Section: 3.3 Technology and online platforms

Misogyny on gaming platforms

Misogyny on gaming platforms

According to a 2021 Pew Research Center survey, abuse on gaming platforms accounts for 16% of online harassment experienced by American adults.1,2 Women who play online games are often subjected to abuse, including physical threats and sustained harassment.12

Online platform design, with built-in features such as likes and follows, can inadvertently encourage abusive content and behaviours. In 2021, the UK Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport commissioned a report2 to investigate any links between anonymity and online abuse to inform the development of the Online Safety Bill. The researchers found that the built-in reward systems of these platforms create incentives for cycles of abuse. When users who engage in online abuse receive likes, gain followers, or see their content being shared, it feels like a reward. So, even if many don't agree with their views, they’re more likely to share more inflammatory content.2

Gaming can enable misogynistic attitudes to spread, and translate into virtual abuse.3 Research conducted by Pew Research Center in 2017 found that while men are more likely than women to say they have experienced harassment through online gaming platforms, women are more likely to be significantly impacted by this harassment, with 35% of women stating their experience was either “extremely” or “very” upsetting.4

Both female and male gamers experience harassment in gaming environments; however, the type and severity of the harassment differ.

In the world of online gaming, both women and men face harassment, but the type and intensity can differ. An Anti-Defamation League (ADL) report5 into harassment on gaming platforms highlighted that 71% of adult gamers have been victims of severe abuse such as physical threats and stalking, a figure that has been steadily increasing over the years. Women, especially those from marginalised racial backgrounds, have seen a significant rise in identity-based harassment. In 2021, 49% of women gamers reported such experiences, up from 41% in 2020.56 Harassment rates for LGBTQI+ players remained relatively stable at 38%.56A small percentage of gamers, 8% of adults and 10% of young people have been exposed to white supremacist ideologies while gaming.6

The 2020 report6 by the ADL also revealed similar levels of harassment in online multiplayer games based on players’ identities. Over half (53%) of harassed gamers stated they were singled out due to their race, religion, ability, gender or sexual orientation. For example, Jewish and Muslim gamers experienced harassment rates at 18% and 25% respectively, due to their religious beliefs.

These findings were also corroborated by results from the annual Bryter survey in 2022,7 which included 1,500 female gamers in the US, UK and China. This survey found a persistent issue with abuse and discrimination against female gamers. The data was consistent year on year, with one in three female gamers facing abuse from male players. Examples from the survey ranged from verbal abuse and sexist remarks about women trying to game (31%) to severe threats of violence and rape (14%). As a result, many female gamers hide their gender when playing online or avoid online multiplayer games entirely due to fear of harassment from male players.

Both male and female gamers face toxicity equally, but they experience the abuse differently.

Bryter's 2020 survey8 highlighted that both male and female gamers face toxicity equally, but the nature of the abuse differs. While men mainly reported verbal abuse related to skills, age, race, or sexual orientation, women faced more severe threats. Female gamers reported receiving sexist remarks, inappropriate images, and even threats of stalking, violence, and rape. Some women even faced continued harassment on other online platforms, with a few experiencing real-life stalking threats.

A 2020 survey9 of 788 gamers aged 18 to 70 by revealed nearly three out of four (73%) LGBTQI+ gamers faced harassment due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

#Gamergate and extremism

The Gamergate controversy in 2014 and 2015 involved a sustained misogynistic online harassment campaign. Cherie Todd, in a commentary10 published in the Women’s Studies Journal in 2015 stated that the campaign was conducted using the hashtag "#Gamergate" and became a form of resistance to gender diversity in gaming culture. Gamergate is often framed as a watershed moment in the relationship between hardcore gaming culture and far right extremism. It started as an online movement where gamers targeted feminist activists pushing for diversity and equality in gaming. The Gamergate controversy ignited from a single post by the ex-boyfriend of game developer Zoë Quinn, criticising her personal relationship with a journalist, who had no involvement in reviewing her work. This incident spurred a hostile and widespread reaction, leading to an organic campaign of harassment, not only against Quinn but also against anyone who came to her defence.

In an article for the Guardian, Jessica Valenti11 noted that figures like Zoë Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian (a feminist media critic), and Brianna Wu (a video game developer) were subjected to intense online harassment by Gamergaters. This harassment included a barrage of doxing, rape threats, and death threats, which they extended to anyone defending Quinn. While proponents framed Gamergate as a crusade for ‘ethics in video game journalism’ and the preservation of ‘gamer’ identity against political correctness and feminist influence, the reality was starkly different.

According to Academic researchers, the Gamergate campaign, primarily organised through anonymous forums like 4chan, 8chan, and Reddit, became synonymous with misogynistic abuse. In an article12 for Vox, Aja Romano discussed the lessons still unlearned from Gamergate. She pointed out that Gamergate wasn't an isolated incident; it followed a pattern of online hostility toward women and minorities that had been gaining momentum. For instance, Anita Sarkeesian’s experience of severe online harassment predates Gamergate. She had been subjected to intense harassment since 2012, over her attempt to expand her commentary on films into commentary on games, including a barrage of rape and death threats, and threats of mass shootings at her scheduled public appearances, compelling her to vacate her home and cancel events.

According to a 2023 literature review13 by a group of academic researchers on far-right extremism in mainstream games, gamergate had an important role in how extremists started targeting online game communities. They note that far-right extremists capitalised on the Gamergate controversy, leveraging it to mainstream their ideologies. These extremists adopted Gamergate's harassment tactics such as doxing, trolling and threats of violence, making gamergate “the official debut” of organised far-right extremism into the gaming world, particularly impacting young “hard-core gamers” culture. This demographic, feeling aggrieved by what they perceive as a loss of status attributed to women and minorities, resonate with far-right extremists who are seeking to normalise their fringe worldviews and expand their membership.

A 2021 study14 by Jacob Davey, published as part of the Institute of Strategic Dialogue's series on gaming and extremism, pointed out that the threat of far-right extremism is escalating in the UK, particularly among younger demographics. The Metropolitan Police have expressed concerns over the specific dangers of radicalisation within gaming communities. The study underscored that Gamergate's impact extends beyond a disturbing episode in video game history, illustrating the dangerous convergence of online abuse and far-right radicalisation.


A 201915 and a 202216 study of female gamers’ experiences found that women who play online games are more likely to experience verbal and visual harassment and are more likely to be excluded from gaming communities. These forms of harassment, alongside the lack of social support experienced by exclusion, has meant that women and girls are more likely to play alone, move gaming groups regularly, or quit gaming altogether.1516

A 2023 study17 looked into how harassment in online games affects female gamers’ mental wellbeing and how they cope with it. The results showed that both general and sexual harassment increased feelings of distress and anxiety.

Efforts to tackle abuse by gaming companies

Efforts to address online misogyny in gaming communities have been slow and often ineffective. While many gaming companies have implemented reporting and moderation systems to address harassment and abuse, with Call of Duty implementing technology to filter offensive text chat and Counter-Strike allowing users to kick others out of a game, many of these systems are unsuccessful in eliminating the high levels of harassment faced by women gamers.18

Some groups such as the UK Charity The Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust (YGAM) are calling for more structural changes, including informing parents, educating boys about rape culture and discrimination, and safeguarding female players online through the creation of more diverse and inclusive gaming communities, to address the underlying issues of misogyny in online gaming.18

In New Zealand, the Office is responsible for classifying games, and on occasion, we receive referrals from law enforcement regarding games that may contain objectionable content. We have banned certain games and gameplay that feature extremist or sexual violence, including content that is highly misogynistic, degrading, and threatening. For an example, visit the section: the story behind this project.

Further reading

Studies and articles: Misogyny on gaming platforms


We understand that this research could be confronting or upsetting for some readers. If you or someone you know needs to talk:

  • Visit Netsafe to complete an online form to report any online safety issues or free call 0508 638 723 for support.
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