Dota 2 While Female

Dota 2 While Female

In our current project on implicit bias and stereotype threat, we are making some games for middle-school aged girls. One of the problems we consistently encounter in designing these games is the societal taboo against girls gaming, and its effect on our target audience. This piece by Clementine, a lab affiliate, sheds a little light on why there is a dearth of women and other marginalized groups in online games, and why it’s important to have a welcoming community.

So about two weeks ago, I got the email that I’d been waiting on for AGES – the invite to play the Dota 2 beta. If you don’t know, the original DotA (Defense of the Ancients) was a custom Warcraft 3 (a game of which I am very fond) map that has been described as “Multiplayer Online Battle Arena” or “Action Real-time Strategy”. Basically, it’s a real-time strategy game where the player manages a single hero with unique abilities, with a heavy emphasis on tactics and teamplay. Whatever. You can go read about it by yourself. It’s spawned its own genre, more or less, with other games like League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth patterned off of the original DotA map. Dota 2 is supposed to be a remake of the original DotA, keeping almost everything intact, except with a stronger game engine with more opportunities, since it’s not limited to the Warcraft 3 map editing capabilities (which are basically ancient at this point).

I’ve always loved playing DotA, except for one thing – I HATE the DotA community. You have to play with 9 other people in a proper DotA game to get the full effect, and teamplay and communication is absolutely key, so dealing with other players is unavoidable. The first problem is that it’s extremely noob unfriendly. What I mean by this is that there is a really steep learning curve. Even for a seasoned RTS player, it sometimes takes a while to get the hang of the DotA genre and know exactly what your team expects of you when you play your particular hero. While this is not in itself a bad thing, the real issue is the DotA community, which is extraordinarily unforgiving of errors. Make one slip-up, or be late for a team battle by just a few seconds, and you might get bombarded with “NOOB” or “LEAVE THE GAME”, or a horrible racist, homophobic, or sexist remark. Or maybe all of them at the same time. I’ve seen loads of my friends, whom I’ve tried to introduce to DotA, stop playing after a few games because they can’t deal with the hostile environment, which I think is more hostile than most other games I’ve played. As my friend puts it, “The DotA community is definitely known for its toxicity.”

Dota 2, on the other hand, has presented an entirely new problem that I didn’t need to deal with regularly before. Dota 2 has a new voice chat capability, so that you can actually talk to your teammates whom you’ve never met before. To be sure, it has amazing strategic advantages: you can tell teammates that the rune is on the top side of the map, or that the other team is probably about to gank the crap out of them. But now people can quite readily tell that I am, in fact, female. When I played the original DotA, I usually played with a username that clearly indicated that I was female, but usually people don’t notice screennames. Occasionally people would notice that my screenname was female and harass me for it (you can see a lot of it on “Fat, Ugly, or Slutty”, a great blog that documents the common reactions that female gamers get). But usually I could count on it being able to play the game without being specially targeted for my gender. But now this happens with great regularity in Dota 2. If I choose to use voice chat, I run the risk of being harassed for it.

If I’m lucky they’ll just express surprise that women use the internet. Sometimes they ask for sexual favors (“MAY I TOUCH YOUR VAGINA”, said one guy. “NO PLEASE. I WILL MAKE YOU FEEL REAL GOOD”). Sometimes they just yell “Go make me a sammich” (seriously? That would also be bad for the team if I left the keyboard to prepare foodstuffs. Smart.) Or if I mess up or die even once, I am told that “This is why women shouldn’t play games.” If I don’t use voice chat, we are losing a great strategic advantage for the team. If I mute an asshole on the team, then I can’t hear what he or she might have to say, which is also a strategic disadvantage if they actually decided to use voice chat for strategic purposes.

This kind of harassment is incredibly harmful to girls’ development and entry into traditionally male-dominated arenas, such as the STEM fields or games. A recent study has shown that half of middle school and high school girls experience sexual harassment, and this affects what they can accomplish. Despite this obviously gendered harassment, according to a recent AAUW report, sexual harassment and bullying can work together to obscure the fact that many bullying situations “obscure the role of gender and sex in these incidents.” When it comes to playing games, this often takes the form of players urging women to “grow a thicker skin” or “learn to take a joke”, or, even worse, to leave games altogether if the experience is too hostile. One prominent and recent example is a Texas Battlefield 3 launch party, which rather than ask male players to be respectful of others, simply decided to ban women from the event altogether. MIT Gambit lab has started a Hate Speech project to investigate exclusionary speech in online games, investigating Xbox Live community practices. This research points to a continuing problem about gender in games that isn’t changing fast enough.

Of course, this sort of harassment doesn’t only happen to female DotA players. There are a shocking number of homophobic, racist, and rape threats that happen in DotA (and a lot of other games). However, most of the harassment I’ve personally received is because I am female, not because I am a person of color (I was born in America and speak unaccented English, so it’s hard to tell via voice chat that I am also Chinese-American). The community was also especially hostile to Asian players. Players in DotA 1.0 who messaged in Chinese but played on a US server (or maybe even just lagged slightly) were often bombarded with comments about “chinks” with “tiny dicks” who couldn’t speak English.

I am very curious to know what happens in the future of Dota 2 with regards to the reporting function (where you can report someone for text or voice abuse, among other things). Currently, I do tend to report people who have been sexist or racist to me in text or voice chat, but there is no evidence that that currently has any effect on actually banning repeat offenders. Instead, from what I’ve read online, it’s mostly for research purposes right now. One goal of games like Dota 2 and League of Legends is definitely to reduce the hostility of the community, but so far developers have mostly been implementing ways in which novice players can be integrated into the community more easily (for example, by having an experienced player observe and instruct new players), and not paying much attention to other types of harassment that occur.

So I am waiting with bated breath to know how Valve is planning on making the community less toxic and more welcoming of players who are not white, straight, or male. It’s still early in game development yet, and the Dota 2 community has not been set in stone. There are still plenty of opportunities for game developers to incorporate mechanisms that can make a more civil community, and it is absolutely imperative that they don’t ignore or excuse offensive behavior, even when used “jokingly”. It might seem harmless, but it makes for a really crappy playing experience for women, people of color, and other marginalized groups who would otherwise participate fully. It’s in everyone’s best interest to have a civil community. Teams would communicate better. People would talk more in chat. There would be less muting going on. And it’d just make for a better experience overall if players aren’t flinging rape threats and racist epithets at each other: Dota 2 would be more attractive to a wider fanbase. Lots of my friends stopped playing DotA 1.0 and switched to League of Legends because the community is a little nicer. Plenty of my female friends have been turned off by the horrendous DotA 1.0 community, and I’d like to see them get a fair chance at Dota 2.

In summary:

Valve Software – Take this stuff seriously. Building a more civil community is only in your best interest. Don’t excuse sexism, racism, or homophobia, and give players better mechanisms for reporting folks who give MOBA games their bad reputation.

Players – don’t be assholes, and don’t let other people be assholes. Speak up and say it’s not okay, and definitely take advantage of reporting. We could all benefit from fewer assholes in our games.

Clementine is a 19 year-old woman of color and a Geography major at Dartmouth College. In her spare time she plays way too much DotA and reads way too much feminist literature.

  • Mash
    Posted at 09:32h, 02 January

    Nice article.

    Do you have any extra invitation btw ?


  • Anup
    Posted at 21:43h, 02 January

    I totally agree with you.

  • Budster
    Posted at 22:01h, 02 January

    Ah, yes. The DotA/HoN community sure is fantastic, isn’t it?

  • m3m3nt0
    Posted at 01:37h, 03 January

    I agree with you, but Valve is not S2 Games nor Riot (i don’t think that LoL has a better community: the game is just a little more noob-friendly itself).
    I’m pretty sure that they will handle this problem properly in the future, but it’s just Beta now and, considering that the game MAYBE will be released this year, imo gameplay improvement takes precedence.
    A suggestion: playing with a friend makes the game funnier and the harassment more acceptable. Not a great deal maybe, but the best you can do at the moment to enjoy a great game.

  • markcocjin
    Posted at 08:38h, 04 January

    My advice for you is to learn to type really fast. That way, whatever you need to say can be said even during battle.

    A good example of which is Purge who plays Dota 2 and types his messages and commands in game. He manages well with it. No need for voice.

    If you really need voice, you can just get software to alter your voice output to be indistinguishable from males. I’m sure you can find the right one for you if you take your gaming seriously.

  • Mike
    Posted at 13:30h, 04 January

    Good writeup. I really find it sick when I hear this happening.

    Dota is a great game, but I have found the community to be one of the worst I have experienced in all my time gaming.

    I’m not very good at the game, but feel free to add me if you want to group up for a round or two.

  • ramenhotep
    Posted at 13:33h, 04 January


    You kind of missed the point. The reason there is less female and minority participation in games is because in order to avoid being harassed, they need to hide their minority status. While your suggestions might be an okay short term solution, in the long run they would just perpetuate the problem. The only way to solve it is for game communities and developers as a whole to change their behaviors and attitudes.

    Also, voicechat is ALWAYS going to be more effective and convenient than typing, due to speed and the ability to leave your fingers on your hotkeys.


  • xez
    Posted at 18:57h, 04 January

    Was an interesting read.
    I’m totally agree that the Dota community is one of the most toxic, stupid, immature and stupid again I’ve ever had the chance to meet in my gaming life.
    I’m from South America, and having no other alternative that to play on US servers in dota 2, I have to deal with racism and other prejudices too.

    I’ve found out that playing with friends in your team is the best cure for this, so if you don’t mind, add me to steam and maybe we could arrange some games and pwn some racist noobs.
    Regards, xez.

  • xez
    Posted at 18:58h, 04 January
  • vTw
    Posted at 22:46h, 04 January

    So can I touch your boobs?

  • insertname
    Posted at 22:54h, 04 January

    Yes the community is toxic and unforgiving, but you also have to look at how the men insult each other during the games. The only difference is the insults are worded differently based on your genitalia.
    Yes women do get ragged on for being bad or sucking or insert sexist comment here, but so do guys. If you’re good at the game they won’t care. Yes I will make the odd sexist comment but never seriously.
    My biggest issue is when people blow it out of the water. Is it an issue? Probably. Does it need to be addressed immediately? Probably not. Do they need to implement something to fix it? I’m honestly indifferent because dota2 will most likely be large enough that they won’t be able to manage the whole community because “You won’t grow a thicker skin” like everyone else has.

  • matt
    Posted at 23:04h, 04 January

    On the other hand I was called a faggot by a random female windrunner player for suggesting she buy some mana regen for her powershot.

  • kanzakill
    Posted at 15:45h, 05 January

    Just use a voice changer. I feel sorry for what those newfags have done to you. Still, you can’t stop them, change them or, worse, become one of them.
    With enough time, you’ll learn that insults only hurt when they are made by people you actually care about.

    Good day. Oh, and try to play with your friends.

  • Ramenhotep
    Posted at 18:26h, 05 January

    Insertname: The only difference is NOT that the insults are worded differently based on genitalia. I have never heard insults targeted only toward straight white men. I have only heard insults in general, and insults against minority groups. In addition, I have never spoken in voice chat and immediately been ridiculed, as many women have. Also joking bigotry is still bigotry.

    Matt: I’m sorry you had to experience homophobia in Dota 2. I’m glad you understand why Clementine wants the community to change.

    Kanzakill: Communities are not static entities. They CAN be changed. The author of the post is trying to change the Dota 2 community’s and developers’ attitudes towards bigotry and harassment, not trying to avoid personal harassment.

  • kanzakill
    Posted at 03:01h, 07 January

    Ramenhotep: From what you said, I believe you are a pretty nice guy. However, you are too NAIVE. I’ve been playing DotA for years. And from my own experience, I can say that the community hasn’t changed one bit since I started. Well, maybe it has changed a bit for the worse because of the massive amount of newfags (which consist mostly of raging teenagers) attracted by Dota2.

    I have never flamed anyone in-game. What I learned from that is that making an example doesn’t work.

    Maybe things will be better if Valve handle things with an iron hand. Other measures seem rather inefficient because, well, one does not simply educate people over the Internet.

  • Ramenhotep
    Posted at 08:30h, 07 January

    Kanzakill: I too have been playing DotA for years on garena, and there are several reasons why the community has not improved. The first reason is that there could never really be any repercussions for being a jerk due to shoddy reporting systems. The second reason is that combined with this, the garena (or whatever platform you use) staff or community report reviewers didn’t care or had low standards for banning. The third reason is that many people in the community didn’t care about making DotA a better place. Sometimes this was because they didn’t believe there was a problem (see Insertname’s comment). Other times, they, like you, believed that the community could not be changed.

    I can’t guarantee that community can be changed from within. Maybe the only way it can be changed is by Valve’s iron fist. But I CAN guarantee that if we don’t try to change it, it won’t change. It’s a self fulfilling prophecy. Everyone believes the community can’t be changed–> nobody does anything to change it–> it doesn’t change.

    We have an opportunity now, since banning and other countermeasures against dickery are a reality, we just need to make sure they are taken seriously. That’s what this post is about. Most people do not need to be educated. Valve just needs to know that there are players out there that need them to take reporting seriously, and that it’s in everyone’s best interest to do so.

    Now’s the time to stop claiming it can’t be done (because it clearly can: with the exception of the voice chat problem, I have experienced far less dickery in Dota 2 than in DotA), and start making sure that it IS done. I hear that Valve is already one the right track: repeat offenders get their chat suspended, and eventually get put in a matchmaking pool with only other assholes.

  • sylverinne
    Posted at 01:14h, 18 June

    don’t worry about being targeted cause you are a female players. nowdays most people are just busy hating on russians, which completley destroy the so called community :/

  • Pingback:Girls at Play | Playing at Leadership: Games, Gaming, & Leadership Studies
    Posted at 10:37h, 13 August

    […] answer, at least according to Clementine at Tiltfactor, is because of the very toxicity that the presence of women in the gaming community produces. […]

  • Roxy
    Posted at 21:18h, 13 February

    I completely agree with this, I get flamed for having a female voice without having done anything to warrant it. Another big issue is people flaming you when they’re playing as bad or worse than you are that drives me nuts, I play a bit of random pick to improve so it’s usually characters I’m new to.

    I have no idea why when someone has advice they can’t just say it as advice ‘hey you could try this next time’ as opposed you ‘f*ck you you f*cuking _____’. I feel very sorry for new players, I generally don’t do bad enough for people to notice most of the time but new players get a lot of jip it’s better to advise them to flame and besides when you’re on the receiving end of harassment it makes you lose confidence and play even worse or lose all desire to help your team. It is supposed to be the opponent who tries to undermine your confidence as a player as a psychological tactic rather than your own team.

    It also sucks for support heros whose contribution isn’t necessarily measured in the most kills and the least deaths.

  • Pro Dota Player
    Posted at 07:47h, 10 June

    I used to get harassed and bullied harshly in Dota 2 as a noob. Some of the harassment got extremely personal often times and, I will admit, hurtful.

    I guess most players are at one point noobs, and must go through this painful stage of incessant bullying and humiliation. But sadly, most of the players who were once bullied, become bullies themselves.

    Today I have little patience for new players, and although I never get into comments too personal, and limit myself to ridiculing for game-related mistakes, it is unfortunate the the extent to which past aggression towards us can undermine our naturally friendly disposition towards others in these online interactions.

    Another very surprising phenomenon I’ve noticed has been the evolution of my reaction to “rape” comments, jokes, threats, etc. I still recall my discomfort the first time that I heard a fellow Dota player describe overtaking another in skill in terms of rape. When I hear “rape” today in the context of a Dota game, I hear little more than a synonym for “pwn”.

    Despite being a latin american myself, and speaking spanish, I regularly harass any other Spanish speaking player from South America, and have “fun” while doing it.

    Being the recipient of harassment changes one’s overall attitudes, and in particular our sensitivities to others’ suffering as a result of our interactions. It turns bullying into a “game”.

    So I appreciate your post, I think this is a grave issue that needs a lot of awareness shone into it.

    As a final note, I do feel that Dota 2 is more communicative and players are abusive at a lower rate than in eg Dota on Garena.

  • Dota 2 cheats
    Posted at 18:54h, 20 March

    Hi, just wanted to say, I enjoyed this article. It was practical.

    Keep on posting!

    my web site Dota 2 cheats