Illustration of a woman playing online games

Online Games: Why Misogynist Put Women As Objects

Online games turned out to have several problems. This multiplayer game model has the potential to create hierarchies so that inequality and power relations within the online game ecosystem are prone to occur. Not to mention toxic masculinity and online gender violence that is prevalent there.

The interaction between gamers becomes a space for various expressions of toxic masculinity, sexual harassment, and online gender-based violence. So what is the position of women in the gaming ecosystem in Indonesia?

Since the pandemic spread across the globe, many people have been playing online games on a regular basis. Unlike console games, most online games do not initially require sophisticated equipment or expensive software. All you need to do is download the game, and you can start playing.

However, players must exert effort over a long period (grinding) to reach a certain level. In addition, we must interact with other players in multiplayer online games to develop game characters.

As one of the players, I experienced how interactions between players can hone instincts and skills in communication and politics. Strategizing and negotiating are essential if you want to survive and win in multiplayer games.

Every day, gamers play more than just games. They communicate with fellow players on WhatsApp, Viber, Discord platforms, or forums to discuss various dynamics, strategies, and drama.

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In those interactions, I feel that some male gamers only see female gamers as sweeteners and mood enhancers. Women are objectified in online games. This biased view is shared by many players. Many female gamers are superior, skilled, resilient, detail-oriented, and capable of establishing balanced interaction. However, that is sometimes drowned out by the mindset that female gamers are not strong enough if they are not supported by other male players.

The study entitled ‘The Meaning of Gender Identity in Crossgender Players in the Toram Online Indonesia Mobile Game‘, published in the Communication Research Journal, explains the phenomenon of male gamers disguising themselves as women, known as hode, by using female avatars (displays of the identity of game characters).

Some of the benefits targeted by hode players are being perceived as real women and receiving material support (gifts) to increase strength, ranking, and prestige in the game. If you look at it further, this hode appears because stereotype perspectives are still rooted and the perpetuation of discrimination against female gamers.

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Basically, a player’s existence in an online game is largely determined by the illusion of hierarchy that is created. Power and strength in the game are bought with money. With this difference in authority, inequality, and power relations within the online game ecosystem are prone to occur. The higher the player’s position in the competition ranking, the more respected he is.

In addition, there are always specific players who play a significant role in the team or guild (alliance). They often become ‘investors’, and the power of money is glorified as the determinant of fate in the game.

When a strong player supports many other players, there is always a ‘price’ (consequence) to be paid. Exchange of consulting services and game accounts, providing certain services in games, to other things outside the game, such as establishing an intimate relationship or pressure to follow the wishes of certain parties.

It is not uncommon that interactions are colored by intimidation, violation of personal matters, and sending messages or pictures without consent. Affairs can take to more extreme levels, even involving borrowing money and extortion.

Game avatars are often seen as sexual objects, so users are imagined to have the same appearance as the avatar. Because of this, it is common to find a variety of perverted expressions that objectify the female body, such as referring to avatars as masturbation material.

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Gamers also use chicken, pussy, or genital organs to mentally drop opponents, while these terms are pejoratively equated with women.

Specifically for Indonesian gamers, I have observed several chat and chat habits that violate ethics and privacy. In the minds of many Indonesians, it seems that women are sexual objects, weak, fragile, need protection, do not have high skills, cowards, and various other misogynistic views. This affects the way they talk about and treat women in online games.

For example, some Indonesian gamers like to mention names or genital parts to make fun of or think it’s funny. Some like to talk about, joke about, or use the word ‘widow’.

Media Tirto once revealed that the negative stereotype of widows had been rooted for decades in Indonesia. Various Movie titles, songs, and books describe widows as seductresses, flirtatious, home wreckers, and sex-crazed women.

As a result, the widow becomes the object of sexual fantasies at an exaggerated level. Gamers Indonesia names various things in the game (alliances, buildings, cities, castles, ID, pets) with the word ‘widow’. For example, Widow lover, widows squad, widows attack, Widow city, and others.

In conclusion, gamers’ interactions become a space for various expressions of toxic masculinity, sexual harassment, and online gender-based violence (KBGO).

The occurrence of GBV in Online Games

Actually, gender discrimination is almost non-existent in the game’s technical or built-in systems. Both men and women have the same opportunity to play without any differences in treatment from game developers. But the bias comes from fellow players.

Behind the sophisticated appearance, there’s tons of hidden exploitation, discrimination, and abuse of power in the game world. Collective awareness about the importance of treatment without discrimination and oppression is rare. All gamers prioritize ego and personal ambition first. Lack of understanding and experience makes it difficult for female gamers to position themselves among hundreds to thousands of other players.

Most game players use pseudonyms, so there is a misleading impression that as long as their actual identities are not exposed, they are safe from consequences. Various surveys, such as those from Ditch The Label (an anti-bullying agency), Newzoo, and Wire, stated that 81% of online game players have at least experienced harassment from other players. Yet harassing, mocking, racist and sexist comments are normalized as a colorful part of the gaming community.

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Due to the lack of consequences or punishments, bullying can only be ignored if it already occurs in the game. Block buttons and actions from game administrators can prevent victims from being re-exposed. But only some are aware to report it to the game development team.

Inequality of power in the game will always tie players to the hierarchy. If they want to create a safer and friendlier gaming environment for women and reduce toxic behavior, game developers must provide strict sanctions for perpetrators, either temporarily or permanently. For example, they are consistently removing the right to speak for perpetrators of hate speech, discrimination, and harassment.

Freezing game accounts can also be applied even if the account is important and significant. Making a game account into an official account that is bound to one’s identity is also essential so that a sense of responsibility can arise for gamers.

Everything in the game is temporary. However, the fight against discrimination, bullying, and sexual violence must be consistent. Ignoring problems will not make the  in-game atmosphere better. A little effort to fight back will go a long way.

Dear female gamers, be careful in responding to various in-game offers.

(Translated by Marina Nasution)

Venny Tania

Pekerja Freelance

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