“I play to win!” This is a famous utterance by D. va, a character in the popular FPS game, 'Overwatch'. D. Va is a popular professional gamer, who, because of her outstanding reflexes and instincts as a gamer, is drafted to be a pilot of a mechanized armored drone unit(MEKA) by the South Korean government. She performs brilliantly and preserves the peace of her homeland and the world. In the world of Overwatch, D. Va is a global star, who is passionately loved by people all over the world. In reality, however, the life of Korean female gamers is far from brilliant and honor. In this article, SMT reporter covers the tragic reality of female gamers in Korea.
Because You Are a Girl
While some people claim there is no difference between actualities of male and female gamers, female gamers suffer constant discrimination. Anyone with Overwatch interest already will have heard of the Geguri Incident. Geguri is a professional Korean Overwatch player on Team UW Artisan. Though only a teenager, she has superb talent controlling Zarya (an Overwatch tank hero), and currently, boasts an impressive 80% win rate with Zarya. Geguri’s talent is so amazing, one netizen raised concern about the possibility of hacking after the Overwatch match between Team UW Artisan and Team Dizziness. ETLA and STROBE, members of the opposing team Dizziness openly accused her of illegal play. They argued that a teenage girl is not capable of such high level play. STROBE even quoted as saying, "If we suffer any sponsorship problems because of Geguri, I vow to stab her with a knife."1 Along with Team Dizziness, many netizens uploaded hateful comments including those that can be viewed as sexual harassment. Team UW Artisan accepted Blizzard’s request for an investigation, and analysis by Blizzard revealed that Geguri did not use any tricks or do any illegal behavior. To provide further proof, Geguri visited 'inven' (Korean Game Webzine&Community) to stream her play. After full disclosure and investigation, the reputation of Team Dizziness suffered a tremendous blow, but members of Team UW Artisan did not escape unwounded as well from the malicious comments.
Why did Geguri receive such criticism from her rivals and netizens? The obvious reason is “being female.” One netizen in a reply to STROBE's online apology said; “STROBE only made such unconceivable claims against Geguri because he knew she was a teenage girl. If Geguri were in a higher level on the hierarchy pyramid than STROBE, STROBE would never have made such cruel unfounded libel comments. Why is STROBE pretending that he made an innocent mistake out of anger?”2 This comment really escalated the 'Geguri Incident'. Even among professional gamers, females are the targets of hate because of their sex. Looking at it for what it is, it is clearly a case of misogyny.
Females Are Gamers too
What kinds of disadvantages or hardships do female gamers encounter? During the game, the player default is male, so female games easily become subjects of cyberbullying. Lee Hyunju, a student in the Department of Information Technology Engineering '16, recounted her gaming experience with “At the start of a game, players often ask each other if they are male on the game chat room window. Nobody answers that they are female.” Like this, females usually don’t reveal their sex to other players and will often use coarse language to appear more masculine. However, more advanced games require more skilled communication between players, so voice communication is regularly used during missions. To conceal their sex, female gamers will go to extreme efforts like using voice alteration programs. Today, a simple search will produce information and various reviews on market available voice changing programs. These examples clearly highlight the unfair treatment of female gamers.
Whenever a female is open about her sex, other male players start cyberbullying her. Oh Rora, a student in the Department of Information Technology Engineering '16 said, “One time when playing Overwatch, I joined a voice communication mission only to have male players start harassing me verbally. I ignored them as much as possible, but they were still very cruel and continued to attack me throughout the game.” Oh is not alone. Women who play Overwatch(@just_gamer_OW)’ is a Twitter account that archives misogynic comments during Overwatch play. Since opening the Twitter account on December 5, 2016, the account has continuously been receiving reports of attacks on women during play. The account derived a lot of sympathy from female gamers. For instance, the tweet which contains a screenshot of misogynic nicknames was re-tweeted almost 4,500 times. Those ardent responses unmasked the circumstance of female gamers and make people raise a rueful smile.
Regrettably, these attempts to highlight the problem have done little to change reality. Some females have even said male gamers have become more hostile towards female players. Voice actress Kim Jayeon, uploaded a photo of herself in a t-shirt that said, ‘Girls Do Not Need APRINCE’, and Tweeted, “"I don't need a hero. I need a friend." Star vs. the Forces of Evil EP08.”3 on July 18th, 2016. The photo caused an explosion online. Gamers, angered by the photo, said Kim Jayeon's feministic protest hurt their feelings. As a result, Nexon, one of the biggest gaming companies in Korea, decided to replace Kim Jayeon's voice as MMORPG Closers from July 19th 2016. Many gamers, including artists and creators of webcomics and novelists expressed outrage and started a campaign to boycott the contents of Nexon. The incident is not a simple employee-employer problem. It was an insult to all women who love and enjoy playing games. Instead of being protected from misogyny online, women are now accused of being the cause and are being blamed. Instead of being protected from misogyny online, women are the objects of blame for expressing ideas about feminism in everywhere.
Band Together; Even in the Game Women are not giving in
They are banding together and empowering each other while they play games. 'The National D. Va Association' is a good example of the rebellion by female gamers. 'The National D. Va Association', usually referred to as ‘For D. Va’, is comprised of Korean feminists that came together to establish the group on November 20th, 2016. ‘For D. Va’ was first composed to raise the voice of female Overwatch players about Choi Soonsil Gate and President Park Geunhye. After the impeachment of President Park, the Association portrays itself as a virtual person who stands up to sexism in Korean society.4 Nowadays, D. Va fights for equality so that real D. Va persons can live without discrimination. The Association is a social platform for female gamers, and its Twitter account 'For D. Va' has over 18,000 followers. For a non-sexist world, 'For D. Va' operates a reading club that meets every two week and its members participate in various marches and protests. In addition, members are organizing a female-only Overwatch competition as a way to show support for them as feminists.
The images of female professional gamers are changing, too. Typically female professional gamers were valued on the basis of their looks, not their talent. Kim Gayoung, a Starcraft II player from South Korea who won the female-only Starcraft tournament several times, said, "At first, I did not care about my appearance when I joined a competition. However, competition organizers highly suggested I put on make-up. There were also cruel comments like “She’s only become a professional gamer to increase her chances of becoming a broadcaster. Sexual discrimination is high among Korean gamers."5 Other stereotypical comments include, “female gamers only take on roles as healer characters” and “female gamers are not as good as male gamers.” With goals of breaking those outdated prejudices, the new generation of female professional gamers are doing their best to outperform their male counterparts. Without any preening or make-up, female gamers like AKaros, an Overwatch gamer on Team EHOME, and Geguri are vowing to continue to participate in competitions with short hair and without any cosmetics on their faces. These two ladies are members of mixed-sex teams and are performing brilliantly using high-level characters. They are truly the first steps to showing how female gamers can break into a male-dominate industry solely on ability.
With this strong voice of women, many are beginning to awaken to the problem and gaming companies have implemented changes. Blizzard, one of the biggest gaming companies in the whole world, recently announced the results of its survey on content translation on July 29th, 2016. To reflect user opinion, Blizzard Korea said it had decided to change some of its achievement comments that are spoken by Mei (a Defense hero in Overwatch).6 In the past, Blizzard Korea had translated the original lines of 'Ice Blocked' and 'Did That Sting?' into Korean equivalents of 'A woman of Ice Block' and 'A woman’s vengeance knows no bounds.' Those types of statements clearly fall into misogyny. With survey result pointing out these points, Blizzard Korea changed its translation back into the exact equivalent to maintain the original intent of the words. This type of change would have not been possible without the participation by female gamers in the survey. Concerned female players are constantly pointing out areas of concern regarding contents and the gaming world is listening. Their effort is seeing real change in the the world.
Women Are Taking Over The Gaming Industry
According to '2015 Game White Paper' survey results, 36.9% of online gamers are female. In terms of mobile games, female gamers comprise 48. 4% of all players.7 In Korea, female players are making up a considerable portion of the market. To attract even more female players, the industry needs to keep in mind gender sensitivity because at the moment, Korean games pay no heed to gender sensitivity with regard to both management and contents. Gaming companies that do not start considering gender sensitivity will fall behind. The industry needs to learn from its mistakes and do not ignore the power of female gamers.
1) A Posting of Lime (the leader of Team UW Artisan) on Overwatch inven Bulletin Board, June 21, 2016
2) The Best Response to the Apology STROBE (Team Dizziness member) on The Overwatch inven Bulletin Board, June 21, 2016
3) Seong Sangmin, "The Reality of a Subculture as identified by The 'Kim Jayeon incident', Mediaus, July 27, 2016
4) Official Tumblr Page of 'The National D.Va Association', January 24, 2017
5) Lee Yoonji, "Kim Gayoung, Queen of Starcraft 2, Details The Life of Female Professional Gamers', Daily e-sports, August 18, 2016
6) Blizzard Entertainment, Results of The Survey on Overwatch Translation, Battlenet, July 28, 2016.
7) Mun Jaehee, "Customers That Exist Elsewhere, or Are Non-existent. WHere Are All the Female Players?", Game Focus, February 11, 2016