“Sweetheart, hey, sweetheart, follow me. Can you hear me, number 2? Follow me, darling.
Why aren’t you accepting my request, bitch?”
These are precisely the first few comments I received in my first PUBG match.
I was so thrilled to be playing the much-hyped mobile game on my new phone and did not wait for my friends to wake up and include me in their team. Silly as it may sound, I was determined to get into the groove of the game as soon as possible, so as to impress my friends the next day.
While I was rejoicing, having joined the league of women who play video games, my very first minute into the game left a bitter taste.
‘Expert’ Indian men who have made PUBG their breath and soul, made sure I was reminded of my gender identity and its ‘limits’, in the first game itself.
It did not turn out to be an isolated incident.
One time, an extremely cringe-worthy moment was thankfully cut short when my male friend shut up another male player, catcalling at me with obscene songs.
Every time I logged in with strangers, lewd comments, sexist jeers and outright abuse came flying at my face through the speaker. If I failed to perform well, I would become jittery and brace for horde of misogyny to be hurled at me.
It Didn’t Stop At The Sexist Comments
“Ladki hai, pata tha kuch khel nahi payegi” (She’s a girl, I knew she can’t play well)
“Know your limits. Go back to the kitchen now.”
“Pakka boyfriend ko khush karne ke liye khel rahi hai.” (She is definitely playing to please her boyfriend)
Comments like these, sometimes worse, which I am shuddering to write, became regular.
Gradually, I grew immune to them. If at all someone bothered me too much, I simply turned off the speaker. Later, throughout the hundreds of games I played, my mic was always disabled, to avoid further taunts.
I could not have been the only victim of sexist abuse in the online gaming space. So, I decided to speak to other women who are regulars in the Pochinki or Rozhok (inside the PUBG world).
Women Players Recount Their Troubling Experiences
“Male players will go on wooing you. They will keep on asking personal questions and even ask for your number. Offensive words are common, especially if you do not respond,” shared 20-year-old Meghna from Kolkata.
For Tania, a PR executive from Bengaluru, playing PUBG helps her unwind after a tiring day at work. After facing misogynistic jibes and jeers time and again, she has now contained to playing only with her friends and relatives.
“Once during the game, I couldn’t revive a guy on time, and his character was killed. He started throwing abusive slang at me. In the end, he said, ‘this is why you should not allow girls to play video games’, ” Tania shares.
“I have stopped playing with unknown people ever since,” she reiterates.
For 26-year-old IT professional Swathi, PUBG was about blatant sexism. She admits that men turn creepy and try to go over the top to help a woman in their team.
“Do you need more arms?”
“Do you need a car? “
“Do you need any help?”
“They would constantly bugger you. But, the moment they realise you are reluctant or uncomfortable to interact with them, the shower of abuses and jibes starts,” Swathi reveals.
“Many a time if I play well, the men would start doubting my gender. They would claim mine is a fake female account,” 23-year-old researcher Tamalika recounts. “It’s impossible for them to believe a girl can play well without help from her male counterparts,” she adds.
“A guy constantly kept pestering me to talk, to hear my voice, because he was not ready to believe that a woman just helped him win the match. At other times, they laugh and freely make fun.”
“We Have Now Stopped Playing”
Almost all the women I spoke to unanimously said – “We have now stopped playing with strangers.”
I, myself, have resorted to playing in the solo mode. The reason is the same for all, online abuse for being a woman who stepped out of the stereotype and played video games.
‘Women playing PUBG’ might sound a simple, three-word and apparently “empowering” phrase, but it comes with a lot of unwarranted repercussions.
Firstly, meme pages and groups on social media make a laughing stock out of women who do not play PUBG. A woman who does not understand the importance of PUBG is assumed to be dumb, to put it in a far more civilised way than the narratives I have come across.
Then there comes the comparisons between men and women PUBG players, or gamers in general. Similar to the age-old stereotypes, “Women are bad drivers” or “Women can’t do science”, women gamers are scorned upon and mocked about.
Even Virtual Gaming World Is Unsafe For Women
With the advent and booming popularity of PUBG, many women, including me, decided to enthusiastically participate. Little did we know that even the virtual gaming world would not be safe for us.
It would not be right to generalise all PUBG playing men as disrespectful and abusive towards women. But, they are ostensibly outnumbered by the sizeable population of brutes we encounter.
How many more disgruntled and traumatised women need to uninstall PUBG, before men finally understand the meaning of ‘respect’?
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