There is a worthwhile article in today’s Times about the problem of harassment of women in the videogame community, and the increased attention that problem is receiving. Of course, I stand with the individuals and groups working to make the gaming sphere a more egalitarian and civil place — but from a psychological standpoint, what I find most interesting about this issue is trying to unpack the behaviors of the young (and not-so-young) men who regularly assail women in online gaming through verbal and written attacks, spamming, and account hacking. As the article also implies, many of them seem to represent a subset of the gaming community who consider themselves to be members of a boys-only club (which for many years, especially in the “hardcore” PC gaming world, they were). They identify strongly as male gamers and prize their hobby that serves as an escape in which they can strive for catharsis by living out other, often vicious, potential selves (see my previous editorial on videogames and potential space). The growing influx of female gamers (and others from outside the club) not only threatens their sense of virility and primacy in this sacred space, but enrages them further by suggesting that games need to reorient toward a different and expanding market.
I forward these ideas as an explanation of behavior, not an excuse. Online harassment in gaming is a social problem that demands attention and solutions. All gamers who are interested in the medium for more than sheer escapism, but instead look to it as a complex and potentially sophisticated artform, are threatening to some other members of the community. To those individuals, the rest of us look like party crashers — even if we’re offering to make the party better, they are still going to be angry about our intrusion.