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PAX Panel Discusses Sexism and Defusing Trolls

Posted on Monday, September 1 @ 12:00:00 PST by
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Neils Clark and Jennifer Allaway have done their research on sexism in the video game industry and their credentials speak for themselves. Clark currently serves as a professor at DigiPen, one of the most well-known game design schools in the world, while Allaway has been conducting social research at Willamette University and their panel titled “Safe Spaces for All: Sexism in Gaming” discussed the problems facing all gamers when a small demographic feels unwelcome or hated in the medium.

Specifically, the duo define sexism as “discomfort or discrimination due to gender” though they recommended gamers themselves take broad views on the subject in order to allow for more views to grow understanding and acceptance. While most of the panel focused on what an individual can do when met with a troll, Allaway provided quite a few statistics that show that both men and women believe games could do more to accept individuals of all backgrounds.

“59.2% of women disagreed with the statement that men’s and women’s voices are respected equally during meetings at work, compared to 33.6% of men” working in the video game industry. When female developers themselves have stated that their voices are not respected equally in the work space, something definitively needs to change. It should be abhorrent to consumers, especially gamers who want the industry to grow and include both genders, that female employees feel so disregarded in their working environments.

In fact, this trend doesn’t just stop when a game ships to retail. Allaway said that player groups are also effected. “77.7% of women and 62.6% of men believe that the way we portray women in video games has negative effects on the game-playing community. 66.9% of women and 64% of men disagreed with the statement that female game players have equal voices to male game players,” though the number of male voices shouting over women online may be driving those figures.

“Trigger words exist in sexist speech just like they exist for people returning from war with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” Clark said. Research has established that the “troll” exists as a demographic itself and defining the behavior has allowed interested parties to say more explicitly “sometimes these folks are going to be trolling no matter what,” Clark said. Research says that the typical “troll” is 29 years old and that they are both socially isolated and extroverts at the same time, while video game use typically takes the form of long play sessions.

Both panelists suggested that the best course of action when dealing with a “troll” online is to speak to them directly. If someone is doing something that they don’t clearly see as offensive, maybe you should talk to them directly. This does help to change behavior and Clark shared an anecdote of a friend who actually thanked him for calling out the use of a word that was offending others both online and offline.

“If you don’t feel represented, you don’t feel welcome, if you don’t feel welcome, you don’t participate,” Allaway said. This loop drives people to outsider-status and perpetuates many of the issues facing the gaming community today. To that end, one subject in a study Allaway conducted summarized the effect of ignoring the gender gap in the culture of video games.

When this particular gamer was asked what she would change about the presentation of women in video games, her response was simple.

“I would like them to look more like olympians and less like playboy bunnies.”

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