Women gamers are a growing group, fighting old problems

2:24 AM, Feb 26, 2013   |    comments
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CLEVELAND -- Online gaming: It is a virtual world with real problems.

When you hear "gamer," you probably think of a young, teenage boy, but women make up almost half of all gamers and they're the gaming industry's fastest growing demographic.

The problem is, when they get online, women face brutal and sometimes constant harassment.

Meet Annika Traner. She is neither fat, nor ugly. 

Yet, while playing World of Warcraft, the guys she was playing with found out she was a girl -- and asked her:

"They said, so are you fat, ugly or both?" said Traner. "And to that I said neither... just a girl."

"Calling you a b----, w----, slut, stuff like that," said gamer Ashley Lambrakis. "Talking about your breasts maybe. Women who play online are often singled out and harassed by male gamers."

"This is a much more serious problem than people realize," said Dr. Paul Skalski, a professor at Cleveland State University. 

Among the classes Skalski teaches at CSU is a course called Video Games and Society.

"I think there's a segment of the male gaming community that sees this as their space -- and especially the first person shooter games like Halo and Modern Warfare." Skalski said. "They see these games as theirs."

There's a saying when gamers suddenly discover that they're playing with or against a girl online. The most common response is "Oh, so are you fat, ugly or slutty?"

In fact, the harassment has become so pervasive that several websites have popped up where women can upload harassing comments.

That brings us to fatuglyorslutty.com. The website breaks down such comments into subcategories including "crudely creative," "death threats," "fat," "ugly" and of course, "slutty."

Here are some samples of these "gems":

"You must be so [expletive] fat, I bet you got a bag of chips right next to you and it's family size."

Or this question: "Do you have big boobs?"

Those comments may seem incredible, but to people like Ashley, who has been playing for years, they're not.

"Then they like to harp over your features even though they don't know who you are or what you look like or anything like that," Lambrakis said.

So how do gamers even know you're a girl? Two ways: Either by playing with a headset so they can hear the other players, or they tell them.

"I'm glad I stood up for myself," Traner said. "Just because I'm a girl, it doesn't affect how I play. I play just as much as them. I play just as well as them. I was at the same level as them."

"The online gaming community needs to stand up against this," Skalski said. "This is not acceptable behavior. We should not have this happening."

In fact, change may be inevitable.

Millions of people play video games online, the industry makes more money than Hollywood.

More women are playing now than ever before and gaming experts predict the majority of gamers could be women by the end of 2013.

"Video games are really important to me," Traner said. "I think they're fun and I would hate for other girls not to have the same chance to play."

The most important piece of advice is that parents need to get involved, according to gaming experts. If you have a son or a daughter playing online games, make sure you know what they're playing and who they are playing with.


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