Why Women Get Excluded in Online Gaming

Ever heard the expression “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never  hurt me”? Chances are that there is at least one name that someone called you, at least one rejection that you faced that stayed with you for years. You might have stayed up at night wondering what you could have done differently, wondering how you will be able to recover from the devastating emotional pain you are feeling.

It appears then, that the above-stated (and highly overused) expression may not be accurate.

In fact, numerous research studies have demonstrated that our brain perceives emotional hurt in a similar way to deep physical pain. Situations in which we might be rejected can activate pain receptors in the pain regions of our brain (i.e., anterior cingulate cortex and periaqueductal gray structure). These regions are active when we experience severe physical pain (such as physical abuse, assault, or burns). These are the same regions that are activated when we are bullied, rejected, and excluded.

Although most would agree that bullying (including cyberbullying) can lead to devastating consequences for the bullying target (including suicide), we are not talking enough about another source of excruciating emotional pain – social exclusion.

“For social animals, being socially excluded was often equivalent to death” (MacDonald & Leary, 2005).

Historically, being excluded has meant that we will not survive. In the modern day, being excluded can bring up shame, deep emotional hurt and suffering, as well as feelings of depression, loneliness, anger, and devastation. Like other forms of bullying, exclusion may be easier to notice when it occurs front of us, as opposed to virtually. However, many online events accidentally or deliberately exclude members, causing deep emotional distress to those excluded.

Online games are a great example of that. For instance, Blizzard Entertainment, well-known for its action packed incredibly fun games, like World of Warcraft, Diablo, and Overwatch, are known for having a wide range of diverse characters. Unfortunately, Blizzard’s recent Overwatch League failed to include any female players despite many qualified players around the world, including Kim “Geguri” Se-yeon, one of the top level players.

How does exclusion affect people?

People who experience social exclusion (such as exclusion from gaming based on one’s gender) are more likely to experience high levels of emotional pain. Specifically, they are likely to experience depression, sadness, and hopelessness. They are also likely to experience physical pain in response to their emotional suffering.

Why do people exclude others?

In her book, “Daring Greatly,” researcher Brené Brown talks about the concept of scarcity. She states that we spend our lives fearing that we are not enough – not good enough, not accomplished enough, not successful enough. I also believe that we take this belief a step further to think that if we are not enough, then it means that our chances of being enough are scarce as well.

This would then imply that we have to push out our competition because to allow them in, or worse, to allow them to win, would confirm what we have believed all along – that we are not enough.

But what if that were not the case – what if the opportunities aren’t scarce? What if allowing women to play in the League does not diminish anyone’s chances of success? What if you accepted the fact that you are enough? That you – the player, regardless of your sex, sexual orientation, skin color, country of origin, or gaming stats were enough. Just because you’re you. Because you’re loved. Because you’re a beautiful soul and deserve to be loved.

What can be done?

I believe that universal inclusion based on skill, as opposed to sex/gender, skin color, etc. can help more people to be included. I also think that it’s important to acknowledge that every person out there is suffering in one way or another, fighting a demon or a boss monster that you might know nothing about, yet could possibly relate to if you did. I think that in addition to exercising social inclusion, Blizzard games could use compassion segments and even compassionate story lines in their games to promote inclusion and empathy toward others.

It is my hope that we as people of this world can unite for love, as one.

Janina Scarlet, Ph.D. is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, a scientist, and a full-time geek. A Ukrainian-born refugee, she survived Chernobyl radiation and persecution. She immigrated to the United States at the age of 12 with her family and later, inspired by the X-Men, developed Superhero Therapy to help patients with anxiety, depression, and PTSD. She has written multiple publications on this topic and has given talks domestically and internationally. She authored Superhero TherapyHarry Potter TherapyTherapy Quest, and has contributed to a number of pop culture psychology books, such as Star Wars PsychologyWonder Woman PsychologyGame of Thrones Psychology, and many others. Scarlet currently works as a clinical psychologist at the Center for Stress and Anxiety Management in San Diego, CA. 

If you would like to learn more about Superhero Therapy, contact Dr. Janina Scarlet Twitter @shadowquill, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Shadow.Scarletl, website at www.superhero-therapy.comor Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/superherotherapy

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