Online gaming offers many positives to young people – the chance to keep in touch and have fun with friends and family, as well as the opportunity to make new friends all over the world. A report from the University of Glasgow found that playing video games had a positive effect on player wellbeing during the Covid-19 pandemic, providing an enjoyable way of staying in touch, relieving stress, keeping minds active, and offering an escape.
However, there can also be a negative side, especially for female gamers. Following an initial discussion with a colleague who shared her online gaming experiences, I was shocked by the level of abuse she often suffered, and soon realised that she wasn’t alone. As a charity that focusses on harm prevention, we have a duty to raise awareness, which is why we recently hosted a roundtable discussion with gamers, parents and academics to learn more.
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 girls are receiving requests to share pictures of a sexual nature, being sent pictures of a sexual nature, and are being subjected to sexual harassment both personally and through their in-game character.
Despite the work I am currently in (as the Director of Programme Engagement at Young Gamers & Gamblers Education Trust [YGAM]), and despite having worked for over 10 years as a primary teacher, not once have I spoken to my two boys about their attitudes towards girls during in-game chat. Why? Because I mistakenly didn’t think I needed to. We have covered lots of other potentially harmful activities, including drugs, alcohol, gambling, social media and general online safety. But now I do bring this into our discussions.
Offline, you can see what’s going on in the playground, but many of us are currently sending our kids to a virtual playground and we don’t know who is in there or what’s being said. That has to stop.
What makes some people believe they can act this way? Why, the moment they realise they are up against a female, do they feel the need to make sexist and misogynistic comments? Why should gender even be an issue? We need to be educating our children, both as teachers in the classroom and parents in the living room, making it clear that this behaviour is unacceptable and encouraging them to ‘call it out’ if they see or hear others doing it. We must check if they even understand what they are saying and how this may make others feel. If they wouldn’t act this way offline, what makes it acceptable online?
We can’t change what has been said in the past, but we can all play our part in ensuring the next generation treats everyone with respect.
You can find out more about the YGAM Let’s Talk About Games: She Plays, He Says campaign. The three recommendations we made in response were the need to:
1. Inform parents of the realities and dangers of online gaming
2. Educate young people on what constitutes sexual harassment, and that gaming is for everyone
3. Safeguard girls and women following harassment.
We encourage all parents to visit our Parent Hub, which provides parents with easy to digest information about gaming and gambling. It includes some useful resources to demystify the world of video gaming, and information on how to spot the signs of gaming and gambling harms, how to broach the subject with young people, and where to access help and support.
Education has a crucial role to play in this and we believe this education should be targeted at not just young people, but also parents, teachers, youth workers, staff in HE and FE and health professionals – anyone who can positively influence the wellbeing of young people.
However, we realise that we can’t do this alone, and that’s why we support campaigns such as NCFE’s Call It Out campaign, which is bringing together industry leaders and stakeholders across the education, business and not-for-profit sectors to promote online kindness and identify ways in which we can come together and tackle the growing issue of toxic behaviour online.
For further guidance and information, visit the YGAM website. You can also read more about the Call It Out campaign to access further resources.
Young Gamers & Gamblers Education Trust (YGAM) is an award-winning charity committed to a social purpose to inform, educate and safeguard young people against gaming and gambling harms.
Kev Clelland is Director of Programme Engagement at YGAM and a parent to Wilson (13) and Hughie (9).