How women respond to sexual harassment in online video games

Women experience general and sexual harassment in the online video game realm which may cause them to withdraw from playing, according to a recent study.

The study, conducted at Ohio State University and published in New Media & Society, examined the prevalence of harassment of women in online video games as well as the various effects it has on the victims. Also examined was the responsiveness of the individual organizations (or lack thereof) and the outcomes of the interventions.

“Women in particular are targeted in these spaces,” said Jesse Fox, corresponding author of the study.

“Sexist players maintain stereotypes regarding women’s motives and participation in video games, and those who try to draw attention to gender inequalities are targeted for harassment or labeled ‘feminist killjoys,’” he continued.

A total of 293 female participants completed a series of surveys designed to measure multiple facets of harassment.

Video Game Harassment Behaviors

This measure, designed specifically for video games, asked women about the types of harassment they have experienced while playing online video games. Some of the items addressed general harassment, such as insulting the player’s skill or ability. Other items addressed sexual harassment, including requests for sexual favors as well as rape jokes and threats.


This scale measured the extent and frequency of rumination on the part of the victims. In other words, how often did the victims think about the harassment that occurred? And for how long?

Organizational Responsiveness

The Organizational Responsiveness survey addressed participants’ perceptions of the involvement on the part of individual video game organizations. Questionnaire items focused on whether organizations investigated complaints, took action to stop harassment, and administered consequences to the perpetrators.


This survey measured the extent to which participants withdrew from the game following an instance of harassment.  Withdrawal included both quitting in the middle of a game and choosing to not play the game again.

Coping Strategies

This questionnaire was designed specifically for video game players and examined coping strategies used by victims before, during and after playing a game.

The findings revealed that female gamers experience a significant amount of harassment in the online gaming realm.  Data indicated that sexual harassment led to rumination—which has been significantly associated with depression and negative moods—and withdrawal from gaming.

“Women’s experiences with harassment have a significant impact on their continued participation,” said Fox.

Data also showed that organizational responsiveness had a large impact on whether or not the women continued gaming. Further, the participants employed several coping strategies in response to harassment. Some used avoidance (withdrawing from the game), denial (pretending the harassment did not happen) and even “gender-bending,” or pretending to be a male player.

The implications of the findings extend to both women and the organizations involved.

“Our results indicate that video game companies should be concerned with players’ perceptions of organizational response to sexual harassment, as this predicted women’s withdrawal from games,” said Fox.

“For women, our findings suggest that there are a variety of ways to deal with harassment, but the implications of these coping strategies should be noted,” Fox continued.

While help-seeking was the least common coping strategy, it was shown to be the most effective at stopping harassment.