as these are very rarely put in place and there are currently no real deterrents to prevent individuals from harassing females in-game. 

"I would also like to see game developers, especially those working on MMOs and online multiplayer/ team-based games, implement a system that better allows players to report poor in-game behaviour, and to be notified of the outcome of their report."

Putting more women into leadership roles within gaming organisations would also help, says Talita. 

"Lead by example. Provide more support for females because these gaming publishers know exactly what goes on but always look the other way.

"Gaming is so much fun and I hate that people are missing out because of men."

Feature image: Chloe Hentry, supplied.