[Content Warning: Sexual Violence]
Blizzard has failed to build a safe and inclusive community, and its time for that to change.
Overwatch’s game chats and voice channels are filled with rape threats and sexual harassment against other players, and I am done. Many Overwatch players apparently feel comfortable and justified in dropping rape threats and sexually charged attacks on other players, and the responsibility for this lies on those gamers, the community who doesn’t call them out, and Blizzard who refuses to take any significant punitive action against players who engage in this harassment.
Spaces online are increasingly filled with violence and threats, and I believe that its more than just “the trolls.” These threats are a calculated political attack on the inclusion of women in games. The sexual harassment of the Overwatch community is designed to force both men and women with moral character out of the community so that they can play with other degenerate players without those pesky good people with a conscience getting in their way. Regardless of your sex or gender, these rape threats are violent and unacceptable.
I have written about the topic of sexism in video games before. In response to my first article, folks told me that it just wasn’t a problem. They said I was being too sensitive, and that I should just ignore the rape threats. Listen to that sentence again, I was told to ignore rape threats and sexual harassment. The idea that we should maintain a culture of silence, and that women should just leave, is not a new form of discrimination. In fact, threatening women with violence might be the oldest form of discrimination within humanity. The maintenance of “boys clubs” and male only spaces has always relied on violence and threats to keep women and less traditionally masculine men out of many spaces, especially gaming culture.
This is an account from my partner, who has experienced these rape threats first hand within Overwatch time and time again. I am tired of watching people I care about attacked and harassed by the Overwatch Community.
I’m well aware of the aggressive nature of chats in video games. I know that instigating toxicity is going to be met with toxicity. I know that people like to joke and insult. However, the level of rape culture that thrives in gaming is so mind-boggling that I don’t even know what to say anymore.
I love to play Overwatch. It’s a fun game to play with friends, and theoretically fun to play with strangers. The problem is that a lot of the strangers like to throw out homophobic and sexist slurs, and threats of sexual violence very, very often. This type of harassment is aimed at men and women alike, as most people do not reveal their gender or sex online. Even so, these types of threats are especially alienating to women, gay men, and other LGBTQ folks (and frankly anyone with a conscience).
In a recent game of Overwatch, I thanked two players for choosing tanks by saying, “tank duo i love you”, as my friends and I had been tanking a lot that night and appreciated a chance to play some other fun characters. What I was met with appalled me. One player told me to “prove it” by “suck[ing their] weiner” and the other threatened to rape me when they said, “I’ll stick my dick in you.” Obviously I reported them, but all that means is either they will get banned from the chat or queueing for a few hours, or nothing.
I’m tired of this culture, and even more tired of being ignored or actively attacked every time my allies and I try to point it out. Rapists and want-to-be rapists shouldn’t get to dictate the nature of any game’s community. I want to be able to have fun playing games I enjoy just like everyone else. That’s not asking for “special treatment” (something the self described “incels” like to accuse women of) its asking for basic human dignity and freedom. And yeah, I might end up leaving online games over this stuff, but that is sad, and it shouldn’t be the fate of women, men, and non-binary folks who just want to enjoy playing games with their friends.
Sexual harassment and rape threats are not only common place in the Overwatch chat, they are constant. I don’t know if I have played a single night of Overwatch in the past 6 months without seeing at least one rape threat in the chat. This is obviously, and very straightforwardly, wrong. From the anonymity of their faux clever gamer tags, gamers engage in highly charged threats of violence without ever seeing any consequences.
Some folks have suggested to just not play Overwatch, or turn off the voice chat. That logic seeks to eliminate women and folks who don’t vibe with rape from Overwatch’s communicative discourse, to make a safe space for rapists and those who think its fun to threaten people with rape. This is honestly ridiculous, and I don’t even know what to say anymore.
You can report people, but in the end Blizzard will at best slap them on the wrist, and at worse do absolutely nothing. To be clear, Blizzard is guilty of allowing this behavior, because they fail to take action against the toxic culture they have allowed. We don’t excuse businesses who excuse sexual harassment within company cultures, so why would we excuse Blizzard for the toxic community culture they continue to cultivate?
Fake inclusivity: Having a diverse collection of characters isn’t inclusive if diverse players can’t play safely.
I have noticed this a lot in video game communities. I believe that these rape threats are intentionally targeted at women to make gaming a safe space for toxic masculine dumpster fires, who would be fired from their jobs if their bosses saw what they said online. Chasing women out of video games through rape threats is so fundamentally wrong and evil. The normalization of this behavior really makes you question whether or not Blizzard even cares about diversity and inclusion, considering their abysmal track record within their own games. There have to be consequences, real world consequences, for this sexual harassment. If you want to claim to be diverse and inclusive, you have to provide a safe place for people to engage, otherwise you are just designing a diverse cast of characters for violent men and those who tolerate them.