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Gaming sphere and its toxic cultures

By Boniface Mithika | October 24th 2021

Teenage girl  gaming at home. [Getty Images]

One's curiosity to explore and fully understand the gaming industry at large comes with a fair share of challenges. Growing up at our times, video gaming was unheard of. Remember Kati? And Bano? Or even Tapo? If you do, that means we are in the same boat. The GEN Z have no idea what that is.

Gaming consoles were a reserve of the rich. They were expensive, you probably had to break the bank to afford them. But slowly, age caught up with us. Smart phones became more and more popular thereby popularising the gaming craze. The rest is history. Right now everyone is on the digital sphere.

This has opened a whole highway of other unnecessary and unwanted vices. You cannot help but notice how gamers operate in a toxic environment. They say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but truth be told, what happens in video games does not stay in video games.

Video games in general are fun and stimulating to play. Multiplayer games allow people to experience the thrills of competition in a leisurely environment. Additionally, many games allow users to connect with other people online (both friends and strangers), without having to leave the comforts of home. Being able to hang out with friends in a virtual space is an appealing reason for many youngins.  

While gaming has the potential for positive benefits, it is also a place where cyberbullying can happen. If someone is not performing well in a game, other players may curse or make negative remarks that can turn into bullying, or even exclude the person from playing altogether.

The anonymity of players and the use of avatars allows users to create alter egos or fictional versions of themselves, which is part of the fun of gaming. But it also allows users to harass, bully, and sometimes gang up on other players.

In the online sphere especially with gaming concerned, the toxicity majorly lies in sexual harassment, hate speech and threats of violence. Many a time player often rationalise such toxicity as a normal part of gaming.

According to a study of gaming toxicity from the Anti-Defamation League, over 80 per cent of multiplayer gamers experienced some form of toxicity, with a majority of it related to gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion or ability.

Most players felt impacted by such toxicity, with over a tenth saying it resulted in depressive or suicidal thoughts and over 20 per cent saying it caused them to quit playing.

These negative effects are especially harmful to women, who are more likely than men to be victims of gaming toxicity. In addition to the psychological harm, studies suggest that such toxicity decreases women’s motivation to play video games in the future as well as to pursue technical career fields.

In August 2014, an internet-driven crusade called #Gamergate began, and while many claimed it was about “ethics in video game journalism,” what it actually led to was the horrific harassment of women and people who identify as nonbinary who either made or discussed video games. There were accusations that people who did not even play video games were out to ruin them for those who did.

This might be a factor why many females do not like playing. A factor echoed by Kenya’s first pro-gamer Sylvia Gathoni, in an earlier interview.

“I have had to deal with sexism from individuals who did not appreciate the fact that I managed to get as far. But I have always felt that this is something that can change since gaming is for everyone and should not be restricted to a certain gender. That is why I try to curate a positive and safe space where everyone feels welcome. The industry needs to be more inclusive and welcoming if we are to convince society that this is a worthwhile profession,” she said.

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