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Microsoft announced on January 18, 2022, its purchase intent video game giant Activision Blizzard. The company, publisher of the best-selling video games Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and Candy Crush, has been the subject of a series of sexual harassment and discrimination complaints. A day before Microsoft’s announcement, Activision Blizzard announced that it has laid off “nearly 40 employees” since July following an investigation of hundreds of employee reports of misconduct.

California sued Activision Blizzard in July 2021, alleging a “pervasive ‘frat boy’ culture” at the company and discrimination against women in pay and promotion. The suit caused a company employees strike who demanded that the company address the problem.

The turmoil is an echo of the infamous game gate 2014 episode featuring an organized online campaign of harassment against female gamers, game developers, and gaming journalists. The allegations are also of a piece with a decades of history of gender discrimination in the field of technology.

It’s unclear if and how quickly Microsoft will address Activision Blizzard’s discriminatory culture. Regardless of what happens within the company, the issue of sexual harassment in gaming culture involves the industry as a whole, as well as gamers and fans.

We’ve been covering sexual harassment and gender discrimination in gaming, and tech in general, and we’ve picked five articles from our archive to help you make sense of the news.

1. Gaming culture is toxic, but community norms can change it

Things have not been steadily improving. The shift to online activities caused by the pandemic was accompanied by an increase in online harassment and a decrease in the number of women and girls playing video games.

More than a third of female gamers have experienced bullying, and female gamers have developed coping strategies such as hiding their gender, playing only with friends, and shutting down bullies by playing more than them, according to the University of Oregon professor. amanda costa. These strategies take time and energy, and they prevent bullying rather than challenging it. Challenging bullying is also tense, because it usually provokes a violent reaction and puts the burden on the victim.

Ending bullying boils down to creating and supporting community norms that discourage rather than allow or encourage bullying. Game companies can adopt practices beyond banning harassers that discourage behavior before it happens, including reducing opportunities for conflict outside of the game, adding recognition for good behavior in-game, and responding quickly to complaints .

“If esports continues to expand without game companies addressing toxic environments in their games, abusive and exclusionary behaviors are likely to become entrenched,” he writes. “To prevent this, players, coaches, teams, leagues, gaming companies and live streaming services must invest in better community management efforts.”


Read More: Here’s what it takes to clean up the toxic esports culture


2. It’s not just the players, the fans are part of the problem

Go to any sports stadium and you will see that the atmosphere that excites both the players and the fans comes from the fans. For esports, the venues are streaming services, where fan reaction comes not in cheers and chants, but in the form of online chat.

professor at the University of South Florida Giovanni Luca Ciampaglia and his colleagues analyzed chats on Twitch, one of the largest streaming services that streams live esports. They found a clear distinction in the language fans use when commenting on players, called streamers, depending on the genre.

“Watching a man stream, viewers are usually talking about the game and trying to interact with the streamer; gaming jargon (words like ‘points’, ‘winner’ and ‘star’) and user nicknames are among the most important terms,” he writes. “But when watching a woman broadcast, the tone changes: the jargon of the game falls and the language of objectification increases (words like ‘pretty’, ‘fat’ and ‘boobs’). The difference is particularly striking when the streamer is popular, and less so when looking at comments on the activity of less popular streamers.”

As with the games themselves, combating harassment and discrimination on streaming services comes down to community standards, he writes. Streaming services “need to examine their cultural norms to remove toxic standards that effectively silence entire groups.”


Read More: Can Online Games Shed Its Sexist Ways?


3. College esports leagues don’t reflect the population of video gamers

Esports is becoming big business, with over $1 billion in revenue, and college leagues are a major component of the field. Just over 8% of college esports players and 4% of coaches are women. Low participation rates are not a reflection of interest: 57% of women aged 18 to 29 play video games that are in the esports category.

Boise State esports coach Doc Haskell watches graduate scholarship student Artie ‘N3rdybird’ Rainn compete in a match.
Photo AP / Otto Kitsinger

Players face open hostility and harassment, which discourages participation, according to SUNY professor Cortland. lindsey darvin. College teams often engage in tokenism by signing a single player, and the the vast majority of scholarships go to male players.

Professional esports organizations are beginning to address the gender gap. Colleges and universities should do the same.

“U.S. federally aided colleges and universities are required to improve opportunities and access for participation under Title IX policy, which prohibits sex discrimination in any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance “, writes.


Read more: At colleges across the country, esports teams are dominated by men


4. Lessons from the Tech Field: Diversity and Equity Require Empowered Women

The roots of the toxic culture of esports lie in decades of gender discrimination in the field of technology in general. That discrimination has proven stubborn.

“In 1995, pioneering computer scientist Anita Borg challenged the tech community to a shot at the moon: equal representation of women in technology by 2020”, writes the professor of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Francine Berman. “Twenty-five years later, we are still far from that goal. In 2018, less than 30% of employees at the largest technology companies and 20% of professors in university computer science departments they were women.”

Reversing discrimination is a matter of changing cultures within organizations. “Diverse leadership is a fundamental part of creating diverse cultures,” he writes. “Women are more likely to thrive in environments where they not only have stature, but also responsibility, resources, influence, opportunity and power.”

“Cultural change is a marathon, not a sprint, requiring constant vigilance, many small decisions, and often changes in who holds power,” he writes. “My experience as director of a supercomputing center and with the Research Data Alliance, the Sloan Foundation and other groups has shown me that organizations can create positive and more diverse environments.”


Read more: Tech field failed 25-year challenge to achieve gender equality by 2020: cultural change key to getting on track


5. The myth of meritocracy is an impediment to equality

The myth of meritocracy is a big part of the longevity of gender discrimination in the tech field. That myth says that success is the result of skill and effort, and that the representation of women is a reflection of their abilities.

In the USA, women own 39% of all privately owned companies, but receive only about 4% of venture capital funding, according to Brown University professor Banu Ozkazanc-Pan.

“However, the myth of meritocracy, which my research shows has a stronghold in the world of entrepreneurship, it means that women are constantly told that everything they have to do to get more of it $22 billion or so in venture capital funding is make better pitches or be more assertive,” she writes.

What the tech field calls meritocracy is in fact a gender bias and results in mostly white males getting access to resources and funding. “By continuing to believe in meritocracy and upholding the practices associated with it, gender equality will remain a distant goal,” she writes.

adopting gender-aware approaches, including setting concrete goals for gender balance, is key to correcting the imbalances caused by the myth of meritocracy.


Read more: Women in tech suffer from the American myth of meritocracy


Editor’s note: This story is a digest of articles from The Conversation archives. This is an updated version of an article originally published on July 30, 2021. Updated to include Microsoft’s intention to purchase Activision Blizzard.


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