Challenging harmful gender stereotypes and harassment in the Nordic online gaming industry
On 25 March 2021, the Unstereotype Alliance, convened by UN Women, held a virtual roundtable discussion on eliminating harmful gender stereotypes and harassment in online gaming, including eSports. The event took place as part of the official program of the 2021 Winter Assembly, a gaming event organised bi-annually in Finland by Assembly Organizing Oy.
The discussion focused on the Nordic region, a recognised online gaming powerhouse and global leader in gender equality and women’s empowerment. Participants consisted of senior industry stakeholders including in-game advertisers, gaming platforms, game producers and grassroots organisations from Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The virtual roundtable facilitated an open and frank dialogue on key challenges facing women and girls in online gaming and discussed approaches to address stereotypes to enhance gender equality and women’s empowerment in this space.
Participants discussed the stereotypes that frame women and girl gamers as being less competent than their male counterparts, which leads to harassment and online gender-based violence, feelings of isolation and loneliness, and fewer opportunities for women and girls to fully participate in online gaming and eSports. Cyberbullying and online harassment were identified as online violence against women and girls, and reflected in the high rates of violence in physical spaces. Levels of online violence were reported to be escalating and in need of urgent addressing.
Participants noted that creating safe, welcoming, and engaging online spaces for women and girl gamers should be a key area of focus in moving towards a more equal future. A wider agenda of inclusion is needed, which can build on existing initiatives, infrastructure, and best practices.
Local clubs were identified as having an active role in encouraging conversations that challenge existing norms and the participation of girl gamers. Engaging youth in dialogue and education on good digital citizenship was confirmed as a crucial driver of long-term change, and a pivotal step towards preventing gender stereotypes from forming in young gamers. Greater engagement of parents is required in the conversation.
In-game advertising and brand communications were identified as a key vehicle to raise awareness of the gaming gender gap, and to challenge deeply rooted and intersectional social norms and stereotypes. It was proposed that marketing communications should help normalise the active participation of women and girl gamers through increased representation and the active promotion of diverse role models.
CEO Marie-Claire Isaaman stated “Esports sits at the nexus of four-gender imbalanced industries: The video game industries, the industries that design and develop the games – The sports industries, the real world sports industries on which much of eSports culture and commerce is based – The gaming or betting industries – the production, broadcast and advertising industries. We must focus, across the board, to do things with impact and not accept push back or indifference”.
The group agreed that global, collective action is needed to create meaningful change in online gaming culture. Events such as the Generation Equality Forum offer a platform for action that can be harnessed. Finland holds a leadership role in the Generation Equality Action Coalition on Technology and Innovation for Gender Equality, offering a further vehicle for urgent change.
The proposed next step in the effort to address stereotypes and toxic masculinities is to form a working group led by UN Women Nordic Office with gaming industry stakeholders from across the Nordic region including advertisers, gaming platforms, game producers and grassroots organizations to devise an action plan for meaningful change in the gaming industry.
Key industry stakeholder who participated in the discussion:
Assembly Organizing Oy, Lassi Nummi, Finland
Assembly Organizing Oy, Miia Syrjä, Finland
Assembly Organizing Oy, Nuppu Stenros, Finland
DGI Esport, Mikkel Kyed, Denmark
Elkjøp Nordic, Nils Martin Øyo, Norway
Esport Danmark and DigiPippi, Eva Fog Noer, Denmark
Female Legends, Liza Lind, Sweden
GLHF Group AB, Niklas Grawé, Sweden
Good Game AS, Erling Rostvåg, Norway
Kadaver, Carl Johannes Borris, Denmark
Marketing Finland, Riikka-Maria Lemminki, Finland
SJ Esports Oy, Jari Karlsson, Finland
Telia, Krista Korelin, Finland
UN Women Finland, Jaana Hirsikangas, Finland
UN Women Finland, Veera Nurmenniemi, Finland
Unilever Nordics, Ilse Siekkinen, Sweden
We in Games Finland, Taina Myöhänen, Finland
Women in Games, Marie-Claire Isaaman, United Kingdom