How Bystanders Can Help Combat Harassment and Toxicity; A New Take on Cleaning Up the Community – with sources and survey support via /r/Overwatch

How Bystanders Can Help Combat Harassment and Toxicity; A New Take on Cleaning Up the Community – with sources and survey support

Happy Friday, /r/Overwatch!

I want to open a dialogue about an old, deep-seated community issue that requires a community effort to correct: harassment.

Overwatch’s endorsement system and report feedback is helpful, but I want more. I want us to explore what bystanding players can do to better support victims of online harassment.

Encouraging apathy with the tired, dismissive mantra of "just mute them" and "don't feed the trolls" is simply not enough anymore and ignoring these situations can actually alienate the victims to the point of abandoning the game all together. Yes, mute harassers. Yes, report them. But also please take a moment to consider doing a little more by showing support for the targets of harassment. Not protect, not stand up for, just support. Below I've laid out in detail, with academic citations, exactly why you should care and how you can help!

Edit: Quick note, the point of this post can be applied to any harassment situation you see, but I am using female gamers as an example because it's what I have the most experience with, being one myself, and because Overwatch has so many female players in comparison to other FPS/MOBAS.


Many gamers I know have told me they have no idea how to respond when they hear someone harassing a woman on their team. They say they do not want to be accused of “white knighting” or that they don’t want to suggest they think the girl cannot stand up for herself. But they say they want to do something.

While women don’t deserve special treatment, they are a minority in FPS games and could use some support to help the demographic survive and grow. Overwatch actually has the largest female player demographic in its genre by a notable margin and the game means a lot to me, so I thought this would be the best place to talk about this issue.

Some of you might recognize me from my post “Why are there so many female Mercy mains?” that reached the top of this subreddit about two years ago. I still get PMs about it to this day and I hope this post will resonate with the same types of open minded community members.

Why ignoring the situation is the wrong answer to harassment…

Elie Wiesel, author of Night, wrote: “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere…”

Speaking up is about dispelling the assumption that the harasser represents the majority. The win condition here is encouraging the victims to continue engaging with the community rather than eventually quitting the game from pure demoralization or frustration.

I wouldn’t say being silent is condoning the behavior, but it certainly doesn’t help, and it does make the harasser feel like they can do whatever they want. It will take a community effort to help correct negative behavior. It’s my personal opinion (and I know many who share it) that if harassers encountered resistance from their peers every time they tried to attack someone, instead of silence that permits the behavior, we might see long term change in community toxicity.

What can you do to help?

Do not be silent. Stand beside victims of harassment and support them!

Instead of Mute and Report, make your new method of operation Call it Out, Mute, and Report.

Shut down the harasser and show solidarity with the victim. Even one sentence can help – Take your pick! Tell him you see him and you do not approve. Tell the victim that their harasser is wrong and no one else on the team agrees with them. Tell the victim you will report the harasser. Tell her she is not alone. Any one of the above, or all of them. What harm can it cause to at least try?

Why does gender matter in this issue?

“But, Ammers,”* you might say, “men get harassed too, so why should I care about women in particular?” This is a common sentiment that comes up in discussions about sexism in gaming communities and it's a totally valid question.

Women are often targeted and harassed because of their gender, something they cannot control, and this is prevalent in video game culture abroad. Men are almost never harassed because of their gender in gaming.

You never hear someone in voice comms exclaim, “OMG A MAN!” the moment a male player speaks in voice chat. You do not hear anyone saying, “Oh a MAN, you better play support because men are BAD at DPS,” and your certainly never hear, “We are going to lose because we have a man on our team and men are bad at games. They should go back to the garage and fix a car or something.”

If you do not believe this type of harassment occurs, I implore you to visit this eye-opening YouTube series called OMG A GIRL dedicated to documenting sexist harassment the streamer encounters in multiplayer games.(If someone knows of an Overwatch channel that does something similar, let me know.) If you have never seen this behavior in your games, then I envy you. This kind of harassment is REAL. It is harmful, and we as a community have the power to help fight back against it.

Statistics and Studies

The harassment of women in video games is a woefully under researched topic. However, much research has been done about the rates and types of harassment men and women encounter online in general, rather than specifically in video games, and any study you might stumble across via Google will confirm that women, especially the 18-29 age group are two to four time more likely to experience sexual harassment.

This study by the Pew Research Institute is particularly interesting in its results on how men and women perceive the seriousness of online harassment.

"Seven-in-ten women (70%) say they see online harassment as a major problem, compared with 54% of men. Younger women – those ages 18 to 29 – are especially likely to say this: More than eight-in-ten (83%) say it is a major problem, compared with 55% of men in the same age group."

“[…]women – and especially young women – receive sexualized forms of online abuse at much higher rates than men. Some 21% of women ages 18 to 29 have been sexually harassed online, a figure that is more than double that of men in the same age group (9%).”

“Overall, 11% of women have specifically been harassed because of their gender, compared with 5% of men.”

According to the Pew study women also report more than twice the level of emotional distress as men when targeted with online harassment.

The most recent study I could find on women in video games specifically was in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction in 2018: “Female Gamers’ Experience of Online Harassment and Social Support in Online Gaming: A Qualitative Study”

“Female gamers frequently talked (n = 23) about how they felt that other male gamers expected them to do badly and therefore felt pressure to prove themselves at all times. There was a common theme of other gamers acting as gatekeepers, expecting females to prove themselves worthy of playing.”

"A number of female gamers (n = 21) talked about how they felt the need to do well in gaming to prove themselves and the negative impact this had on them, and on their eventual enjoyment of the game."

“The most common theme in the discussions (n = 29) was the belief that female gamers needed to stay quiet and hide their identity from other gamers, in order to be able to play online with others, which was suggested as the only option available to them, in order to protect themselves from the negative behaviour of others.”

“There was a significant theme of females disguising their gender through the use of neutral pseudonyms and avatars and in particular of not using their voice online. For the majority of the women, this was an ongoing strategy for them to manage negative behaviour they had encountered previously and anticipated occurring again.”

Survey Results about Voice Communication and Harassment

I won’t ask you to believe me and older studies alone. Believe the women in your gaming communities now!

For this post I created a simple survey and collected over 100 responses from female gamers available for review HERE. Participants were ideally female gamers with microphones whom play competitive multiplayer team games, sampled from various girl gamer Discords, Facebook groups, and subreddits.

For the sake of brevity I’m going to go over about half of the questions and the result I thought were most notable. I am aware some of these questions could have been designed better, but I was initially unsure if I was going to pursue writing on this topic, so we are and it’s too late to change it. With that in mind, let's dive in!

  • If you have a mic, when playing competitive multiplayer team games, how do you engage with your team in regards to voice chat? (Multiple choice, required)

Context: I asked this question because I have noticed that some girl gamers will not join voice chat or join voice chat but not speak with the stated reason being to avoid harassment. I wanted to see how common this behavior was. (It's also referenced in the above study.)

Roughly 25% of participants reported joining team chat but not speaking or never joining team chat at all.

  • If you join team chat but do not speak, please explain the reason. (Optional, short response.)

Of the 42 who chose to respond to this question, roughly 50% reported not speaking in voice chat for fear of harassment, many specifically citing the tendency of players targeting them based on gender.

  • How often would you say you typically experience sexist attention or harassment in your most played competitive multiplayer game? (Required, multiple choice)

35% of participants reported experiencing sexist attention or harassment "regularly", "frequently", or "very frequently". 24% responded "sometimes". Only 7% responded "never".

Note: “Sexist attention” is admittedly subjective and could be anything from someone exclaiming “OMG A GIRL” the moment a female player speaks, to someone asking about bra size or nudes. IMO Harassment tends to be ongoing and more aggressive, such as someone yelling at a women for wanting to play DPS instead of support and not leaving her alone about it.

  • What is the most common response of the others in your party when you experience harassment? (Required, multiple choice)

This is the most important question to me personally. I wanted to know how common it was for girls to experience silence from bystanders like I often do in my games.

40% of participants answered in more or less words that their other party members ignore the situation and/or remain silent. More than I was expecting described supportive behavior, which is great!

  • What type of response to this from your team mates would make you feel supported? (Required, multiple choice)

I have male friends who WANT to know what they can do besides reporting the harasser and I figured internet strangers may have the same question.

Note: I meant to make this question required at the start but forgot until about 10 surveys were in before I fixed it, so the numbers are slightly off.

The VAST majority of participants in the survey, 82 out of 95 responses, WANT a show of support of some kind from their team. I would HIGHLY recommend reviewing the survey responses yourself. A lot of answers said something along the lines of "back me up", "call them out", or "shut them down". Some simply want their team to acknowledge the situation is happening.

Only a few participants (less than 5) said they prefer everyone ignore the harasser.

  • Have you ever stopped playing a game entirely or less than before, because of sexist harassment? (Required, multiple choice)

17% of respondents answered “Yes, entirely” and 34% answered “Yes, less than before”. I find this incredibly depressing.

Side note: White Knighting

For those unaware, “white knighting” is the act of standing up for women only because the player is attracted to her and wants to get on her good side.

There's nothing wrong with doing the right thing. "White knight" is just an insult some people reach for when they feel insulted, corrected and put in their place. A toxic stranger’s accusation should mean nothing to you. But, supporting the victim can mean everything to that person.

Call to Action!

Victims of harassment notice the silence and it breaks our hearts. It's disappointing and demoralizing. It leaves us jaded and it pushes us away from communities we want to love. Please, do not be silent. Be compassionate and stand up for what’s right. Stand by your fellow human beings in solidarity against toxicity.

Muting and reporting a harasser without also showing support for the harassed does nothing to bolster the morale of the victim. Don’t let victims of harassment, sexist or otherwise, be alienated from something we all enjoy by toxic players who do not speak for you. Use your influence to help restore faith in the video game community!

As a wise Redditor over on /r/girlgamers said to me recently:

The answer to this problem is not, "Women, just learn to stop caring how society treats you."

The answer is, " Society, stop treating women like this."

Yes, a woman can learn not to care what to think, but it won't change how she is treated, it is something men don't have to expend energy doing and as long as these attitudes are directed at women in general, we will never have equality.

So, what are your thoughts?

Edit: Lots of big WHOOSH in the comments. If you replied "just use mute" then you clearly did not read this post. The whole point of this post is that ignoring harassment situations with mute and silence is incredibly unhelpful to the targets of harassment and can actually alienate them from the community.

If this kind of topic interests you, this article might as well that I wrote a few weeks ago— Gendered Careers: Where are the women in Pro Esports? — It explores the challenges women face trying to participate in the pro scene. Issues like the one in this very post affect the gaming industry in the long term.

Submitted May 31, 2019 at 04:13PM by Ammers10
via reddit

Author: OW Highlights

Showcasing some overwatch related highlights like play of the games or memes from Reddit.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: