The Virtual Glass Ceiling

Examining the repercussions of women playing video games


Graphic by Mikaylah Du

Women who play video games become a target for verbal attacks.

Melody Cui and Kathryn Foo

TW: This article contains mentions of sexual assault.

She remembers their comments — a stream of stereotypical sexist remarks like “why don’t you go back to the kitchen?” cascading out of the voice call. She remembers her frustration — the palpable feeling clouding her head, animating a sense of doubt and dejection. She remembers sitting on her chair, listening, and at that moment, senior Julia Lu couldn’t help but let herself cry.

“It wasn’t out of [being] hurt, but more out of frustration,” Lu said. “Because someone singled me out for my gender, and everyone started targeting me.”

Lu has been playing Minecraft for two years, climbing the ranks and making a name for herself in the community. She has competed and won competitions and is competitively ranked on a Minecraft server. To her, playing video games is not only stress relieving, but also connects her with an online community, where she has forged many relationships.

However, in a competitive gaming environment that is male dominated, her gender has become a target for verbal attacks. Lu recalls several instances where her teammates would yell at her and single her out with gender-based insults, creating an unwelcoming or “toxic environment” that permeates her gameplay.

“It kind of makes me hate the game,” Lu said. “It makes me wonder, ‘Why am I playing this? It’s not worth it, my self confidence is going down and I don’t enjoy it anymore.’ A lot of times when this happens, it makes me think, ‘Should I even keep playing?'”

Content Creator Kayla, who requests not to use her last name, uses the gamer tag “kayayluh” and mainly streams Valorant on Twitch. Kayla reiterates Lu’s frustrations, as she often faces similar comments while streaming on her channel. She has documented the sexism she faces in this community, revealing the degrading “female experience” in Valorant.

Video | Kayayluh

“I’ve got a recording device, which I got to record fun plays and when I did a good job,” Kayla said. “But I got these guys who were being really, really gross — they wanted to receive [pictures] on Snapchat exposing my body and [saying things like], ‘You have to send me a t-tty pic.’ That was really frustrating and that’s when I started recording it.”

Kayla’s videos have shed a light on the hypersexualization and overly aggressive remarks that women face in gaming lobbies. The volatility of those who make these comments also exacerbate an already tense and unpredictable environment.

“There’s a part [in my video] where this guy was very flirtatious with me, but it was light hearted and silly, but at one point, he dies and I didn’t swing out to trade him,” Kayla said. “He just flipped a switch and he freaked out. He threatened to rape me. He was like, ‘You fucking b-tch. I’m gonna f-cking find you and I’m gonna find your mother. I’m gonna rape you. I’m gonna f-cking rape your mother too.’”

Sophomore Maya Pullara, who has played video games including Valorant, says these comments have been normalized in the gaming community, an inevitability that she has learned to deal with.

“You’re a girl who’s decided to play video games and that’s just the reality of it,” Pullara said. “Guys are not going to respect you as much and you can either deal with that and be like, ‘OK, well, this is what I’m signing up for, do I want to continue doing this or do I not?’”

As a male in the space, senior Noah Berger agrees that he has seen these moments of sexism in the gaming community. When faced with these comments, he says the bystander effect happens too often, causing little consequence to the person being misogynistic.

“Realistically, the goal would be for the rest of your teammates to step up and then Valorant ends up banning the player,” Berger said. “But the reality is usually people just ignore [these comments] and don’t say anything.”

Lu has found a 50/50 split when playing with men, with half making sexist remarks and the other half defending her. She concedes that she inherently has little power over the actions and words of others, but emphasizes the importance of building a supportive community. She also says it will be a while until women can break the glass ceiling in esports, but encourages those who are in the field to keep trying.

“To the women right now who are doubting themselves, just keep pushing and ignore the haters,” Lu said. “Have faith in yourself.”