More articles by

Meena Kandasamy
Meena Kandasamy


Unfair game

  • When the achievement of a killing spree is more entertaining to a child than the social experience of interaction, we are perhaps not doing the right thing.

A recent online study, focusing on video-gamers, came out with a revealing finding that men who abused and harassed women players online, performed poorly in these games.

The conclusions of the study pointed out that the more poorly male players performed, the more negative comments they made about the female player. In other words, it was the losers among the men who were more misogynist. This is interesting to explore in the particular context of the video gaming world which enjoys and celebrates the socially designated "hyper-masculine" roles of killing and conquest, of violence and annihilation, of dominance and power. While the effect of this masculinity has been documented and vigorously analysed, and the impact that this can have on the social conditioning of young boys and girls who play these games have been addressed, they have not caused any major radical overhaul.

An eight-year-old child of a friend, who is very shy to talk to strangers, has no second thoughts when he is shooting dead anything that moves. When the achievement of a killing spree is more entertaining to a child than the social experience of interaction, we are perhaps not doing the right thing. When video games celebrate and award you points for killing, how do we sensitise the same young children to understand that violence and murder (even by state actors, even in the cause of "crusade against evil", even the save-earth missions) are not cool, and that they end up dehumanising their players?

It is important to look at this study beyond its original context. Women face online abuse not only in video games, but quite extensively on social media as well. The abuse on Twitter, for example, is nothing like the gaming scenario. Surely, men who hurl rape threats and misogynist slurs at women tweeters are not doing this out of a sense of loss or losing. Quite often, like the Hindutva trolls on Twitter, they might be on the ruling side, they might find themselves soaring in pride as a right-wing BJP government heads their country.

What might perhaps bind these misogynists in common (apart from the availability of plenty of time to engage in abuse), is the feeling that their territory is being impinged and invaded. So, video games being seen as a boys-only arena is highly similar to politics being seen as a male preserve. The mere fact that women are winning in games might upset the "fragile male ego", just as the simple act of a woman, yes, a woman having the courage to write 140 characters about the state of her nation, or its politics, might cause offence and outrage. The threat of harassment, and the personal experience of online abuse might be traumatic, but this is no reason why women should confine themselves to Facebook or Pinterest.

A sad development in the last week, the resignation of Reddit CEO Ellen Pao, and the very public racist and sexist hounding that she faced because of the progressive changes she suggested at the online site (such as doing away with fat-shaming forums and transphobic subreddits) must be a wake-up call for all of us who want to use the internet to make women's voices heard.

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