In the infamously toxic worlds of online gaming, the simple revelation that an actual, real-life woman is playing can inspire others to berate her with horrifying, sexist comments. Unfortunately, these situations have almost become the norm in online spaces. In fact, a 2014 study published by the Pew Research Center found that 25% of women between ages 18 and 24 had experienced sexual harassment online.
That number won't come as a surprise to anyone who's played an online game — like, ever — but a new thread on the Overwatch Reddit lists in unsettling detail the types of abuse female players endure on a daily basis. As of this writing, the thread's nearly 2,700 comments are filled with players sharing stories of sexual harassment in competitive Overwatch — and it's absolutely gut-wrenching. Here's an overview.
Overwatch players share their stories of sexual harassment over voice chat
Reddit user neutrondamage started the conversation with a post on /r/Overwatch, inspired by her recent uptick in playing the competitive mode of Overwatch as much as possible before its third season wraps up. As the amount of time she spends in competitive Overwatch increased, so too did the amount of horrible sexism she's experienced — such that she called it "one of the worst" weeks she's had, in terms of harassment.
Here's neutrondamage's quick list of things players have said to her over voice chat in that short time:
• "Can I get some nudes?"
• "Hey, why aren't you in the kitchen making me a sandwich?"
• "Let me lick your gaping donut hole."
• "You're a small tittied bitch."
• "I bet you have a fat cunt."
If you think playing with a male friend might fend off the worst of it, that doesn't seem to work either. Neutrondamage said she often groups up with one of her guy friends; she included some of the (arguably worse) things other players say in that situation. For example:
• "Awe, little girl has to queue with her boyfriend."
• "Can I get a turn at pounding that pussy, my man?"
Neutrondamage posted these comments not only as a way to open the eyes of those in the Overwatch community who don't deal with this kind of harassment on a regular basis but also to field suggestions and stories from other women in the community.
"I try so very, very hard not to respond to people that say this kind of shit, so much that I'll leave voice channel if it gets really bad," she wrote. "I always block and report them after the match, but sometimes I just stop queuing completely because I'm scared that I'll get matched up against them again and I'll have to endure more."
The Overwatch community chimes in with their own stories, suggestions for improvement
Unsurprisingly, the entire Reddit thread is filled with other players chiming in with their own, equally horrifying stories of harassment. We've excerpted just a couple of them below.
"Unfortunately it's not just the OW community, it's all games ... in fact, it's the entire internet," Reddit user shimmybee said. "Experiences like this have actually made me terrified to talk over chat anymore and generally ruins games for me."
"I usually never go on voice chat, but a friend of mine convinced me that 'people aren't that bad' so I went on voice with him for a couple of games," said Reddit user Elizabuddy. "Literally the first game we went into with voice chat, there was a guy who started asking me how sexy I was, if I could send him pictures, if my friend was my boyfriend, if I wanted some dick pics, etc."
A common response to these types of stories is to characterize the harassment as a one-time thing, or as something only the worst among us are capable of committing, but that's simply not the case, according to redditor Jyn-walker.
"I can come up with more than a couple examples of guys I've met through school or work — or otherwise randomly been acquainted with — that I either know for a fact or suspect is capable of treating someone like this if it has no way of getting back to them," the user said. "My point is, the problem itself is very old, it's just that they now have the safety of anonymity to say directly to the girls what they have been saying to their guy friends (sexist jokes, rape jokes, etc.), and don't expect this behavior to change anytime soon."
It's not hard to find video footage of these types of interactions, either. For example, at the beginning of this video posted by YouTuber Blondie Pwnz, you can hear another player say, "Oh, look, guys, a girl that plays Mercy. Way to fill a stereotype."
No other players step in to defend her.
How can Blizzard fix the problem of harassment in Overwatch?
Unfortunately, the common sentiment in many of the comments — like this one posted by entertdp and this one posted by Rawflax — is that Blizzard isn't very responsive when it comes to implementing meaningful punishments for players who are reported for this type of behavior.
Certainly, sexual harassment is an issue that pervades our society at every level, but there are tangible things Blizzard could do that might improve the climate a bit. For example, League of Legends sometimes rewards players who haven't been reported for bad behavior with exclusive in-game items. Similarly, Dota 2 follows up with players who have filed reports and lets them know whether the player they reported was actually banned.
A system like this would create a bit more accountability in Overwatch, forcing Blizzard to follow up with players who experienced harassment and let them know what it thought was an appropriate punishment for the behavior they reported.
But, until Blizzard takes more drastic action, these types of stories are likely to continue unabated. Mic has reached out to Blizzard for comment and will update with any response.
More Overwatch news and updates
For more on Overwatch, check out the rest of what Mic has to offer. Here is a list of our predictions for what seasonal events might appear in 2017, a look at a very funny but naughty meme on the Overwatch subreddit, an interview with the creator of an awesome new Overwatch zine, the full patch notes for Overwatch version 2.03, a full explanation of the different types of health in Overwatch, our definitive ranking of every Overwatch hero, a roundup of awesome gender-bent Overwatch cosplay and a giant Overwatch FAQ for beginners.