Kristin Gillespie founded Rights to Unmute to fight misogyny and bullying in the online gaming community. NewsdayTV's Macy Egeland reports.   Credit: Newsday Staff

A Long Island nonprofit is seeking to make the online gaming community a place free of harassment and bigotry.

“We just want it to be a place where you can feel free to play,” said Rights to Unmute co-founder Kristin Gillespie, 36, who is also the nonprofit's CEO.

The nonprofit seeks to foster an inclusive space for all gamers through its ambassador program and it's social platform, “Unmuted” where they can expose harassment, form relationships, and “celebrate wholesome moments.”

It will host its first coed "Call of Duty" tournament on Saturday, with a winning prize of $3,000 donated by the community. The online, invite-only event requires captains to have a minimum of two female players and one nonbinary or male player on their team to encourage inclusivity.

By creating a more welcoming space, Gillespie hopes the online gaming world in general will become a more inclusive place to be.

“The future isn't female, the future isn't male, the future is nonbinary, the future is everybody, especially in gaming,” she said. “You shouldn't have to feel that you don't belong somewhere just because of the way that you sound.”

Rights to Unmute emphasizes the education and awareness of online gaming harassment, she said. The nonprofit uses data collected from its own internal forum to write research papers, which it shares with gaming companies.

Gillespie said she became a lifelong gamer after getting hooked by her first Atari. Gaming is a form of escape, she said.

But in many popular online games, which require players to be on one team and use a headset to interact, she often experienced harassment from teammates after they discovered she was female.

Gillespie said she’s experienced “all of it,” from being cursed at, called derogatory names, been body shamed, and even being told to kill herself.

“The amount of times I've been told to unalive myself, just because I said, ‘Hey guys, how's it going,’ is absolutely ridiculous,” she said.

To avoid harassment, female players will mute their headsets, or even purchase third-party voice changers to make their voices sound more masculine.

According to data cited by Rights to Unmute, about 76% of women gamers have hidden their gender at some point to avoid sexist comments and discrimination.

“You could never go out to somebody in the middle of the street and tell them that they didn't belong where they were because of what they looked like. You'd get sucker punched in the mouth and rightfully so,” said Gillespie. “Why is that different? Because you're protected by your keyboard."

Evan Leider, head Esports coach at Five Towns College, said this type of harassment could be a factor in few women participating.

“Races, religion, gender, none of that should matter when it comes to coming together and sharing an experience," he said.

When Five Towns competes against other colleges, Leider makes sure players are on their “best behavior” by avoiding certain words and treating others with respect, he said.

Gillespie said toxic banter is a part of the online gaming culture that builds camaraderie.

But there is a fine line between saying something cheeky when losing and harassing someone, Gillespie said. And parents don't realize their children who play online games can be bullied or can bully other players.

“I had a 12-year-old boy in my chat, telling me that I wasn't allowed to play games because I was a girl,” said Gillespie. “I was like, who are your parents? Who's monitoring you right now? Because clearly, you have no supervision.”

Gillespie said the intense harassment demonstrated a lack of moderation of most games. 

“Almost half of the players out there are women, and then you're catering to only the men because you're afraid to ban them for speaking the way they do,” she said.

Call of Duty, a popular online, first-person shooter game, implemented auto moderation last year that flags a player for using toxic speech, including “hate speech, discriminatory language, harassment, and more,” its website says.

Although Gillespie called the concept “amazing,” it is still a “flawed system,” because, she said, many friends have been flagged simply for standing up for themselves. A real person moderating the game would be better, she said.

“It's done a lot in terms of fighting racism, but when it comes to misogyny, they have failed to do anything,” said Gillespie. “So there's a long way to go, but at least it's a step in the right direction.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story partially misattributed a statement about banter and online gaming culture.

A Long Island nonprofit is seeking to make the online gaming community a place free of harassment and bigotry.

“We just want it to be a place where you can feel free to play,” said Rights to Unmute co-founder Kristin Gillespie, 36, who is also the nonprofit's CEO.

The nonprofit seeks to foster an inclusive space for all gamers through its ambassador program and it's social platform, “Unmuted” where they can expose harassment, form relationships, and “celebrate wholesome moments.”

It will host its first coed "Call of Duty" tournament on Saturday, with a winning prize of $3,000 donated by the community. The online, invite-only event requires captains to have a minimum of two female players and one nonbinary or male player on their team to encourage inclusivity.

By creating a more welcoming space, Gillespie hopes the online gaming world in general will become a more inclusive place to be.

“The future isn't female, the future isn't male, the future is nonbinary, the future is everybody, especially in gaming,” she said. “You shouldn't have to feel that you don't belong somewhere just because of the way that you sound.”

Rights to Unmute emphasizes the education and awareness of online gaming harassment, she said. The nonprofit uses data collected from its own internal forum to write research papers, which it shares with gaming companies.

Gillespie said she became a lifelong gamer after getting hooked by her first Atari. Gaming is a form of escape, she said.

But in many popular online games, which require players to be on one team and use a headset to interact, she often experienced harassment from teammates after they discovered she was female.

Gillespie said she’s experienced “all of it,” from being cursed at, called derogatory names, been body shamed, and even being told to kill herself.

“The amount of times I've been told to unalive myself, just because I said, ‘Hey guys, how's it going,’ is absolutely ridiculous,” she said.

To avoid harassment, female players will mute their headsets, or even purchase third-party voice changers to make their voices sound more masculine.

According to data cited by Rights to Unmute, about 76% of women gamers have hidden their gender at some point to avoid sexist comments and discrimination.

“You could never go out to somebody in the middle of the street and tell them that they didn't belong where they were because of what they looked like. You'd get sucker punched in the mouth and rightfully so,” said Gillespie. “Why is that different? Because you're protected by your keyboard."

Online gaming culture

Evan Leider, head Esports coach at Five Towns College, said this type of harassment could be a factor in few women participating.

“Races, religion, gender, none of that should matter when it comes to coming together and sharing an experience," he said.

When Five Towns competes against other colleges, Leider makes sure players are on their “best behavior” by avoiding certain words and treating others with respect, he said.

Gillespie said toxic banter is a part of the online gaming culture that builds camaraderie.

But there is a fine line between saying something cheeky when losing and harassing someone, Gillespie said. And parents don't realize their children who play online games can be bullied or can bully other players.

“I had a 12-year-old boy in my chat, telling me that I wasn't allowed to play games because I was a girl,” said Gillespie. “I was like, who are your parents? Who's monitoring you right now? Because clearly, you have no supervision.”

Gillespie said the intense harassment demonstrated a lack of moderation of most games. 

“Almost half of the players out there are women, and then you're catering to only the men because you're afraid to ban them for speaking the way they do,” she said.

Adding moderators to games

Call of Duty, a popular online, first-person shooter game, implemented auto moderation last year that flags a player for using toxic speech, including “hate speech, discriminatory language, harassment, and more,” its website says.

Although Gillespie called the concept “amazing,” it is still a “flawed system,” because, she said, many friends have been flagged simply for standing up for themselves. A real person moderating the game would be better, she said.

“It's done a lot in terms of fighting racism, but when it comes to misogyny, they have failed to do anything,” said Gillespie. “So there's a long way to go, but at least it's a step in the right direction.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story partially misattributed a statement about banter and online gaming culture.

GAMING FOR ALL

  • Rights to Unmute, a nonprofit that promotes inclusivity in gaming, will host its first coed tournament for Call of Duty, a popular online game, on Saturday, with a winning prize of $3,000 donated by the community.
  • The online, invite-only event requires captains to have a minimum of two female players and one nonbinary or male player on their team to encourage inclusivity.
  • The nonprofit seeks to foster an inclusive space for all gamers through its social platform, “Unmuted,” where they can expose harassment and form relationship.
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