Discovering the dark side of online gaming

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Online gaming offers many positives to young people – the chance to continue play after school, to keep in touch with friends and family and to meet new friends all over the world.  A recent report from the University of Glasgow also shows that that playing video games has had a positive effect on players’ well-being during the Covid-19 pandemic, providing an enjoyable way of staying in touch, relieving stress, keeping players’ minds active, and offering some escape from the effects of lockdown. 

However, our report, following an initial discussion with a colleague who shared her online gaming experiences, shows that there can also be a negative side, especially for female gamers. Having worked in crime prevention and awareness previously I am pretty thick skinned, but I was still shocked at the level of abuse some female gamers experience as I learned our colleague was not alone. As the head of parental engagement at an education charity and, more importantly, as a mother of two daughters, I have a duty to raise awareness. 

No female should be subjected to online abuse and harassment ever.  The fact that 31% of female gamers do not disclose their gender for fear of repercussions is a worry.  A recent study of UK gaming attitudes and behaviours from Savanta shows the gender split of gamers is 50/50.  It concerns me that young females are receiving requests for naked pictures, being sent naked pictures, experiencing sexual harassment both to themselves and their in-game character or receiving threats of rape whilst trying to enjoy an activity.  Do I want this for my daughters? The answer is obviously no. 

Worryingly though, despite the work I am in, I have not held a single conversation with my girls about in-game chat. Why? Because it never occurred to me that I needed to.  I have discussed social media and general online safety but I have never considered online gaming a potentially harmful activity. 

We shouldn’t need to have these conversations with our daughters.  What makes some males believe they can act this way?  Why, the moment they realise that are playing against a female, do they feel the need to say things like ‘get back in the kitchen’?  Why should gender even be an issue? As parents we need to be educating our sons as well, making it clear that this behaviour is unacceptable and encouraging them to ‘call it out’ if they see others doing it.  Speak to them about the impact their words can have on others and check if they actually understand what they are saying.  If they wouldn’t act this way offline, what makes it acceptable online? 

We cannot change what has been said in the past, but we can all play our part in ensuring the next generation treat everyone with respect.  That is the best way we can keep our daughters safe online. 

Amanda Atkinson is Head of Parental Engagement at YGAM and was behind the Let’s Talk About Games: She Plays, He Says campaign.  For more information on this please visit: https://www.ygam.org/ygam-report-to-mps-highlights-online-abuse-of-girl-gamers/

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