Virtually Living in a Man’s World

Online and video game culture is infamous for its unabashed trash talking. When asked about the issue of sexism in the online sphere, many casual male gamers are quick to correct that sexism isn’t the issue, but that everyone is a victim of ‘shit-talking’ whether they are involved in forums or games. But “Women,” says Grace, aka gtz, co-moderator of Fatuglyorslutty.com, “have a particular experience in gaming.” Grace’s Fatuglyorslutty.com is a blog that is humorously documenting this particular experience.

Type Fatuglyorslutty.com in your browser and it may not be what you were expecting (fetish porn or a website run by men aimed at rating women, like the intention of first generation Facebook). Their headline reads, “You play video games? so are you … Fat, Ugly, or Slutty?” Ashlee, a huge Gears of War fan, noticed she had been receiving a lot of messages to her player inbox and they were always the same, “I’m either fat, ugly, or a slut!” She was sitting around in a chat room with some of her friends reading the messages, and one of those friends was Grace. “I usually play androgenous (default male) because I kind of had a sense of what was going on in multiplayer online, especially first person shooter.” The goal of Fat, Ugly, or Slutty is to document the all-too-common behavior toward women online, while offering a type of comedic relief, an alternative to anger or frustration.

“Instead of getting offended, we offer a method for people to share these messages and laugh together, ” the blog reads in their ‘About’ section. Within the blog, the moderators have broken down the nature of these messages into 15 different categories the messages might fall under: from “Crudely Creative” where players sending rude and gross, yet creative messages are given snaps for the unique approach, to “Jeepers Creepers,” which display very creepy and often misspelled, grammar-inadequate messages, to “Sandwich Making 101” which captures everybody’s favorite ‘women in the kitchen’ sexist joke. Fat, Ugly, or Slutty has thousands of submissions and their blog has only been running since January of 2011.

“There is a very clear line between trash talking and harassment,” Grace explains, and what Fat, Ugly, or Slutty displays is the epidemic of unpoliced harassment.

Many users and gamers in the online community acknowledge that gender-based harassment is happening, but shrug their shoulders and fling the phrase “Boys will be boys!” in defense. Many of the casual male gamers I’ve spoken to about this issue are quick to defer the blame to younger kids between the ages of 11 and 16, because they are immature lack understanding of women, or simply don’t know any better. These older male gamers do this partially because they may not be aggressors themselves or because they have never been gross, repeat offenders but maybe hit on a girl gamer once or twice. These casual gamers who deny sexism’s prevalence in online gaming do not realize that even though they may not be at fault, many of their friends or guys that they play with and around are guilty of very similar messages like those found on Fat, Ugly, or Slutty. They see online gaming as a male-dominated sector, and just like many things that are male dominated (the military and male-centered sports like football and wrestling) there is an acceptance that the behavior and actions will be aggressive, macho and degrading towards others that don’t fit in a the very constricting definition of ‘their masculine’. “It is a brush off idea that ‘boys will be boys,’” Grace calmly explains, “Therefore we should just brush it off, and not say anything about it and not correct them about it.” Jenny Haniver’s site, Not in the Kitchen Anymore is full of evidence that gender-based harassment in gaming is not an ‘11 year old boys will be 11 year old boys’ type epidemic – it’s much older and much more serious than that.

Notinthekitchenanymore.com is similar in idea to Fat, Ugly, Slutty in that it documents indesputable forms of verbal abuse and harrassment in online gaming. Jenny Haniver is an extremely skilled Call of Duty player with a Kill to Death ratio (K/D: how many kills a player has versus how many times they have died) of 2.11. An average K/D for a casual player is around .70; while on a forum for Call of Duty, a couple posters say anything above 1.0 is good because it means that a player has more kills than deaths. Jenny plays COD, as it is referred to by frequent players, with friends and uses a headset to communicate. Almost every time she is on headset, sexually charged verbal abuse ensues. She began documenting these conversations in 2010 as part of an art exhibit at her college’s student gallery. The art exhibit featured two Xbox controllers; one pink and one blue. The controllers functioned as headsets that gave the listeners a typical female and male experience playing live. On the walls surrounding the two Xbox controllers, Jenny posted phrases she had recorded from her own experiences playing COD- simple yet effective. The site Not in the Kitchen Anymore is a spawn of that 2010 art exhibit in which she captures conversations held playing live, records them, types them up in a transcript noting which voices are her friends and which are random gamers and displays them on her website.  Like Fat, Ugly, Slutty’s audio files, it is almost impossible to dispute the meaningful aggression of these attacks and the age discrepancy when one can hear clearly the voices of men (not 13 year old boys, but grown men) on audio saying things to Jenny such as, “Jenny, I’m gonna fuck you! I’m gonna fuck you so hard! (another random gamers laughs) Jenny sounds SO GODDAMN HOT. Just gonna FUCK HER.” It takes so little to provoke these players, even her silence is powerful. On Jan. 29, 2013, Jenny posted this recording and transcript: “What’s up Jenny? (silence) What’s up Jenny? (silence) Fat fuckin’ whore!” Jenny has found comments and blog posts written by men about her site and their take on a woman’s treatment in games. These posts address whether women do or do not get harassed, why they do, and what women can do to avoid it. Many of the posts follow the persistent idea that trash-talking is part of the culture, and it shouldn’t be taken seriously or policed.

Grace has hope for her site and others like Jenny Haniver’s “Not in the Kitchen Anymore” to become part of the “gamer consciousness,” to recognize the sexism, misogyny and harassment as one of the many issues in online gaming. Already, game production companies like Riot Games, creators of League of Legends, have created a task forces within their company to improve the player toxicity level in their games. This includes a player voting system called a tribunal, where unbanned players ranking at a level 20 can review reported cases of breaking code of conduct and impose sanctions. These tribunals can impose warnings on reported players and even temporarily enforce player-bans based on their rulings. The tribunals have been incredibly successful at stopping the feedback loop of toxic players, for 74 percent of players receiving warnings from the League of Legends tribunal never have another case back in the tribunal. Statistics like these, and efforts like that of Riot Games are incredibly positive but they are only just beginning. In the unpoliced and unregulated free-for-all world of online gaming, who will have the poise and power to control what gamers say and how they behave?