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Of vitriol and violence: Female gamers share their online experiences

Online gaming has been around for a long time and yet there's no cure-all for in-game toxicity.

MINNEAPOLIS — Behind the screen, the keyboard and the mouse, a gamer is a gamer before all else. Or at least, that's how Bella would like it to be 100 percent of the time.

"I heal people," she said about her role in World of Warcraft. "So I need to know exactly how much I can heal someone in how many seconds in order to keep them alive."

Bella said she has been playing the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) since 2006. She said she likes that it's a social game that requires teamwork.

"We have one big group task which is usually to go in and clear a dungeon or a raid," she explained. She added that the tasks usually involve about 25 to 30 people. "Every body has their own role to play. Everyone needs to perform their role pretty much perfectly in order to move the group forward."

It's a hobby but if you want to be good at it, she said it can get stressful at times. She said it feels good to be so good at the game. However, with high pressure situations, can come outbursts.

"We were in a group chat environment and I was trying to do my role," Bella said. "I was asking questions. I was interrupted by the leader and he said, 'you know what, your talking is really distracting.'"

She explained that communication is key during the game. So she took to typing and asking questions again. She said they muted her on chat too. Curious as to why and frustrated, she said she messaged the leader one on one to ask why this was happening.

"How I was distracting, how I'm supposed to be able to contribute," she said she wanted to ask. "And he called me a useless f***. I've been a part of this team for a while."

Bella said she believes if she were a man, she wouldn't have been called names. 

"The fact that I was obviously female, that's where the questions come up," she said. 

Bella isn't alone in this kind of experience. Our very own KARE 11 producer, Nikki Muelhausen said she also faces similar situations when she plays Rainbow Six. 

"They kill you even though you're on the same team and other times they just trash talk you," Muelhausen said. "It's a lot of sexist comments. Some people tell women gamers to kill themselves, that they're ugly. That they're fat."

Ditch the Label, a national anti-bullying organization said in its landmark study that of the 2,515 people they surveyed on an online platform, 57 percent said they have been hurled hate speech in an online game. 47 percent said they've been threatened by someone online. 34 percent said they've had their personal information publicly shared.

Jen England, an assistant professor of English at Hamline University said she has theories on why it might be so easy for toxicity to slide online.

"Honestly I think it's like the digital version of the bystander effect," England said. "If I'm playing and someone shouted at someone else saying "useless f****," I would go, oh, that's not good. Someone will say something."

England said she thinks game developers can only do so much to quell negative exchanges.

"Self-monitoring the behavior that's going on and doing more to call that out among themselves, sometimes we see that happening," she added.

Most importantly, Bella said it's about believing when women speak up about this kind of in-game abuse.

"I think there's still a lot of disbelief that it actually is the way that it is," Bella said. "I hope that there will be more enlightenment in the future as to the fact that there are these huge discrepancies in treatment and representation."

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