Not just a game : sexual toxicity in online gaming hurts women




Fredman, Leah Ariela

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It is unclear how sexual toxicity in gaming (STIG) affects women psychologically, if it prompts them to withdraw from gaming, or why it might do so. Three preliminary studies established that STIG is especially devastating to women. Preliminary Study 1 demonstrated that relative to men, women viewed STIG to be more serious and upsetting, and were more negatively impacted by STIG than non-sexual toxicity. Preliminary Study 2 found that reports of past STIG, but not past general toxicity, interacted with gender to predict posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) checklist scores in women. Furthermore, STIG uniquely predicted reporting past self-verification failure and perceived betrayal, which, in turn, mediated STIG’s effect on PTSD checklist scores. Preliminary Study 3 provided evidence that STIG impacted a new outcome variable, withdrawal from gaming. Specifically, in a sample of female gamers, reports of past STIG experiences predicted past long-term, but not short-term (e.g. quitting mid-match) withdrawal. Also, reports of past general toxicity did not predict either type of withdrawal. Study 1 replicated the findings from Preliminary Studies 2 and 3. Study 1 indicated that toxicity type interacted with gender, such that only women withdrew in the long-term from gaming following STIG (neither gender withdrew in the short-term). Additionally, Study 1 revealed that a feeling of betrayal mediated these effects. To determine the causal impact of the apparent mediators of STIG, Study 2 experimentally manipulated three potential mediators: perceptions of betrayal, self-verification, and control. Females who perceived increased feelings of self-verification from other teammates were less likely to withdraw from gaming; the other two potential mediators trended in the predicted direction but were not significant. Study 3 further validated these ideas with a qualitative study of five female gamers. The participants all believed that STIG’s effects were more serious than general toxicity, and described how combinations of betrayal and lack of self-verification exacerbated their experiences, and eventually led them to withdraw from certain games. The participants also all opined that they believed the onus to combat toxicity more effectively is on the companies, and that it is especially important to focus on combating sexual toxicity.



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