How A Football Video Game Is Fighting Gender-Based Violence (Score!)

Posted on May 23, 2016 in Society

By Saswati Chatterjee:

featured_image_-_breakawayGender-based violence is a pretty big thing out in the world. As many as 38% of women are murdered are killed by their partners and recently, a video released on Saudi Arabia’s national TV showed men how to ‘properly beat their wives‘. These are not isolated incidents but facts of everyday life for many women around the globe. And the folks at Emergent Media center might just have come up with an interesting way to combat this.

This involves the release of their game Breakaway which forces both men and women to consider the many negative aspects of gender-based violence. Breakaway uses the medium of virtual soccer gameplay to ease players into its world and tactics, before slowly introducing the issues it wants to discuss. It’s a pretty interesting way to go about it since it does not thrust the message in the user’s face (leading to many rejecting it) but gradually introduces them to the topic in the most feasible way possible: how would they react if they were in that situation or saw it happening?

Players are often introduced to situations like a girl being bullied and locked into her locker for ages in an effort to build empathy and to break down the barrier between the sexes and it appears to be working, with more players going for a positive outcome in the game.  It is done so on a simplistic platform to avoid needing the best gaming monitors to run it, almost everyone with access to technology will have access to this.

The idea is to break down what exactly is acceptable behaviour towards women and girls, both in the virtual world and outside it. As someone who plays a lot of video games, there is certainly an atmosphere which encourages the kind of cut throat competition which can easily twist into gender-based violence. From ‘make me a sandwich’ jokes to rape threats, gender-based violence (both virtual and real) become a way of being more aggressive, more ‘top of the game’ in a way. Such violence doesn’t restrict itself to directly attacking, it’s also responsible for creating a silence around itself, where it becomes accepted and people refuse to engage with it. In fact, it goes so far as becoming the norm and calling it out makes ‘you’ the outsider.

This is why we often have situations like people demanding to know where the women are in gaming, in sports or any other aggressively male-dominated activity. The point is that they are there; they always have been, only they are silent. There is a particularly egregious example of this in video games where many women (myself included) do not turn on their microphones while playing online, except when they’re playing with people they know. The addition of a female voice is often an invitation for other (male) players to harass her, usually with gendered insults. This leads to a situation where the players automatically assume that they are playing against other men, when they could just as easily be playing against a woman who is just silent.

Video games are just one example, but the real world is full of them. Women don’t even have to be on the field to have violence directed towards them. Athletes have a terrible track record regarding violence with their partners. And those female athletes who do speak up about their experiences are often harassed for it, especially online. It’s almost like a double violation. That is why games like Breakaway are important, because they create that sense of empathy where there is none. With certain areas seen as ‘boys’ only, it becomes easy for men to see women as the ‘outsider’ and attack them accordingly, without taking the woman’s side into account. With Breakaway, that wall is broken down and that possibly explains the increasingly positive responses it is receiving.

In a world where women can face violence for as little as stepping out of their homes, it is important that we educate both sides about the problem. All that violence does is shut down one side, but the problem persists. Possibly with this greater understanding, we can hope for a world where such violence, if it’s not a thing of the past, will at least cease to affect women so deeply.