I am a girl and the dark side of online gambling scares me

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I used to play computer games online.

I hesitate to call myself a gamer because unlike some of my friends who have been playing online since childhood, I only recently joined their ranks – thank you Covid!

But during the pandemic, I started playing online with my friends because it was one of the few ways to bond because we couldn’t really meet in person.

Relaxing games like Minecraft and Scrabble.io have morphed into more “exciting” first-person shooters (FPS) like Valorant and Overwatch. These hyper competitive games were fun because I was playing with my friends and hanging out was all that mattered.

Then I started playing on my own.

And that made all the difference.

Threatened to be a girl

Source: Unsplash

I remember the first time I was playing without my friends and I decided to use voice communications to communicate with my team. My first mistake.

Until then, I had never experienced sexism or harassment of any kind online.

Hearing my voice, my teammates immediately started harassing me to confirm if I was really a girl. I said to myself: “If you ignore them, they will stop”. My second mistake.

The comments kept pouring in, ranging from questions about myself to what my social media was up to. They were relentless.

When they realized I wasn’t going to answer, they started swearing, insulting me, my family, my friends and myself. Among the threats, name-calling and insults, there was the worst thing you could hear.

“I hope you get raped and die.”

It was the first time I discovered the dark side of online gambling.

I didn’t touch a single video game for a month after that.

After much persuasion, my friends finally brought me back to the game, but calling me suspicious after that is an understatement.

At first, I only played with my friends. But after a while, with our different schedules, I started playing alone again. This time though, I instantly cut everyone in the game the moment I entered the game lobby.

Call it an overreaction, but the natural instinct of all living things is to protect themselves from danger. For me, I refuse to be threatened and violated like this again online.

The injuries are healing though, and since then I’ve become much more comfortable with the games. Yet I will never forget that feeling of degradation and fear at the exact moment I heard those words.

Toxicity in gaming lobbies

Toxicity in gaming lobbies
Source: Unsplash

Ask anyone who plays online games and they’ll tell you that toxic behavior, especially towards female gamers, is rampant.

These come in many forms, ranging from quiet condescending comments to outright demeaning accusations.

However, it is not the insults that prevail. Often it is harassment.

I think many female gamers would recognize this pattern: the moment you identify as a girl; whether it’s on voice comms or if a friend takes you out in chat, there’s an instant stream of comments, asking if you’re really a girl and whether or not she can be your friend.

They ask for your Instagram ID or TikTok channel and keep spamming you until you reply.

I once joined a game and when other players found out I was a girl, they started making questionable comments. I ignored them until one of them casually revealed the exact number of Instagram followers I had right now, which freaked me out.

Creepy comments are bad enough, but outright cyberbullying sends shivers down my spine.

Note to the guys out there: this is do not a way to impress a girl. It’s not cool. It’s not cute. It’s scary.

Getting hit on isn’t the only thing players have to deal with. Low-key macho posturing and sexist comments are also issues.

Getting hit on isn't the only thing players have to deal with.  Low-key macho posturing and sexist comments are also issues.
A game on Valorant. Image source: Trinice Tan

For example, if I have a bad game in Valorant – everyone has bad games – my teammates would accuse me of being “boosted” (getting outside help) to my current rank of Platinum (which makes me place in the top 15% of players), an achievement I worked very hard for.

In my experience (and friends confirm this) this happens a lot less than if it’s a bad guy.

Being anonymous on the internet, these players are ruthless. Hiding behind a fake name encourages toxic gamers to abuse others.

There are some who speak sometimes, but they are few and often do not go beyond a “hey, don’t say that the H» or a « eh bro, that’s enough Liao”. When the trolls continue to flare up, these good guys often fall silent, perhaps relieved that they’re not the target of attack.

Sometimes when your teammates are particularly juvenile, they will “throw” or lose the game on purpose, just to upset you for not giving them the attention or reaction they need.

Yes, there is a reporting system, as most online games do, but they don’t work all the time and this lack of accountability just encourages more toxic behavior.

Look at it this way: thieves wear masks so you can’t identify them when they commit a crime. Cyberbullying is the same, except in this case you’re having your respect and self-esteem robbed.

I know that I am not alone in this case. I’m not much different from other girls (or guys) who like to play online games. And this happens in all online games.

A friend told me very seriously that “playing video games has affected (his) self-esteem more than any human being in real life”.

Words hurt no less from someone online than from someone saying them to your face.

Insidious sexism

Insidious sexism
Play Valorant. Image source: Trinice Tan

However, not all abuse is egregious. There are times when I’m patronized just because I’m a girl.

If you think it’s infuriating to be told what to do by random strangers, imagine they insist that you play a support character instead of a carry (in game terms, a “carry” is like the team’s star quarterback or forward) just because “you’re a girl!”.

It’s threats and treatment like this that make girls afraid to gamble online.

When I tell people I play video games, they often tease me about having to be tough and thick-skinned when I tell them about me toxic comments and in-game players.

This pisses me off so much: why should girls (or anyone for that matter) be tough and tough-skinned? Why can’t toxic players be called out for their bad behavior instead?

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Is that really what we want to promote: the normalization of a toxic online community?

Singapore has the infrastructure and online community to be an esports hub in Southeast Asia and globally. Our players represented Singapore at the SEA Games, with our e-sports players winning medals in League of Legends, League of Legends: Wild Rift and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang.

In fact, it was just announced that one of the biggest esports events of the year, Dota 2’s The International 11, will be held in Singapore in October. Last year’s competition prize pool was over $55 million.

But all that fanfare becomes irrelevant if our online gaming communities are filled with toxic bullies, creeps and trolls.

If the game is so toxic, why continue to play, one might ask?

Think of it this way: would you be comfortable with random strangers telling you what you should or shouldn’t be doing in your life?

No one should have to stop doing what they love just because it’s the “easiest” way.

We should solve the problem, not change to accommodate it.

How to deal with toxicity

How to deal with toxicity
Source: Unsplash

Until online gaming communities become less toxic, we need to find ways to handle such situations ourselves.

First, set limits.

After facing cyberbullying, I avoided talking to strangers in-game for a long time until I was comfortable talking and reactivating others.

I set limits for myself, like muting toxic people, for my own safety and peace of mind.

It’s a shame that we can’t enjoy the full experience of video games because of such toxicity, but being safe, secure and mentally healthy is more important.

Two, set limits.

It’s easy to get caught up in a game and want to do your best to win, but I’ve learned not to take much of what happens online personally.

Treat the words of strangers like wind and let them pass you by!

Also, remember that you are playing for fun. Losing is no fun, yes, but don’t let it affect you more than it should.

Third, have the support of your loved ones.

Even if you follow the first two rules, there will sometimes be encounters that will cause you to lose hope in humanity, or faith in yourself. That’s when a listening ear or a nurturing shoulder from friends and family can come in handy.

Finally, follow the golden rule: treat others as you would like to be treated.

If everyone follows this rule, then the online community (myself included!) would be a healthier, and dare I say it, forgiving place.

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The toxicity in online games is real, but we need to change that reality and help our fellow gamers become aware of how their behavior can affect others.

Share these simple guidelines with your online community, and even if it’s just a handful of friends, if they share these ideas with their other friends… well, it could start a cycle of positivity in the online community.

It might even mean that another young player (girl or boy) wouldn’t have to go through what I went through before.

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