June 9, 2021

The dark threats and sexual abuse women gamers endure

Not a day goes by, says Sunpi, a high-profile gamer, that a man she doesn’t know sends her a dick pic, or asks if he can.

And the abuse she endures is often violent in its language. “I’ve had people online harassing me saying they’ll murder me and murder my family if I don’t give them attention”.

The sexual abuse and sinister threats Sunpi has faced are sadly by no means unique. Woman in gaming routinely suffer sexual harassment, aggressive abuse and sometimes even graphic threats of rape and murder from male gamers.

Research, shared exclusively with The Independent, found abuse experienced in the highly male-dominated world of gaming can often move on to social media and even translate into offline stalking and harassment.

The study, carried out by Young Gamers & Gamblers Education Trust (YGAM), discovered some 35 per cent of women said they have been sent inappropriate content or messages from other gamers. Some 28 per cent of female gamers have been sexually harassed by fellow gamers and 40 per cent verbally abused by gamers while playing online multiplayer games.

Almost three in 10 female gamers said they had been excluded from taking part in games due to their gender, and the majority of the 2,000 male and female gamers polled by the charity do not think enough is being done to tackle such toxic behaviour within gaming.

Sunpi, who streams on popular gaming site Twitch, said male gamers relentlessly comment on her appearance when she is playing a game such as Fortnite or Call of Duty – adding that she is also bombarded with comments about her race.

“I am constantly sexualised,” she adds. “They say: ‘You should make an OnlyFans. They don’t say it to the men. They say: ‘Oh she is so exotic’. Everything is always picked apart. The way I look. The way I put my leg out. I’m just trying to live without constantly being told I need to do porn. I’m told I’m being too sexual. I don’t sit or stand right.”

Sunpi, who lives in the Midlands, said she regularly discovers innocuous clips of her simply sitting gaming fully-clothed have been uploaded to pornographic site Pornhub without her permission.

“I did a blog where I went to the gym and was playing Nintendo on the treadmill, while training, to promote a healthy lifestyle while gaming,” she recalls. “A segment was taken out of the video and put on PornHub. I had to reach out and they removed it. Now I’ve got a point of contact to be like: ‘Hey can you please remove it?’ as it happens a couple of times a month.”

Sunpi, who has a hefty online following on various social media platforms, said as well as being relentlessly objectified, people tell her she is a “fake gamer” on a daily basis and that she is somehow not really playing games.

“They say I’m playing games for male attention,” Sunpi, who has been playing games since she can remember and now earns a living from gaming, adds. “They say: ‘I don’t believe this girl plays games’. I’m a minority in gaming. I’m a mixed-race woman gamer.”

She said this week she received a message from a man offering her a £1,000 to send a naked video of herself farting, while others offer to pay her to meet up with them.

“Or they say, ‘If you let me send you dick pics, I will give you a £1,000,’” Sunpi adds. “I’m not an item you can buy. I’m so used to it, I just think: ‘Whatever, it is what it is’. I would never give up gaming because of this harassment. The positive feedback from my followers is why I do it.”

But the horrific repercussions of such online abuse transcend the computer or mobile screen and can translate into real-world danger – with Sunpi recounting when a gamer stalked her and tried to work out where she lived.

“Being online can be so stressful because of those reasons,” she adds. “It makes me sometimes feel a bit insecure within myself. All the time I question the way I dress. Also sometimes I feel stressed and overwhelmed. Recently a brand told me I was too risky. If you look at the content on my Instagram, it is not risky.”

In February, a female gamer, 19-year-old Ingrid Oliveira Bueno da Silva, was found murdered in Brazil, allegedly at the hands of a male rival gamer.

Bryter, a market research company that carries out annual polls on female gamers, discovered an average of 10 per cent of female gamers received rape threats between 2018 and 2020.

Jay-Ann Lopez, the founder of Black Girl Gamers, tells The Independent women gamers endure a great deal of “vitriol” online – with people hurling “racist and sexist epithets” at them.

“I get emails with the n-word, or where I’m called a monkey, or a racist, or a race-baiter, or a lot of comparisons to gorillas,” she adds. “As a lighter-skinned black woman who is slim, I don’t experience some of the negativity to a lot of body shapes. Most women I know have experienced some kind of sexism or sexualised comments to them in gaming.”

Ms Lopez, who founded the popular gaming collective in 2015, said male gamers had told her “women should belong in the kitchen” and have demanded she make them a sandwich.

Last summer, more than 70 people in the gaming industry – who were predominantly women – went public with allegations of sexism, gender-based harassment and sexual assault via Twitch, Twitter and other social media platforms.

Molly Barker, a 21-year-old student who lives in London, said she hasn’t gamed online for years after facing abuse from men when she was younger.

“It’s just not even worth going online,” Ms Barker, who studies Psychology and Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience at Royal Holloway University, says. “If a man feels outclassed by a woman in a game then he is more likely to abuse her. Lower to medium level players are more likely to abuse.”

She said when she streamed on Twitch men messaged asking to buy nudes, and when she has voiced opinions on gaming on Twitter, she has had people say: ‘Shut up I’ll hurt you’.

“It was just for having an opinion on a video game,” she adds. “Gaming is meant to be an escape. Gaming is about not thinking about things. But it allows people to abuse anonymously. It makes them more emboldened. It gives people an anonymous platform to spew toxicity.”