5 essential reads about sexual harassment and discrimination in gaming and tech

Microsoft announced on Jan. 18, 2022, its intention to purchase video game giant Activision Blizzard. The company, publisher of top-selling video games Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and Candy Crush, has been the subject of a series of sexual discrimination and harassment complaints. A day before Microsoft’s announcement, Activision Blizzard announced that it has fired “nearly 40 employees” since July following an investigation into hundreds of reports from employees 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 prompted a walkout by company employees who demanded that the company address the problem.

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

It’s unclear whether or how quickly Microsoft will address Activision Blizzard’s discriminatory culture. Regardless of what happens within the company, the problem of sexual harassment in gamer culture involves the industry as a whole, as well as players and fans.

We’ve been covering sexual harassment and gender discrimination in gaming – and technology generally – and picked five articles from our archive to help you understand the news.

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

Things have not been getting steadily better. 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 harassment, and female players have developed coping strategies like hiding their gender, playing only with friends and shutting down harassers by outplaying them, according to University of Oregon professor Amanda Cote. These strategies take time and energy, and they avoid rather than challenge the harassment. Challenging harassment is also fraught, because it typically sparks a backlash and puts the burden on the victim.

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

“If esports continue to expand without game companies addressing the toxic environments in their games, abusive and exclusionary behaviors are likely to become entrenched,” she writes. “To avoid this, players, coaches, teams, leagues, game companies and live-streaming services should invest in better…

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