When a video game developer says something sexist, or when a journalist says something racist, or a social justice warrior says something misogynistic, there’s a tendency for it to get repeated by a community of players and developers.
But what if the response to those comments wasn’t positive?
It’s an idea that has sparked a lot of debate on Twitter, and a lot more discussion in game journalism.
What’s the problem?
It all boils down to a simple question: is a toxic masculinity problem?
In a lot.
As it turns out, the answer is “yes,” but not necessarily because it’s the best answer.
This is not the first time people have raised the question.
A decade ago, Anita Sarkeesian was criticized for the sexism she exhibited in her videos.
After that, Zoe Quinn was accused of sexism and racism, too.
But the real problem is in the language of those statements.
There’s no single “perfect” response to the toxic masculinity question.
The problem is with the word.
It’s a generalisation.
What defines a toxic male?
A toxic male is someone who has experienced harassment, violence, and/or abuse, which has left them with negative psychological, emotional, or physical symptoms, and the ability to act in a way that is hostile or aggressive towards others.
Toxic masculinity is also something that’s not only prevalent in video games, but it’s also something people often talk about in the wider gaming community.
It doesn’t have to be the same as “toxic.”
It’s more of a combination of these traits.
The more toxic, the more masculine, and thus, the worse the problem is.
That’s not to say toxic masculinity is a bad thing, or that toxic masculinity doesn’t exist in all forms of media.
But toxic masculinity has an inherent problem that doesn’t seem to be getting any less toxic.
It’s not just the people who have been affected by toxic masculinity that have struggled to articulate their experiences.
In 2016, a documentary about sexism in video gaming, A Dangerous Place, revealed that the experiences of some of the women who played the games that made up the series, like Grand Theft Auto V and the popular Grand Theft: San Andreas, were far more common than people were aware.
This wasn’t a case of men playing sexist games and women simply reacting to them.
Rather, the problem was in how they were defined.
“Women who played Grand Theft Autos in the past were seen as less competent, less feminine, and less powerful than men,” explained the documentary’s co-producer and editor, Amanda Hess, during an interview with VICE News.
“They were also often not allowed to use their real names.
They were often labeled as less valuable, less talented, and more dangerous.
We felt it was important to tell these stories in order to expose these real-life experiences.”
It is true that these experiences are more common for women, as it’s often the case when they’re playing games that are less focused on a specific genre or genre of gaming.
But when it comes to discussing sexism in the games they play, there are problems as well.
For one, there aren’t any real-world examples to draw from.
“Women’s experiences of sexism in gaming are so rarely represented in the media,” Hess said.
The only thing that can be said about women who play video games is that they have suffered from the same things that men have.
There are no statistics to back up this.
“When people ask us, ‘What’s the biggest thing you guys have learned from working on this?’ we say that we have tried to educate ourselves,” said the film’s producer, Julia Hogg, in an interview.
“We have been working with game designers, developers, and publishers to get them to see that there are people who can be empowered by the game.”
In the documentary, the players describe how they’ve been constantly harassed, ridiculed, and threatened by a group of players on the Xbox Live game forums.
These incidents are often not isolated to a single gaming platform, either.
“There are women who have reported being harassed by a male player on the PlayStation 4,” Hess told VICE News, “and a male gamer on the Steam forums.”
The issue isn’t limited to online gaming.
The same problems are seen in games with a more mainstream audience.
“The video game industry, for the most part, has an environment that is heavily patriarchal,” Hess explained.
“It’s a very male-dominated industry that has a very heavy gender divide.
So what does that mean?
It means that women are not necessarily expected to be equal to men in that environment, and that’s really something that is really, really harmful for women in that space.”
The problem isn’t the only one.
A toxic masculinity can also have a negative impact on the culture of the game industry itself.
According to one study, it’s one of the top 10 reasons why gamers are leaving the industry