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 comprised 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 addressstereotypes 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.
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.
With thanks to all the key industry stakeholder who participated in the discussion, including:
1. Assembly Organizing Oy, Lassi Nummi, Finland
2. Assembly Organizing Oy, Miia Syrjä, Finland
3. Assembly Organizing Oy, Nuppu Stenros, Finland
4. DGI Esport, Mikkel Kyed, Denmark
5. Elkjøp Nordic, Nils Martin Øyo, Norway
6. Esport Danmark and DigiPippi, Eva Fog Noer, Denmark
7. Female Legends, Liza Lind, Sweden
8. GLHF Group AB, Niklas Grawé, Sweden
9. Good Game AS, Erling Rostvåg, Norway
10. Kadaver, Carl Johannes Borris, Denmark
11. Marketing Finland, Riikka-Maria Lemminki, Finland
12. SJ Esports Oy, Jari Karlsson, Finland
13. Telia, Krista Korelin, Finland
14. UN Women Finland, Jaana Hirsikangas, Finland
15. UN Women Finland, Veera Nurmenniemi, Finland
16. Unilever Nordics, Ilse Siekkinen, Sweden
17. We in Games Finland, Taina Myöhänen, Finland
18. Women in Games, Marie-Claire Isaaman, United Kingdom
Lassi Nummi, CEO, Assembly Organizing Oy, said: “It is not about what happens when we are in control, it is about changing attitudes before you enter the game. That is the very challenging problem we are all facing.”
Nils Martin Øyo, Brand Specialist, Elkjøp, said: “To be a relevant player and retailer in the market we need to understand the reality of our customers. We have seen that it differs heavily from who we perceive as gamers vs the reality of who actually games. We already know that gamers are a really diverse group of people and we need to reflect that in our marketing by normalizing female gamers. This is also sensible from an economic standpoint.”
Eva Fog Noer, Board Member and Diversity Consultant, Esport Denmark, said: “What I’ve seen from the work I do is that by speaking up very loudly, even when it hurts, that’s one of the ways to start making a change. Speaking up even when it hurts and holding people accountable, groups of people and places where this happens. Being able to speak up and being very visible, that’s one of the solutions for the here and now. One of the things when you step on people's toes is you get used to it, it is like dancing.”
Liza Lind, Gamer and Founder, Female Legends, said: “As part of our Project, future in eSports which is funded by the Swedish government, we surveyed over 300 women and found that women in eSports and gaming feel lonely, harassment is an everyday issue and representation is key. Women just want to be gamers!”
Erling Rostvåg, CEO, Good Game AS, said: “This needs to be about being inclusive and not about women. Women need to be normalized as players. Local clubs to establish sport teams and using pre-existing infrastructure is part of the long-term solution. We need to change the right attitudes towards gaming while placing a focus on the recruitment of players on these teams.”
Carl Johannes Boris, Creative Director, Kadaver, said: “Girls Legion is a movement with a purpose and impact. We want to create a safe space where girls can play and meet other like-minded individuals. It’s good for business that people are having fun with a product, that’s a big part of gaming. We are an advertising platform as much as we are a community acknowledging female gamers.”
Krista Korelin, Vice-President and Head of Consumer Business, Telia, said: “Lift the role models, make the role models visible. Whether it is to the own communities, or for the communities at large. That is one thing that those women who aspire to work in tech or be in tech need, so that when they face loud backlash, they have the support, and they have someone they can speak to about it and someone who relates to the problem.”
Taina Myöhänen, President, We in Games Finland, said: “We need to send a strong message out that it is not okay to behave in a certain way. There need to be many role models, we are plenty, and we need to show them all.”
Marie-Claire Isaaman, CEO, Women in Games, said: "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."