There’s a good reason why I don’t play multiplayer games. When I first started playing MMOs like Anarchy Online, Asheron’s Call 2 and Star Wars Galaxies, I still felt relatively safe. Sure, I flirted with my Bounty Hunter in Asheron’s Call 2 (I was his healer), but apart from some randos that we bumped into outside our guild, flirting was what it was. Harmless and mutual and never crossing any lines. “Nice heal” he would say and I would respond with a wink and an “only for you!”. Or we would wave and dance at each other. When I got aggroed, he’d step in and the Burun (I think?) shouting “Tumerok!” while going after me would be reduced to piles of loot. It was a lot of fun. That I was a “real woman” was never an issue. Anarchy Online was the same. Innocent flirting, occasional randos who would insult me and a safe guild.

It wasn’t until World of Warcraft exploded across the world that things really changed for me. I still had a safe guild, a good place to be, but when I played, there were a lot more randos coming at me. I had a stalker that would whisper me filth as soon as I came online. He called me cunt, whore, he insulted me and ran after me. When I blocked him, he made an alt and the pattern repeated. I tried other MMOs. The same thing happened. In the now defunct Tabula Rasa, I was followed by two guys who spammed me with group requests and friend requests.

I played Battlefield 3 only once online and only because I had to, and the inevitable response was “make me a sammich”. Every other game I’ve played in a multiplayer setting, I have played only with friends. Even Destiny and The Division makes me uneasy, even though I never have to interact with people.

The reason is of course that a multiplayer environment can be very hostile to women. Perhaps you’re read Jordan Belamie’s post on sexual harassment in Quivr. Here we are, in 2016, and we still have to face the menace of (mostly) men deciding that they have the right to ruin other players’ experiences in game, because 1. they can 2. they feel the need to assert power over all dem womyn trying to take over gaming. This might not be true, there may be other reasons for harassment, but as a hypothesis, it feels true.

Why else is it that no spaces are safe for those identifying as women?

You say “trash talk” and I say that research performed by Riot on League of Legends show that trash talk detriments the experience for players of all kinds, and that according to Riot, players who have a “bad day” and trash talk others also end up spreading their “bad day” to other players who react the same way. Thus one player’s bad day can ruin tens or hundreds of other players’ days, because hey! It turns out that trash talk is actually something players don’t enjoy.

That is however besides the point, because sexual harassment is not trash talk. Sexual harassment is asserting power over other people.

As I’m writing this post, I’m going through the arguments that some will have.”If you don’t want to get harassed, don’t play!”. Sure. But that’s like saying “if you don’t want to be discriminated against, change your sex”. That’s reasonable, right? Right?

Why not try this on for size. “Treat all players as human beings and with respect.” Some players will always be horrible, yeah, but are you one of them? And if so, would it hurt so bad to just stop? In effect, any other argument than “stop behaving like a dick” is saying “I really don’t think women are people or deserve to be treated as such.”

Think about that for a moment, and then tell me I shouldn’t play multiplayer games if I don’t want to get sexually harassed.

In the meantime, as game devs, we should take our responsibility and take the fact into account that where there are men and women simultaneously, the women will suffer sexual harassment. Provide tools to stop it. It doesn’t really solve the problem, but to my mind way too few games take harassment into account when they’re built. Sure, trolling is often guarded against, but most devs are men, and honestly? They don’t always consider sexual harassment when they build their toolsets.

I read about Jordan Belamie’s experiences in Quivr and my reaction was “WTF?” and “why is this still happening?” combined with a huge chunk of resignation. Because of course VR will be used to harass women. Every other game, including Pokémon GO! has been used to harass women. All you men doing it, can’t you just stop? That way we wouldn’t have to be so careful all the time, selecting our pleasures after the criteria “least likely to cause emotional and/ or physical distress”.