Updated: Aug 26, 2020
Misogyny and toxic behaviour is not the sole dominion of men. In society at large, and certainly in gaming, we often unfortunately see women* behaving in a toxic and misogynist way towards other women. The goal of this article is to discuss the psychology behind this behaviour, and how to break the cycle of negativity through the use of empowerment.
*The term Women (and woman) used throughout this article includes any persons that are non-male identifying, or who are disenfranchised by patriarchal norms and misogyny. This includes trans people, non-binary persons, non-cis sexual orientations, etc. The author uses the term Women without this full definition simply for ease of reading.
photo credit: Women in Gaming: 100 Professionals of Play by Meagan Marie
Empowerment seems like such a simple concept. Encourage others, help others to reach their goals, and be supportive. It’s a good thing, right? It might shock you then to learn that in particular for women and others whose gender or sexual identities put them at odds with patriarchal norms, empowerment of others actually goes against our psychological nature. Empowering and uplifting others is something we must actively and consciously strive to do to override that nature. More importantly, it is vital to override that nature because empowering and uplifting others benefits us all.
What Is Empowerment?
The concept of Empowerment is something that has been thoroughly researched in the psychological sciences. In simple terms, being empowered means being invested in power, whether personal, community, political, or spiritual. The term invested is important here because it denotes that empowerment is something that has to be put into a person, either by themselves or by others. Our status quo, our natural state of being, is not invested in that power, so it must be applied.
Empowerment is an important tool that can lead to self-development and self-realization. It can help us achieve our goals by overriding our self-doubt by allowing us to realize that we are capable, we are powerful, we are worth it. It can also lead to a better sense of self, as it can help us understand into which areas of our lives we place value.
Behind every great woman, I pray is another great woman
whispering "you've got this" in her ear. - Anonymous
Not only does being empowered, either by oneself or by others, help the individual, but it benefits all of us. Previously, the concept of empowerment was believed to simply mean personal achievement or enlightenment. However, a new model of empowerment has become prominent in psychology: After becoming personally empowered, an individual then has the desire to influence and empower others.
Empowerment is contagious. For every person you empower, they might then empower two more. Those two people, by being invested in that power, will desire to then empower another two each. Within a community the likes of World of Warcraft, especially women and non-male identifying players, the benefits of empowerment, if allowed to continue forward, will be felt by us all.
Why are Women in Gaming Often Mean to Each Other?
This is a loaded question, and it certainly extends beyond gaming. However, it is something we see prominently in the gaming sphere, especially with women who perform well and are high-skilled players. Many high-ranking women players find their harshest and most toxic critics to be other women, or non-male identifying players.
Psychologically speaking, there are a number of reasons why women are often nasty to other women, but for the sake of the goals of this article, we will narrow them down to the main reasons why women are hostile towards other women in the context of gaming and esports:
Competition in a male-dominated space;
The ability to get away with it - for sport, for fun, to alleviate boredom, etc.; and
The lack of ability to recognize their behaviour, and lack of being called out on it.
Gaming has long been an ‘old boys club’, or a male-dominated space. One needs just look at the “Gamergate” phenomenon to see the kind of backlash women and non-male identifying persons face when they attempt to enter the gaming world in a meaningful way. The term “gamer girl” is often used pejoratively, and women are often stereotyped as being weaker players than their male counterparts.
The world of gaming, therefore, can be equated to a parallel to a patriarchal society. For this reason, and this goes back to evolutionary psychology, women are conditioned to feel that there are only so many spots available for women and non-male identifying persons at the top of the social and career ladders. We are conditioned to believe that if we want to be on top, we have to take another woman down to take her place. The idea that we can add more spaces to the top, or that women can take up a larger percentage than previously allowed, is something we have battled against for a very long time in society at large.
In recent years, we have seen a surge of women in gaming, both as players and developers, and everything in between. It is incredible, and something we must all do our part to foster. We must empower these women, and push back against the societal norms that have for so long been a part of gaming.
Your princess isn't in another castle. She beat the boss and
The second and third reasons listed above are much more simple concepts in gaming. The world of gaming is largely online and anonymous. This lends us the ability to be toxic without fear of repercussions. There has been a ton of research done on toxicity and anonymity, but we won’t touch on that here. In regards to the lack of ability to recognize their behaviour, that can be seen as a result of the fact that we as women have long been taught and conditioned in society to just “ignore” bullies. Women that fight back are seen as aggressive and not ‘feminine’. This is an outdated and horribly male-centric view, and we need to call out everyone on their toxic behaviour. No more “ignore the trolls” - instead, call them out, make it known their behaviour is bad and why. The more this happens, the more people will recognize their behaviour and hopefully put an end to it.
How to Empower Others
We have discussed why empowering others is important: it benefits everyone. Empowering women and non-male identifying persons in a male-dominated space such as gaming is even more important, as it works to break through the norms and helps us carve out a larger piece of the “power pie”, so to speak. Next we will discuss easy ways to empower others in your gaming community.
Likely the easiest way to empower a person, is to make them feel appreciated. This is as simple as saying “thank you.” Message a member of your guild on Discord, and just say “thank you for always being a positive person, you make our raids a lot more fun.” @ your favourite streamer on twitter and thank them for providing you with insight into your class in an easy to digest manner. Players, content creators, members of this gaming and Warcraft community… many of us put our heart and souls into what we do. A simple “thank you” is an incredible way to empower someone within that community.
Negativity can reduce someone’s energy or enthusiasm for what they are doing. Whether someone is playing the game, working on growing as a streamer, trying new things on social media, it is important that your interactions with that person are positive. If you truly want to give constructive criticism, ensure it is constructive, but also bring positivity to it. Being positive will foster that person’s passion, their enthusiasm, and their self-confidence in what they are trying to achieve. In turn, you are investing them with power.
Satisfy their Deepest Needs
According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the second-to-most fundamental need we as human beings have, is the need for Esteem. This is a sense of being important, valuable, and worthwhile. By making a member of our Warcraft and gaming community feel important and valuable, you are uplifting their esteem, and providing them with this need. Whether you tell them they are an indispensable part of your arena team, or their opinions and discussions on stream are important to you as a viewer, making another member of the community feel valuable for their contributions is a key way to empower them.
photo credit: Glenn Harvey
Where to Go From Here
Our hope is that this article will help you realize how big an impact you can have from a simple “thank you” or a positive comment on a tweet. In the inverse, we also hope it can help you realize how detrimental negative and toxic behaviour towards others can be. We all benefit when members of our community, especially women and non-male identifying persons, are empowered.
In the future, when you interact with another member of the community, ask yourself:
Am I working to empower this person?
Am I degrading this person? If so, why?
What can I do to support and uplift this person?
Empowering another person is one of the easiest ways you can contribute to making our community a better place. Go forth, be positive, and remember: we can all of us succeed, together!