Since the 1980s, the link between video games and its potential to cause or instigate violent behaviour (particularly in children and youth) has been a topic of comment, study, and research. Yet while sexism, misogyny, and violence against women (VAW) in video games has been noted as far back as 1982 with the protests against Custer’s Revenge by women’s groups for its inclusion and depiction of rape, VAW continued to be exploited by video games and normalised as part of gaming culture.
The major turning point arrived when the #Gamergate controversy erupted in 2014 and the sexism and violence in the gaming community and industry caught the attention of mainstream media as many women developers and gamers were publicly targeted by male gamers through online abuse, doxxing, and rape and death threats. Some of these women even moved homes because of the magnitude of the threat of violence.
Gamergate highlighted the urgent need to address the large-scale sexism and violence experienced by female gamers, especially in the tremendously popular MMO games where gamers gather online in teams and bullying and harassment is as easy as sending a volley of abusive misogynistic vitriol over one’s microphone. Many individual activists, groups and gaming companies have started working on accelerating ongoing efforts, preventing and addressing this violence. Their change-making efforts are slowly paying off: post-Gamergate there has been an increase in women entering the gaming industry as developers, reviewers, and players.
In this list, we present 16 individuals and organisations working to directly address and eliminate VAW in gaming in various ways ranging from critiquing video gaming violence and conducting research on gaming and sexism to building more female-friendly spaces in gaming and paving the way for VAW-free videogames in the market.
With 52% of gamers identifying as women, it’s definitely time to stop violence against women in gaming. Together.
Introduction by Rubina Singh and Regina Yau; Written and compiled Rubina Singh with additional content by Regina Yau
Campaigner Against VAW in Gaming #1: Anita Sarkeesian – Canada
Anita Sarkeesian is a feminist social critic and founder of Feminist Frequency who has been fighting to end VAW in gaming for many years. Through her web series Tropes vs Women in Video Games, Anita shone a light on the rampant sexism and violence against women prevalent not only in video games but also within the gaming community. Thanks to her work, Anita has been the target of vicious harassment campaigns time and again including the infamous Gamergate. While her work to bring an end to VAW in video games continues, Anita is also working towards online safety for women.
Campaigner Against VAW in Gaming #2: AnyKey – United States of America
AnyKey is an organisation dedicated to supporting and advocating for diversity in esports by fostering welcoming spaces and positive opportunities for competitive players of all kinds. Currently, the organisation’s research and initiatives are focused on women in esports, including providing competitive gamers with resources, support and opportunities, as well as collaborating with women in the industry to build better gaming spaces for women and girls.
Campaigner Against VAW in Gaming #3: Brianna Wu – United States of America
Brianna Wu is a video game developer and the co-founder of the game development studio Giant Spacekat. She also created one of the first video games with only female characters. A vocal opponent of sexism and VAW in video games, Brianna found herself facing extreme harassment and abuse in the wake of Gamergate. Brianna is now running for congress so she can participate in making changes at the policy level to ensure safety for women.
Campaigner Against VAW in Gaming #4: Code Liberation Foundation – United States of America
Code Liberation was started in 2013 to teach women, non-binary, femme and girl-identifying people to program. As part of their approach to addressing the underlying sexism in gaming, Code Liberation provides access to computer science to people who may not have considered entering STEAM fields because of sexism. By creating a supportive atmosphere for women and other non-binary folks, Code Liberation hopes to bring some much-needed change in the gaming industry.
Campaigner Against VAW in Gaming #5: Douglas Gentile – France and the United States of America
Dr. Douglas Gentile, a professor of psychology at Iowa State University, has been trying to shine a light on the impact of VAW in video games. In a recent study, Dr. Gentile and his team of researchers surveyed 13000 French adolescents and found a link between video games and sexism. While there has been previous research about the amount of VAW shown in video games, it would be dismissed on the grounds that it did not encourage users to emulate similar behavior. Dr. Gentile’s study, however, provides the missing piece of the puzzle – evidence that video games encourage sexist attitudes in young people.
Campaigner Against VAW in Gaming #6: Emily Matthew – Online
In 2012, Emily Matthew undertook an online survey with 874 participants to find out more about VAW and sexism in video games. According to her findings, 60% of female respondents faced harassment while playing video games and 79.3% agreed that sexism is prominent in the gaming community. Talking about why she undertook the research, Emily shared in an interview, “I have been a target of sexual harassment, especially when playing online on public servers with people I don’t know. I think that the community recognizes that it’s there. But there’s never really any sort of empirical data to use when discussing it or arguing against it. I only have anecdotes to describe what’s happening to me, and I think people take that less seriously than if you have hard data to support your claims.”
Note: Ms. Matthew’s photograph and country details are unavailable.
Campaigner Against VAW in Gaming #7: Jennifer Brandes Hepler – United States of America
Jennifer Brandes Hepler is the editor of Women in Game Development: Breaking the Glass-level Cap – a book which highlights the personal accounts of 22 women who work in the game industry regarding the encounters they have faced ranging from sexism and harassment to hostile employers. In the book, Hepler wrote: “If there is one thing you get from reading this book, I hope it is to recognise that there is no single narrative of being a ‘woman in games’. But although the characters change, the setting is the same, and the hostility and ignorance we have all faced continue to be a defining part of many women’s experience of games.” It is her belief that continuing to speak out about discrimination and violence against women in the industry as well as playing and creating games that counteract sexism and misogyny is the way forward.
Campaigner Against VAW in Gaming #8: Kanane Jones – United States of America
Kanane Jones is a video game developer and creator of the game Final Girls. As a survivor of abuse, Kanane wanted to develop a game that focuses on what happens to a survivor after the trauma and how they move on with their lives. While creating the game was cathartic for Kanane, she also hoped that it would bring more attention the issue of VAW.
Campaigner Against VAW in Gaming #9: Leigh Alexander – United States of America
Leigh Alexander is an author and journalist who focuses on writing about sexism and VAW in video games. She was former editor-at-large for Gamasutra and later became editor-in-chief at Offworld – a gaming site focused on diversity and inclusiveness within the gaming community. Like many of the women on this list, Leigh was also harassed and abused during Gamergate.
Campaigner Against VAW in Gaming #10: MissCliks – Online
MissCliks is an organisation comprising gaming community leaders who banded together to use their influence and voices to champion a world where people of all genders can participate in geek and gamer culture without fear of prejudice or mistreatment while enjoying acceptance and opportunity. At present, the MissCliks team is focused on “recognising the under-representation of women as role models in geek and gaming culture, giving support and exposure to those female role models, and helping to create a culture of authenticity, advocacy, unity, and bravery.”
Campaigner Against VAW in Gaming #11: Nina Freeman – United States of America
Nina Freeman is a game developer who is transforming the industry by creating innovative video games about sex and relationships without any form of VAW. Many of her games are autobiographical in nature and she has also made a game called Freshman Year that explores abuse and unwanted attention in a college setting. Talking about the relevance of her work, Nina shared, “It felt really good to be a part of a community of women who care about helping the industry become more diverse and inclusive. It’s definitely an important pursuit.”
Campaigner Against VAW in Gaming #12: Punchdrunk Games – United States of America
Led by a group of women and non-binary folks, Punchdrunk Games is a video game development company that creates games without any form of VAW. Their most popular game to date has been Regicide: Tale of the Forgotten Thief, where the player follows the story of a female lead. One of the team members, Jelly Rains shared in an interview about how she feels that their involvement in the gaming industry will help to make it safer for women: “When I heard about GG [Gamergate], I realised that there was a need to make the gaming industry safe for my daughter and all other young women. The only way I can make sure that happens is by me being in the game industry myself.”
Campaigner Against VAW in Gaming #13: Randi Lee Harper – United States of America
Post-Gamergate, Randi Harper wanted to facilitate systemic changes which prevent online abuse from occurring. As a game developer, Randi faced online abuse even before Gamergate and had created a tool known as ‘ggautoblocker’ to protect users from mob harassment on Twitter. She later founded the Online Abuse Prevention Network to prevent and mitigate targeted abuse online.
Campaigner Against VAW in Gaming #14: Re-figuring Innovation in Games – Canada
Re-figuring Innovation in Games (ReFIG) is a project undertaken by a team of researchers and led by Professor Jennifer Jenson from York University. A team member – Dr. Alison Harvey from the University of Leicester’s Department of Media and Communication – explained, “Women and girls have largely been excluded from games culture − as players, makers and protagonists. Additionally, many of those who do participate in games have been publicly harassed both online and offline as exemplified by the ‘Gamergate’ hate campaign. Addressing long-standing gender inequalities in the global digital games industry is a vital means by which to stimulate innovation and sustain the growth and consolidation of this massive creative arena.” Through the project, the team seeks to address these issues and develop an inclusivity toolkit for the games industry and gender-inclusive curricula for game programmes and incubators among other outcomes.
Campaigner Against VAW in Gaming #15: Shannon Sun-Higginson – United States of America
To bring mainstream attention to sexism and misogyny in the gaming industry, Shannon Sun-Higginson directed a documentary called Get The F**k Out (GTFO) in 2012. The documentary looked at the commonplace VAW in the gaming community through interviews with video game developers, journalists and academics.
Campaigner Against VAW in Gaming #16: Zoe Quinn – United States of America
Zoe Quinn is a video game developer and programmer who was at the center of the infamous Gamergate controversy. Zoe had spoken out about gender inequality in gaming for many years, and post Gamergate, she faced immense online harassment and abuse. The controversy brought mainstream attention to VAW in gaming. She is now working to address online abuse through her organisation Crash Override.
- Anita Sarkeesian – From “Anita Sarkeesian” (Jessica Zollman / Anita Sarkeesian)
- Brianna Wu – From “Brianna Wu vs. the Gamergate Troll Army” (Michael Friberg / Inc.)
- Code Liberation Foundation – From “Interview with Phoenix Perry of Code Liberation Foundation” (VG Revolution)
- Douglas Gentile – From “Researchers find Video Games Influence Sexist Attitudes” (Iowa State University News Service)
- Jennifer Brandes Helper – From “How women in gaming face hostility” (Polygon)
- Jennifer Jenson – From “Distinguished Scholars – DiGRA”
- Kanane Jones – From Kanane Jones on Google+
- Leigh Alexander – From “Leigh Alexander Bio” (Kotaku)
- MissCliks – From MissCliks.com
- Nina Freeman – From “Meet Nina Freeman, the Punk Poet of Gaming” (The Guardian)
- Punchdrunk Games – Still of Regicide from “Punchdrunk Games” (Facebook)
- Randi Lee Harper – From ‘Randi Lee Harper on Twitter’
- Jennifer Jenson – From “Distinguinshed Scholars – DiGRA“
- Shannon Sun-Higginson – From www.shannonsun.com
- Zoe Quinn – From “Gamergate Target Zoe Quinn can Teach us How to Fight Online Hate” (Wired)