The most common coping method I’ve heard about, though, is also the saddest; to not play online at all. Both men and women have said they completely ignore the multiplayer component of a game because of the likelihood of encountering obscene players.
This is genuinely sad to me. Video games are supposed to be about fun, but many people think it isn’t worth their time to play with their tormentors, so avoid games wholly.
Another common strategy for women is to hide their gender when they're online. Instead of embracing their own identity, they feel forced to assume the default and become the stereotype: male. This isn’t restricted to choosing TotallyADude69 as a username or selecting the brawniest, most chiselled male avatar – it also means not plugging in a mic or webcam. By far, the quickest way to create a barrage of abuse and laughably awkward come-ons is to have a woman say something on voice-chat. I’ve seen several readers comment that this onslaught is not usually triggered by any in-game event or the content of what is said – all that matters is that the speaker is a woman. Target spotted.
Thus, women play in silence. Target neutralised.
Ironically, this silence leads to a self-reinforcing stereotype that ‘girls don’t play games’, even in spite of statistics that say otherwise. Since they don’t often hear female voices through their headsets, many gamers believe they don't encounter any women playing video games.
In a funny kind of reversal, there’s also a common stereotype about the harassers too; that they are all 13 year-old Americanvirgin boys! Just like all women gamers become either fat, ugly or slutty, there’s a confirmation bias at work here. We remember details that stand out, such as birth dates in usernames or whiny voices coming through crappy speakers, and they stand out more than they should.
The fact is, even if the abuse did only come from young boys, teens still grow up. They probably won’t mature per se, but they’ll definitely get taller! As proof, some of FUoS’ most disturbing and hateful audio submissions come from men who’ve obviously survived puberty. The result is made even more powerful because, now Little Timmy is all grown up, he’s only gotten more articulate, capable and creepy.
Give the cretins their due, though – these messages are at least bringing victims together. These men and women now see that they are part of the legion of the harassed. They’re part of a crowd who knew that things were bad, but had given up on convincing others or just didn’t care to talk about it anymore. These vulgar valentines can be upsetting, but FUoS has shown that they take on a different tone when put on display. The more effort put into the profanity or lewd proposal, the funnier it is to share and the greater the catharsis becomes.
What strikes me about this is that the original effect can be reversed - the words that originally might have incited a feeling of ‘I'm different, I don’t belong here, maybe I’ll go make that sandwich’ are pulling people together as a group with a common experience. It’s definitely an unintended effect, however, as I doubt the eloquent soul behind ‘U are nothing but a stuped bitch’ ever expected anything positive to come from his comment.