clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Your responses to ‘Gaming’s toxic men’

Letters from readers, following our cover feature

If you buy something from a Polygon link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Angry comments durantelallera/Shutterstock.com

Last week, we published an article that sought to explain the proliferation of toxicity in gaming spaces, most especially from angry men. The article was heavily shared on social media and through other outlets. We asked you to send your comments and criticisms to us, and you did so. Here is a selection of responses emailed to us by some of our readers, expanding on the piece, offering personal experiences and giving cogent criticisms. We also received a number of emails that were critical of the piece’s existence, a point of view that is also prevalent in toxic social media spheres and online spaces. We have not included responses that were vulgar, hateful or nonsensical. All letters have been edited for brevity.


Overly Stereotyped

Being around the age discussed in the article, I found myself not agreeing with a lot of things. I found exactly one thing to be correct, that being about how young males don’t think that there is discrimination towards their female peers. This is because at our age, there isn’t any.

I asked several female friends, and none of them said that they had ever felt discriminated because of their gender. I also found myself not agreeing with a lot of things that were being said about someone of my age and gender. This may be because I don’t think like my peers, but that’s one of the main problems I found with the article. There were too many blanket statements, too many generalizations.

I find this ironic because often the writers complained that women are overly stereotyped. “If you’re a young man right now, you’ve probably played games”. This overtone is present throughout the article, that all men are like the current point being discussed.

The whole thing is written as if men are the only one causing the problems, the only ones that react this certain way, that women are always the victims, and regardless of what you believe, which way you lean, what opinions you have, you have to agree that it’s not good to write anything from such a biased perspective.

- Anon.

Scary Places

I am a queer person of color, who is a gamer and a lover of pop/nerd culture. Twitter and YouTube have become scary places for me. I actively avoid hateful videos and hateful comments, but it seems like some people are actively seeking videos or tweets to hate on.

It’s so frightening for me to see hateful comments on YouTube videos when they talk about feminism or misogyny in gaming culture and in culture at large. But articles like this give me hope, that people like me, who think that being politically correct is only nice and respectful, exist in the (perhaps too silent) majority.

- Jae S.

LGBT Gamers

Why is there a total lack of mention of the hate and harassment of LGBT players and industry people? In my experience both as a gamer and former journalist, the online racism, misogyny and homo/trans-phobia all go hand in hand. I quickly gave up playing online shooters long ago because it’s just one long stream of hate. The same people invade any LGBT group or thread they can to make the same types of anti-inclusion arguments they use against the women and minorities that you highlight in this article. Given that I know that many of the people you included could have easily and expertly talked about this, it just seems to be a surprising and weird exclusion. Overall I really appreciate the article and effort, I would just ask to be more aware of the same issues that face LGBT gamers and developers.

- Sean B.

Lack of Sportsmanship

Sportsmanship is one of the biggest thing missing in games and I believe the lack of it is a huge reason such toxicity exists.

As someone that’s a bit older I believe that “everyone is a winner and everyone gets a trophy” conditions kids to expect to always win. They can’t handle it when they lose and when they lose it’s always someone else’s fault ... their opponent cheated, or their teammates sucked.

At that point they go on the attack and due to the fact that online games are not in person they can be as cruel, obnoxious, prejudiced as they want to be without any repercussion. So in my opinion one of the root causes to this extremely poor behavior is lack of sportsmanship. The sexist/racist/belligerent remarks are more a symptom to deeper rooted causes.

- Chris B.

Everyone’s Responsibility

Thank you for the wonderful read. I am a male gamer and game developer. Maybe I’m a bit naive but I barely knew this was an issue until Gamergate really hit my Twitter feed.

At the time I was new to game development and the tech industry in general and every hateful thing went against the moral structure I grew up with. At one point I asked one of my friends to stop calling me a gamer because I hated what my fellow ‘gamers’ were doing and saying to others.

I help organize a local comic convention and I’ve used my role to help speak up about this kind of toxicity in our community. We have put in place a strict anti-bullying policy that extends not only to the convention itself but in the online sphere surrounding the event and its satellite events too.

I feel like it is everyone’s responsibility to speak out against this kind of hatred. Articles like this do a lot to shed light on the issue.

- Ryan D

Kathrine Anderson created the art for our feature

Accompanying Images

I just wanted to say that the ‘Gaming’s toxic men, explained’ was absolutely fantastic on every level. It step by step broke down each aspect that has contributed to this phenomenon and its wider links to society and what we can do about it.

It also crystallised my own research and opinion on these topics as a creative arts professional and as a woman. It was great to be introduced to the different speakers as well and I have so much respect for the work they are doing in spite of the terrible abuse they suffer. Also as someone who has studied illustration, I though the illustrator too deserved praise - the accompanying images and colour palette were great. Keep up the good work!

- Jess S.

Fever Dreams

My generation fed on cyberpunk and ‘80s fever dreams of nerds being destined to inherit the earth. As the first pioneers of the digital frontier, we concluded that the internet didn’t need any social rules. We honestly believed that by removing the physical aspect of human interaction, we would be judged by our minds and our wit and not our appearance. It would lead to an egalitarian utopia.

Except when that didn’t happen, we felt like losers. So instead of getting up and turning off the game like we claimed we were going to do, we simply reversed the rules so that we could feel like winners. We brought the aggression, the toxic masculinity, the judgment, all of it.

We wanted to escape bullying and cruelty but lacked the imagination to envision what a world without it would look like. We brought our baggage with us.

- Endre E.

Very Strong Views

Great article and loved reading it, but I fundamentally believe that by not allowing comments on the article you are shutting down avenues of discussion. There are some very strong views in that article that people will agree and disagree with and limiting responses to only email and not a discussion forum is disappointing.

Would there be “toxic men” in the responses - yes! But there will also be people who want to share thoughts and perspectives, some you will agree with and some you will not.

It strikes me as cowardly that you did not open the article for that kind of feedback or discussion as if you do not wish to have that discussion. As if there is no other perspective other than that which you have presented and I am disappointed.

- Declan M.

Letters Shutterstock

Deserve Respect

I’m a woman who has been gaming since I was four years old. If things are going to change, then we need gaming publishers on board. We need more people in the business who are willing to cater towards women and people of color. We need more developers taking reports on toxic behaviors in multiplayer games more seriously.

They need to finally acknowledge that men are not the only ones who buy these games. And frankly they, just like the rest of us, deserve respect from game developers and publishers that want our business. And I believe the first step toward that is getting them to understand that we’re not taking their games away or trying to destroy their platform.

We want the same things you do: community, respect, and fun in games. It’s not a zero-sum game.

- Courtney D.

Better Direction

I’ve intentionally distanced myself from any pro-Gamergate ideologies, the vast majority of their viewpoints and actions sicken me, as a male gamer. But I’ve found myself also repelled by people like Anita Sarkeesian, who has made several claims and actions I don’t agree with personally. I still count myself on her side of the moral debate versus the toxic voices of Gamergate, but always counted her flaws over her attributes.

With your piece matching her with so many other voices, it’s hard not to see that her attributes are far more valuable. It’s dawned on me that I should really reevaluate how I look at the dialogue about the game industry and representation. Sarkeesian and many others are pushing the discussion into a better direction, warts and all.

- Cody

Nascent Feminism

When tropes vs. women began I was in high school. I believe I first saw it referenced on memebase of all things, and decided to see it for myself. Anita put it well when she said this:

“If you watch one of my videos and you’re new to feminism, you have to come in with an open mind. Because I’m challenging everything you’ve ever thought, and that’s complicated. It’s so much easier to go with the ideas that you’ve always heard. It’s easier to go along with the status quo.”

To my shame, I was definitely part of the problem. That said, Anita’s work awakened nascent feminism in me, and if it wasn’t for her work I am certain I would be a much worse person than I am, so thank you Anita.

- Zachary S.

Learn Empathy

An issue that further complicates the discussion is the ability to learn empathy. People in a minority when relating to pop-culture (women, people of color) are forced to develop empathy in order to experience the culture. Minorities learn to empathize with straight white male characters from as early as childhood in order to experience most childrens books, let alone to experience the majority of movies, TV shows, teen to adult books, and video games.

Then, as culture shifts, and more central characters are minorities, audience minorities can empathize since they not only identify with the characters, but have learned how to identify with any character. Straight white men, on the other hand, have not had the extensive practice of empathy through pop-culture as they’ve never had to develop the skill in order to enjoy their favorite media.

This leads to childish behavior. This is not to excuse the behavior of not demonstrating compassion, empathy, or basic human respect. Rather, it’s to acknowledge that these toxic gamers lack a fundamental skill. Truly, the only way to develop it as much is to practice, which ultimately predicts the outcome of any perceived culture war.

- Dann C.

Platform to Speak

This article was timely for me as I have been watching my husband contend with toxic gamers in his Discord, which has became suddenly and unexpectedly popular recently.

This article gave me a way to prompt a long discussion around things that I have been concerned about but was not sure how to articulate or explain – how the structure of gaming communities can allow or restrict toxicity, how women and people of color are treated differently than men and white folks, how moderation policies can expose or protect them to harm, and what responsibility you have when you give people a platform to speak.

It’s just one small corner of the gaming community, but hopefully he can make it a welcoming place, starting with some of the ideas in this article.

- Liz J.

English Teacher

Soraya Chemaly spoke about “young men who are high school students [who] feel as if they are on the receiving end of oppression.” As a high school English teacher, this statement really spoke to me, as I see students who feel this way daily.

I completely agree that it is a “failure of our education system to explain why sexism is an institutional systemic problem”, and have attempted to teach this in my own classes.

However, there is a sense that the administration in my school (and most likely schools throughout the country) are more concerned with maintaining a fragile status quo and keeping everyone “comfortable” rather than helping raise students who are aware and compassionate citizens.

I know there are many teachers who are simply afraid to bring up issues concerning gender identity, sexuality, and/or race. If a parent complains about a teacher showing “political ideology,” it could mean disciplinary action or job loss.

Even though I’ve taught in my own class that gender is a social construct, that feminism means equality for all, that people who exist in the intersection of marginalized communities are targeted more often by unfair laws and popular sentiment, I still don’t push as far as I would like in fear of push-back.

- Dan P.

Tech Spaces

In regards to your article on gaming’s toxic men, I loved it. I did however disagree with Bridget Blodgett’s notion on where are nerds getting that they’re cultural losers? The fact that Silicon Valley and other tech spaces are filled with nerds doesn’t negate how the general public perceives them.

Just a few years ago when I was in college in one of my classes I mentioned that I played esports (fighting games in particular) and I was laughed at by one of my classmates.While I was at another school recruiting and was looking for the computer science lounge I got directions from one young lady and she said, “they hang out and play games in that room, but I don’t go in there because they don’t bathe.”

I do feel that there is still a stigma to it. I agree wholeheartedly with the rest of the article, it was just that portion that I found that the interviewer didn’t inspect enough.

- Shawn R.


Thanks to all of you who wrote in about this issue, or who joined discussions on social media. We are planning a follow-up piece that celebrates individuals and organizations that are working to make gaming a more welcoming, accepting space.