A short report exploring the abuse and harassment of female gamers created by UK charity The Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust (YGAM) has been submitted to MPs on the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Video Games and E Sports.

The report, which details the experiences of some young women whilst playing video games online, seeks to raise awareness and address ways of ‘preventing sexual harassment and misogyny in gaming’. The inspiration behind the report was a roundtable event organised by the charity’s Parental Engagement programme as part of its new ‘Let’s talk about Games’ campaign.

The team from YGAM joined a small group of academics and female gamers who have spoken out about the issues facing women in the world of online gaming, including Dr Sarah Hays, an American Psychologist and campaigner for queer women in E Sports. Evidence was also given from several young female gamers about their own experiences, and the report documents some alarming examples of the behaviour they have encountered online.

Dehenna Davison MP, is a member of the APPG on Video Games and E Sports, is a regular gamer and has been from a young age. She welcomed YGAM’s report, saying: “Though there can be a perception that they’re just for young lads, video games really are for everyone. I started playing as a 4-year-old with my dad, and since then I have seen the industry transform dramatically.”

“With the rise of online gaming, levels of online abuse have sadly risen too, and it’s particularly bad if you’re female. I have lost count of the number of times I heard a group of teenagers on their headsets moaning because they didn’t want a girl on their COD team. We all need to get better at tackling this and calling out any abusive behaviour to make sure everyone feels safe whilst gaming.”

Gaming companies are aware that misogyny and sexual harassment occurs on virtual platforms, and are taking steps to confront this issue. Approaches to the problem differ; Call of Duty, who banned more than 350,000 accounts for toxic behaviour in the last year, have implemented new technology to filter potentially offensive text chat, while Counter-Strike allows the user to kick a person out of a game. The majority of game developers also have zero-tolerance policies towards activities that could be considered abusive.

YGAM have made the decision to submit this report to the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Video Games and E Sports in Westminster as the charity believes this could be a good place to start in recommending key actions that could be taken, specifically around education, to ensure this behaviour is tackled.

One young female gamer, Mollie Barker, said: “The first time I experienced a threat [online] I was 14 or 15. It was the first time I had ever opened this game and the first time I had played it online. After that, I didn’t play online again for 2 years.”

Another gamer, Lisa Kelly, spoke about the behaviour regularly experienced by herself and other female gamer friends online: “It’s just so normalised and there are so many rape threats just casually thrown in there. On top of generally sexist comments, there’s an extra layer where it gets a bit more toxic. There’s general abuse that we’ve all received, like, ‘go kill yourself’ or really awful things like that.”

Katie Tarrant, a Student Journalism Manager at YGAM who compiled and produced the report, said: “We wanted ‘She Plays, He Says’ to convey an inherent dynamic we’ve been told exists in the online gaming community: what is often a form of escapism or skilled hobby for young women is too frequently ruined by a few words from male gamers.

Gathering this evidence has confirmed my belief that education is the way forward in tackling misogyny and abuse targeted at female gamers. I hope this report goes some way to making sure that need for education is recognised by parliament.”

The report makes three key recommendations, based around the charity’s mission statement to ‘Inform, Educate and Safeguard’ young people against gaming and gambling-related harms. The recommendations are as follows:

  1. Inform parents of the behaviour young people could be exposed to while gaming.
  2. Educate boys at a young age on rape culture and discrimination and the impact these words said during online gaming can cause.
  3. Safeguard female gamers and create a safe environment where victims of sexual harassment are supported.

Young people are now growing up in a digital world and everyone should be able to enjoy the many positives of gaming. However, it is essential that our future generations are always safeguarded and education has an important role to play.