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Top Tips

Expert advice on how to play smart.

Sexual harassment in games

Dr Rachel Kowert

As video games become increasingly played online, the concern about sexual harassment in video games continues to grow. This has left many to wonder what to do if they experience sexual harassment while playing online as well as whether or not online games culture condones, or even promotes, sexism.

What is sexism and sexual harassment?

Sexism and sexual harassment is the exclusion of and discrimination toward an individual because of their gender. Recent research found that as many as 60% of female game players have experienced in-game sexual harassment of some kind, with 80% of players indicating that sexism is prominent within online games communities.

In social games, sexual harassment typically occurs through chat features. This can include verbal and/or graphic harassment.

Verbal harassment refers to offensive sexual messages being aimed towards a victim by the harasser, such as unwelcome sexual remarks or sexual attention. Graphic harassment refers to the sending of erotic, pornographic, or lewd images and/or recordings to a victim. This can occur via email or instant messaging, depending on the chat mechanisms afforded within any specific game. For more specific examples of the kinds of sexual harassment are being experienced in online games, visit the website “Not in the Kitchen Anymore.”

How and why does sexual harassment occur in online games?

It is unclear why sexual harassment has become so rampant in online games. One theory is that male players feel threatened by female players, especially when they are more skilled at the game itself and, more broadly, may feel threatened by women encroaching on what has typically been a “man’s domain”.

Some believe that harassment in online games is also promoted by the “online disinhibition effect”. This refers to the sense “you don’t know me” and “you can’t see me” players can experience while online. When combined, these feelings of anonymity reduce the perceived consequences for harassment as players feel less responsible for their actions and believe that are less likely to be punished for them.

That said, research in this area indicates that despite the prevalence of sexist and misogynistic behaviours in online gaming communities, there is no evidence to suggest that these kinds of behaviours necessarily cultivate real-world sexist or misogynistic behaviours.

What should you if you or someone you know is experiencing sexual harassment while playing online social games?

Be aware that you or someone you know may experience discrimination towards women and let them know they may be exposed to sexist and misogynistic behaviours while playing online. Report any discriminatory behaviour or harassment through the various in-game reporting features. In online games, these are typically built in to the game itself or the gaming platform. For example, Facebook can be contacted directly through their support centres should you or someone you know experience harassment while on their platform.

Dr. Rachel Kowert is a research psychologist and internationally respected expert on video games. She has written several books which help cut through the hyperbole and, at times, conflicting arguments on the impact and use of  games. Rachel serves on the board of DiGRA (Digital Games Research Association) and the International Communication Association (ICA) Game Studies Division. For more information about her and her research you can visit her website at


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