Midwest Twitch streamer KarKarJinx says she has to keep her identity hidden for the sake of privacy and to prevent harassment.
She is one of many female video gamers who say they have to take extra precautions to play in the male-dominated sport. A study done by esports giant Evil Geniuses reported that 44% of women experienced some sort of gender discrimination while gaming, while only 16% of males reported the same issue.
“I don’t put my name out on my Twitch at all,” she said. “Because there’s already been like so many creepy people that have tried to DM me on Instagram and stuff, creepy guys message me all the time. And they’ll be like, where do you live? And I’m like, no.”
And that’s why KarKarJinx, who goes by a nickname — Karl —didn’t want to have her identity revealed in this story.
How women are mistreated and represented in the gaming industry is a big topic in the video game industry. While the gaming industry favors males, in 2022 Statista reported that 48% of individuals in gaming are actually female. With Grand View Research reporting that the video game industry is expected to increase by $300 to $500 billion by 2030, women are still struggling to game comfortably.
Jade Schulz, president of the Nebraska Esports Club, said she’s cautious when speaking in video game voice chats as to not reveal her gender.
“A lot of the time I will be in a competitive Valorant match and I’ll just be chilling and having a good time,” she said. “Even if we’re winning I don’t like to speak unless the vibes are right. That’s something that I feel like all women gamers can relate to, talk until they know for sure that the vibe is right, and they know exactly what vibe I’m talking about.”
While monitoring voice chats can only be done by game developers, one of the ways streamers can combat harassment is creating rules for their channels. Karl said her rules on the Twitch channel make it a safe space for everyone, especially women and the LGBTQ+ community.
“I have rules prior to people being able to chat,” Karl said. “It says don’t be racist or homophobic and don’t make the chat sexual. There’s a lot of rules that I have around that. And if people start to be stupid, I just ban them pretty much immediately.”
Not only does the Twitch community have issues when it comes to helping women in the gaming community, the games themselves can also prove to be toxic by not having enough female representation, said Karl, who started gaming at a young age.
“When Call of Duty was first a thing they never even had female characters in the game, it always was a male,” she said. “I was glad when they finally had female representation in the game, at least. I know some guys are upset about that being a thing. And it’s just like, why do you think that?”
And harassment just doesn’t happen online. Kimblery Ingraham-Beck, a computer science teacher and esports coach at Gretna High School, said that during a specific in-person tournament, the male students made her feel uncomfortable with their comments about seeking out the women to gawk at them.
“I have been at multiple tournaments, where male students have said, ‘There’s a girl here, we gotta go find her,’” she said. “I actually went and talked to their coach because I was like, this is very inappropriate behavior. It made me feel uncomfortable even though I wasn’t a student and it wasn’t directed at me in any capacity, it still made me uncomfortable.”
Ingraham-Beck said when someone in a game is being rude toward a female she hopes that she can teach players to speak up.
“I know my female presenting students play with their male friends pretty regularly,” she said. “And so I would hope that if someone were being dumb like that, their friends would also jump in. If we can keep that going at the middle school and elementary schools, we can hopefully start training gamers young, that is how gamers act.”
While there is a greater awareness about female representation in gaming, more improvements are needed, said Schulz, who started gaming when she was young but then lost interest until the pandemic. She wants women pursuing a career in the gaming industry to keep going, despite all the negative experiences women deal with.
“To all the other girls who aspire to be in esports and want to break through the industry, don’t let a couple of bad experiences stop you,” she said. “Just do what you want to do.”