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‘Nudes in DMs, rape threats from 14-yr-olds’: Women gamers say KYCs a start but govt must do more

MeitY's draft online gaming rules has started a conversation about safety of women gamers, who say not just KYC, moderation & combating anonymous accounts also needed.

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New Delhi: The discussions sparked by the government’s draft online gaming rules, released on 2 January, have brought forward the issue of providing safeguards for women gamers. The rules also propose a Know Your Customer (KYC) measure for gamers. 

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) is currently holding multiple stakeholder meetings with gaming industry bodies, parents, gamers, teachers and policy think tanks, among others, before they declare some finality to the draft.

According to the Union minister of state for electronics and information technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar, apart from the measures in the draft rules, the larger Digital India Act will contain guidelines that will help build a “safe space” for women to withstand the ongoing “toxicity” they face online. 

“Our government is determined to ensure that the Internet is a safe and trusted space for all Digital Nagriks (citizens), especially women and children,” Chandrasekhar told ThePrint. “This focus covers online gaming and women gamers.”

Women gamers who live stream themselves playing online games — a practice known as ‘streaming’ — often face abusive comments or rape threats sent to them on their accounts and on other social media platforms.

“Having multiple accounts through social media and the whole anonymity aspect has created this environment,” Sonali Singh, who is a gaming “video creator”, told ThePrint. 

“There are two different kinds of gaming, one is competitive and one is content creation wherein you have many people watching you play during a stream,” said Monika, who goes by the name ‘Savage Girl’ on Instagram. Streamers use multiple platforms like YouTube, Twitch and/or Discord. 

Monika has been streaming for the past two years. “Many hate comments and abuses come my way. They comment on our (women gamers’) physical appearances, they ask us to show our body parts, which is extremely lewd. My Instagram DMs are filled with nudes from men who think they can get away with it.”

Sexism in the video game community is not a new phenomenon. ‘GamerGate’ in 2014 continues to stand as a prime example of vehement vitriol against women in the community. This online movement started with a blog against a woman game developer, in which her ex-boyfriend accused her of sleeping with a journalist for favourable reviews for her game.

It went to the extent of anonymous online trolls planning on “getting her to commit suicide” and led to a domino effect where male gamers started attacking women gamers and video creators who spoke out against sexist tropes in video games.

While speaking to ThePrint, Saloni Pawar, a YouTube streamer, claimed she was targeted by a 45,000-strong group who harassed her online. Their anonymity made accountability impossible. 

“Sometimes you can withstand the bullying but in this case I was forced to approach the cyber crime police and register a complaint,” said Pawar.  

The cyber crime police said it would be difficult to trace all of them but those who were “active”, around 10 of them, would be called up and warned, she said. But the harassment did not stop entirely even after that, she added.

Also Read: GST hike would be ‘catastrophic’, says online gaming industry, as council defers proposal

‘Redressal right now reactionary, not precautionary’

The latest draft of online gaming rules combats the anonymity issue by proposing KYC procedures for anyone who makes an account to play an online game.

In a meeting with the press last week, Chandrashekhar said that “there will be some KYC for gaming users, especially when we are going to charge a license fee, they should not be anonymous”. 

However, a few in the gaming community believe the current rules are “more reactionary than precautionary” and that it needs to change. 

“Somebody should be held accountable and there should be a way in which entities should be vetted including the gamers. The redressal now is extremely reactionary and not precautionary. I have had instances where users as young as 14 years have sent rape threats and said they will find out where I stay, etc,” said Singh. 

Also Read: India’s media & entertainment industry to be worth Rs 4.3 lakh crore by 2026, says PwC report

Social media intermediaries

Abusive comments and threats find their way to gamers both in the comments or chat section of their streams and games as well as on their social media. 

Yash Warghane, Community Lead for eSports company Ampverse, said it is very difficult for social media intermediaries to regulate hate comments due to the sheer volume of it. He added that various levels of moderation — for comments, content, voice — also adds to the difficulty.

He said that with government looking into moderation, he expects social media intermediaries to tighten their policies to stay away from governmental influence. “The government is currently looking at bettering their grievance platforms. It’s too early to comment on it but it’s good they’re taking initiative.”

Shakshi Shetty, another gamer who streams on YouTube, said moderation is definitely a problem especially since people find ways to bypass the current regulations.  

“We do have the option to filter out comments with certain words but people find a way to bypass that as well,” said Shetty. “Intermediaries like Meta are also trying to fix the anonymity issue from their side. For example, on Instagram, if I block someone, any other account they make will automatically get blocked.”

Gamers who have a huge following also employ a team to manually moderate their pages while they are playing and ensure that the streaming is smooth.

A growing industry

Despite challenges, there was a common thread of agreement — gamers want their community to grow.

Roland Landers, CEO of All India Gaming Federation had told ThePrint last year that “the industry currently employs over 40,000 people in direct jobs and by 2024, the online skill gaming industry is expected to employ around 2 lakh people.” 

Shetty said one of the steps for growth is to make gaming more mainstream for women and that the move to implement KYC is a good start by the government. “As and when things move forward, policies and regulations have the scope to be a bit more specific,” she said, adding that with the easy accessibility of devices these days, gaming has huge potential in this country.

(Edited by Theres Sudeep)

Also Read: ‘Online games of skill fall under freedom of speech & expression’: Why HC junked Karnataka ban


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