Is XBL A Breeding Ground For Sexism?

J. Paradise recently began a series over at DailyGame called Confessions of a Girl Gamer, cataloguing some of the less-fun aspects of multiplayer gaming on Xbox Live. As a female gamer, she noted some of the less pleasant behaviors of the majority of the other gamers on the system, who presumably are male, if common sense and all known statistics can be trusted.

While most of her complaints are entirely valid and each of the behaviors she describes is undoubtedly annoying, I thought there were one or two points which deserved to be responded to, given the criticism the gaming industry receives almost daily in the current political climate for promoting sex and violence. Before this and other articles get referred to in an attempt to heap the charge of promoting sexism among America's youth gets piled onto the heap, it might be worth thinking a little further on some of the topics J. Paradise raises.

Paradise cleverly puts a good portion of her article in the format of a mock wildlife documentary, where unsophisticated and immature male gamers treat female gamers like some "rare and elusive" beast, and then proceed to be rude to them.

Should you come across one of these females, be sure to make yourself look as incompetent as you can. This can be achieved by asking her completely uniformed questions and making sexist comments. A good way to start is to constantly ask her if she is in fact a girl, regardless of the fact that her gamertag positively identifies her as a female. Names that would denote gender, such as 'girl'(or any odd spelling variation there of) 'woman' and 'lady' can all be misleading, and should be ignored until further proof of gender is gathered.

I think Paradise is being unncecessarily unkind when complaining about disbelief among gamers about her gender. This is entirely understandable on the part of most gamers and easily avoided from her own side.

The fact is that, for whatever reasons, the majority of gamers on systems like Xbox Live are male, and among the portion of that community using what seem like feminine names (as opposed to male-sounding or more neutral names) are a significant number of males. Whether this is due to RPG fans who like playing female characters on-screen so they have something pretty to look at, or to serious questions of gender identity, I honestly have no idea. But like any other piece of personal information you can glean from a chatroom or online game service, having a feminine-sounding name is no more indicative of being female than having any other kind of name is indicative of the opposite.

In fact, more than anything else, I am prompted to ask why Paradise or any other "girl gamer" would choose a name specifically for the purpose of pointing out the owner's gender. While XBL has its share of names with "man" or even "boy" in them, the majority do not. And while many might seem to be masculine, due to references to death, destruction, killing or 1337ness, that association may be purely arbitrary.

What is so special about being a girl who games that Paradise feels the need to point out the fact that she is a girl gamer? And having done so, is it not logical and natural to expect that choice to prompt inquiries such as she describes-- either disbelief about her professed gender, or insults catered to her professed gender?

Now that we have all of the formalities out of the way, let's move on to the actual game. It is imperative that you call her every name that you can think of which is specifically derogatory to her gender throughout the entire game. She will pretend that she doesn't like it, but a little known fact about the Girl Gamer is that she actually enjoys being called 'bitch', 'slut', 'whore' and 'dyke' every 2 minutes. Also, try to be helpful by reminding her of her (and her entire gender's) place. Statements such as "Girls can't play Halo" or "This is a man's game, bitch" work nicely. Sometimes, just a simple "Get back in the kitchen" is all that is needed. The name calling and sexist remarks will be sure to please the female, and it will ensure that she will accept the friend request that you will invariably send after (or during; refer to the above paragraph for proper timing) the game.

The mistaken assumptions are pretty thick here, even if the essential complaint-- that players on XBL are, as a rule, foul-mouthed and rude-- is fair.

First of all, as for being called 'bitch', 'slut', 'whore' and 'dyke'-- I think with the possible exception of the last, just about every male gamer who has played on XBL for more than five minutes has been called each of these many times. While these words may have once been associated only with the female gender, this is no longer so, especially within gaming communities. "Bitch" is used almost generically now, having evolved from slandering women by associating them with canines, to being used as slander against men for being like women ("I'm going to make you my bitch" and so on) to being a catch-all insult word good against anybody. "Take that, bitch" is about as generic a comment as you'll get on Xbox Live-- regardless of the gender of the speaker or the insult's target.

The same goes for "slut" and "whore" even if their usage is slightly less. However, even if it were not so that these words have become more gender neutral over time in their common usages, the bald fact is that players on Xbox Live are foul-mouthed and rude. If they are choosing these words in particular to use because of a gender bias they see in a gamertag, the essential behavior is the same: they are insulting their opponents. They are merely using different words than they would if the gamertag they were insulting was gender-neutral-- although, as I've pointed out above, maybe not, as it seems just about everybody today is a bitch.

Of course, phrases like "girls can't play Halo" and "get back in the kitchen" seem more blatantly sexist, but to be honest I've heard both of these used against male gamers as a way of impugning their ability and their masculinity. This doesn't make the remark any less sexist, but it seems that the problem here is that femininity itself is being used as a pejorative-- the only difference here is that when it's used against a female gamer the denotation is correct even if the connotation isn't, whereas against a male gamer neither is.

When Paradise sarcastically remarks that "the name calling and sexist remarks will be sure to please the female" I have to wonder why this is even relevant. Xbox Live may exist to please its subscribers; but the subscribers pay and connect to the service largely to please themselves, not each other. While such rude behavior is, and should be, against XBL's policies, and those policies should be enforced to make XBL a safer and more fun place to play, there is a lot of distance between that and the sentiment that one should be logging on with the intention of pleasing one's opponents. And the word "friend" in "friend request" I think probably should not be read too literally.

If you find yourself actually losing to the girl, make up excuses to account for your poor performance. Blaming it on lag is the tried and true method, but don't be afraid to get creative. You could try 'I am sick right now because while I was visiting the rainforests of Brazil, a howler monkey threw poo at me, and I contracted a rare form of monkey hepatitis.' (Warning: Do not use the aforementioned example. This excuse was thought up by someone who is creative, as well as intelligent. Two things that you, quite apparently, are not.) The Girl Gamer may appreciate the effort you put into to making your excuse clever and unique, and will help to separate you from the other 100 jerks she played with that day that sent her friend requests.

Again, I don't think any of this behavior is defensible, but neither do I think any of it has to do with Paradise's gender. Losers always have excuses for losing, whether it is lag, hacks, cheats or rare diseases-- regardless of who the victor is. I've also consistently seen rude and uncouth players send me friend requests after games. I've no idea why they did that, but clearly it had nothing to do with my gender. Why should her treatment have anything to do with her gender? In fact, if she's expecting to be treated better than any other XBL subscriber, isn't that asking for a kind of sexism?

As a girl gamer on Xbox Live, it is more common to be sexually harassed and called derisive names than it is to be just left alone. On the rare occasion that a group of males actually compliment our skills, it is indeed a shock.

If you take out the word "girl" in the first sentence, you get "As a gamer on Xbox Live, it is more common to be sexually harassed and called derisive names than it is to be just left alone." That statement is just as true with or without the word "girl".

Take out the word "males" in the second sentence and replace it with "players" and that sentence is also just as accurate as it was before. I remember playing Myth when every game ended with a chorus of "gg"-- either heartfelt or at least obligatory. When playing Halo 2 on XBL, it's an exception rather than the rule.

This basically tells me that while there might be sexism (as well as racism) lurking on Xbox Live and other online gaming networks, the predominant problem is the same one eloquently expressed by the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory-- that anonymity plus an audience turns otherwise normal people into foul-mouthed jerks, regardless of their own gender or the gender of the audience.

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Comments

I was hoping somebody would write a comment like this (of course, everybody could do it themselves, but its more fun to see somebody else have the same thoughts as you) Excellently written, people are jerks online, PERIOD! gg is a line you get rarely in any game these days. i see it in SubSpace (Continuum to those newer players) but thats about it these days. Thanks :D

I totally agree with Narcogen about knowing if someone is female or not. To this day there are perhaps 2 people I have played with on live (that I don't know personally) that I am sure are female. With all the younger-sounding male falsettos it can be difficult in the heat of battle to tell. That said, I would personally like to have Jocelyn Paradise's gamertag so I could play some games with her and she'd see that some of us are actually normal guys. I'd like to think that I restrain myself to some low-key smack talk and that I am a little funny too. But of course, if I asked for it, the immediate suspicion would be that I was trying to "hit" on her or harass her or something like that. The fact that 1) I am already seeing someone 2) that would be an idiotic waste of time would not really matter. I'm damned before I start.

Narcogen, I appreciate your thoughtful response to J. Paradise's article. I am a girl gamer and would like to respond to some parts of your response & add a couple thoughts: You say: "In fact, more than anything else, I am prompted to ask why Paradise or any other "girl gamer" would choose a name specifically for the purpose of pointing out the owner's gender...What is so special about being a girl who games that Paradise feels the need to point out the fact that she is a girl gamer? And having done so, is it not logical and natural to expect that choice to prompt inquiries such as she describes-- either disbelief about her professed gender, or insults catered to her professed gender?" I say: Though I personally picked an ambiguous GT to minimize sexist comments, I understand girl gamers who do pick gender-specific tags. For one, most players' GTs are kind of an alter ego, after all, and the names they choose reflect their character. Plenty of guys I know pick characters from their favorite books or movies, and they're usually male characters--like SithLord, GodOfWar and Vader--because they're men. I would have loved to choose a pretty, evocative name like Leia or Atalanta that celebrates my femininity, but I didn't have the guts to deal with the abuse. More power to those who do. Two, we are the few and the proud, so to speak, and we like to represent--it's similar to sports fans who have GTs with their team name, or weed aficionados who have GTs like "24/7Chronic." Three, GTs are a form of networking. If you're a Simpsons fan & you play with a cool guy named ChiefWiggum, you might send a FR. Similarly, if I play with someone with a tag that indicates she's a girl, I'll send a friend request. There don't seem to be too many of us out there, so I'm always on the lookout for gamer gals to play with. I'm not an ingenue, so I know misogyny exists. But I don't think we can blame girl gamers for not expecting to be insulted at every turn. What a number of my girl gamer friends have said is that they expected the insulting comments--just not the vociferousness and frequency. The intensity of the insults... I think you have to experience it to understand how shocking it can be. I played a game on Midship where, for the duration of the match I was specifically targeted because the opposing team heard my voice and recognized that I was a girl. The entire match, they chanted "kill the bitch. kill the whore. get that dyke" and then gunned for me. My brother and my husband were on my team, and they were shocked. Yes, I realized those guys probably belong in therapy, but I was still shaken. You say: First of all, as for being called 'bitch', 'slut', 'whore' and 'dyke'-- I think with the possible exception of the last, just about every male gamer who has played on XBL for more than five minutes has been called each of these many times. I say: I agree that "bitch" is now FFA term. However, I would venture that women get called "slut," "whore" and "dyke" significantly more than male gamers. I play 2-3 hours of Halo 2 a day, so I've experienced a lot of matchmaking, and I've never heard the guys on my team called a slut or a whore. You have hit it on the nose when you say "it seems that the problem here is that femininity itself is being used as a pejorative." That's an insightful comment. I won't follow up, because it would fill up a book. At the heart of J. Paradise's humorous article is the truth that girl gamers experience discrimination and abuse because we are girls. No, it's not the end of the world, and yes, it's the jerks who are responsible, but you can understand if we feel like complaining about it once in a while. If you're a guy and you think your gender is getting a bad rap, stick up for a girl gamer who's getting harrassed. If I hear someone making racist comments in a match, I'll tell them "that's unacceptable, and if you keep it up, I'll feedback you." Or if they're telling everyone, male or female, "bitch, how do you like that?" over and over, I'll say "c'mon, that's wrong--does talking like that make you feel better about yourself?" A lot of times, the person will actually stop. We can all speak up for each other without stooping to the offenders' level, and perhaps even make XBL a better place for a few minutes. In closing, I have met a number of really nice guys on XBL, including in matchmaking. My clan (which includes my husband & brother) is mostly men, and they're all great guys, too. I'll actually be sanguine and say that many XBL players are courteous--it's just that we notice the loudmouths more.

Thanks for your own very thoughtful response.

To keep things short, I'll just reply to a few points of the top of my head:

I'm not denying the existence of sexism (racism or any other ism) on XBL, because they do exist there-- just like in any other part of society; my main drive was to try and separate out the majority of the abuse, which is targeted at anything and anyone, and genuine sexism, which while it occurs, is usually secondary to generally rude behavior.

My goal in doing so is not to apologize for racist and sexist jerks, but just to try and strike a cautionary tone among gamers; such articles are often intended to point out flaws within a community so members can take action. However, they are often used by those outside such communities as justification for taking action against the communities themselves (ie, let's ban violent video games because they promote violence, racism, and sexism).

On feedback; I do indeed give feedback on XBL users who behave this way. In fact, I've often wished that there were "racism" and "sexism" choices for feedback. Sadly there are not, most likely for legal reasons. No doubt there would be eventually a lawsuit against Microsoft for being aware that XBL subscribers civil rights were being violated some way, and the existence of "sexist" and "racist" feedback against a user would be evidence that Microsoft was aware of the problem but did not take action. So I doubt we'll see those added.

As for choosing feminine names-- I do understand why female gamers would want to choose them, especially in the context of using favorite fictional characters. I admit that it is shameful that one might have to restrict one's choice of name to avoid possible abuse.

The question I was asking was about the type of names that Paradise mentioned-- names that literally contain the word "girl" or "grrl" or some such variation.

While I'm not trying to blame the victims here at all, I can see where male gamers on XBL think names of those types are put there expressly for the purpose of attracting attention from them, or perhaps an assertion that the girl gamer is somehow different (better) than they are.

This certainly doesn't excuse the behavior, even if it does help explain it a little.

Thanks for taking the time to read and respond.



Rampant for over six years.

XBL isn't a breeding ground for sexism, so much as a breeding ground for hate for all. Either they win or they hate everyone who played that game with them. It isn't just for the ladies, it's for everyone unlucky to have to play with the griefers.

I totally agree with this person. Not only is it a breeding ground for sexist statements, but also racist statements. While she does raise some valid points about using derogatory statements because she is a girl, it is also true that those same statements have been used on many a male. The gamertag having a feminine ring to it really isn't an indication either on whether or not the player is female. However, this does not make of the statements right or less hurtful. Racism is also a big one to deal with. Just last night (July 4, 2005) while playing with friends who have been on my list since about the beginning of Halo 2, a few of them started telling racist jokes that were derogatory towards black people. Being black, the statements caught me off guard and totally unprepared. I didn't respond back during the conversation, but I left the game after a few minutes. Of course I've heard it all before during games, but never from people on friends list. It's probably safe to assume they didn't know I was black, but I would never make a racist joke about a white person either. So on one hand it's very disrespectful and totally discriminating to be called racist or sexist terms, but on the other hand, one just has to realize it's ignorance. It's not going to stop me from playing and I've had to deal with racist terms my whole life to my face and not a virtual gamertag. I'm sure many women have had to deal with sexism in their personal lives as well. So if this keeps you from playing I understand and that's totally fine.

I totally agree with this person. Not only is it a breeding ground for sexist statements, but also racist statements. While she does raise some valid points about using derogatory statements because she is a girl, it is also true that those same statements have been used on many a male. The gamertag having a feminine ring to it really isn't an indication either on whether or not the player is female. However, this does not make of the statements right or less hurtful. Racism is also a big one to deal with. Just last night (July 4, 2005) while playing with friends who have been on my list since about the beginning of Halo 2, a few of them started telling racist jokes that were derogatory towards black people. Being black, the statements caught me off guard and totally unprepared. I didn't respond back during the conversation, but I left the game after a few minutes. Of course I've heard it all before during games, but never from people on friends list. It's probably safe to assume they didn't know I was black, but I would never make a racist joke about a white person either. So on one hand it's very disrespectful and totally discriminating to be called racist or sexist terms, but on the other hand, one just has to realize it's ignorance. It's not going to stop me from playing and I've had to deal with racist terms my whole life to my face and not a virtual gamertag. I'm sure many women have had to deal with sexism in their personal lives as well. So if this keeps you from playing I understand and that's totally fine.