Virtual Street Harassment?

December 15, 2008
Virtual Street Harassment?

Virtual Street Harassment?

Number five on Gizmodo.com’s “10 Things You Need to Know About PlayStation Home” says “There are lots of dudes. Lots of them.” And it includes this screenshot of a male avatar saying “nice rack” to the only female avatar in the shot, who says, “thanks.”

This post would be an essay if I started analyzing that screen shot alone, so I’ll just say I think it really odd that a random guy is going to comment on a woman’s virtual breasts (that are not real – they are virtual!) and by doing so reduces even an avatar to (fake) body parts.

Also on Gizmodo, I watched two youtube video clips filmed by males playing  the recently released Sony “Home.” The site says, “In it, we see two female avatars being surrounded by male avatars doing little dances. Apparently this is happening all over the service. A lot.”

And indeed, in the video clips there are two or three female avatars surrounded by about five to seven male avatars. Some of the time the women in the first clip (i’m only going to talk about the first one for brevity’s sake) are dancing too and presumably they could leave if they were uncomfortable (I’ve never played this game) so I don’t want to say they are being victimized, especially given that this is a virtual world, but the whole situation is quite odd, as is the commentary from the videotaper. And it’s all the more disturbing/odd if it’s happening a lot.

What I think is especially striking about the dancing is how it is groups of men versus one or two women. Just like a lot of real world street harassment, the online dancing seems to be a form of male bonding or a way to prove one’s masculinity to one’s male peers. In fact, in one of the videos showing the male avatars dancing around the women, the male who was videotaping the incident at first voiced reservations about what he was seeing and passed by, but then he said, “I’m not gay,” and went back and joined the other male avatars in dancing around the female avatars.

If this is a common occurrence, how likely is it that people with female avatars will get tired of being surrounded by males and danced with and so either change into a male avatar or stop playing?

If you’re a gamer, have you ever witnessed this, done this, or been the target of it? If you answered yes to any of those questions, what happened, how did you feel, etc?  What have been the experiences of people who use female avatars?

(thanks, mark for sharing these links with me:))