Sizism and Harrassment in an Online World

12 Dec

This weekend, I started playing a new Free To Play video game, All Points Bulletin (APB) Reloaded. I’m more than content to list it here, because all in all it is a fabulous game as far as Free To Play is concerned. That’s not what I’m here to talk about, though. I’m here to talk about the prevalence of sizism and harassment as they related to my gameplay over the weekend.

What you need to know about APB Reloaded:

  • You pick one of two sides, Criminals or Enforcers, and go head-to-head in a predominantly PVP game.
  • You have a fairly extensive list of options as far as character creation is concerned, and can create an avatar to appear however you like.
  • Depending on the investment into the game (as with all Free To Play games) there is a pretty significant difference between player power.
When I first picked up the game on Saturday, I took about an hour going through the customization options to create my character. I intended to create a visualization of my feminine alter ego, and I set out to do that. I picked a fair-skin style, customized her face to suit my image of her, gave her bright purple unkempt hair (that I was thrilled was tucked away under her cap when she first wore one in the game), and dressed her up with overdone makeup and a few scars. One was on her eye (very light and old), and the other was on her wrist (wasn’t intended to look that way originally, but when I saw it, I felt it connected to a darker side of her that fit her concept). For reference, I took an in-game screenshot of her appearance, following a day and a half of game-time and acquiring different clothing options.

That said and done, I’ll take you to the events of Sunday evening. I was running with a group of Enforcers (a core element of the game) after a group of Criminals who were transporting stolen items across the game world. It was readily obvious that two of the Criminals had significantly better gear than us, leading me to curse (under my breath for the most part) that they either had plenty of time or money. The end of the mission came quickly, and we had pursued them to the last objective. Once the mission is over, you can no longer shoot or kill your enemy, although most will take out their anger by firing a few bullets at the winning team, especially when my team was as frustrated as they were. What caught me off guard, however, was the following, from one of the victors (over voicechat):

“You’re so fat and ugly! It’s no wonder you work for the POH-lice. Ewww! Get away from me!”

Ah, how mature. Not a 12-year-old, based on the voice, but a child nonetheless. It struck me, however, how dangerous such offhanded comments could be. What if I was playing this game and actually made my avatar to look exactly like me in an effort to enjoy picking out clothes and outfits and winning missions? This may be an effort for me to improve my self-worth. Then I find that my abilities and equipment are vastly beneath what they need to be to beat these two yahoos, and to end it all, that comment. Ouch. The distance that could drive me into self-hatred and self-shaming is incomprehensible. Fortunately, I don’t resemble my online avatar, I ignored it, and I went on to have a blast on other missions.

Not to let a few bad apples spoil the bunch, I’d also like to offer the flipside. Despite the horrible experience with these two, I also realized there’s something special about this game. The appearance of my character to all those who were my teammates in a functioning way was a non-issue for everyone else. Sure, I wasn’t a Barbie-doll female or a GIJoe male, but I was a functioning and capable member of a party. I wasn’t completely incompetent and actually did a fair job of pursuing the objectives. I was judged for my skill, not for my appearance.

And that was worth it.




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