Riot Games Will Work to Eliminate In-Game Sexual Harassment After Employee Shares Toxic Experience

“We will continue to prioritize and invest resources into this space,” “Valorant” executive producer Anna Donlon said

Riot Games Valorant
Photo: Riot Games Inc.

Riot Games says it will take steps to limit in-game communication and curtail sexual harassment after a UX designer employed at the company documented a disturbing and sexually harassing exchange with a fellow gamer.

The designer, who uses the handle Greenily, posted a clip last week of her playing Riot Games’ new multiplayer shooter game, “Valorant.” In the clip, Greenily is repeatedly harassed by a male opponent in the game who both calls her a list of derogatory and sexist names while also referring to her as his “girlfriend.”

“It’s like this MOST of the time on solo queue voice comms REGARDLESS of the game I’m playing,” she tweeted. “I usually don’t give in to this like in the video; I’m silent in an attempt to not incite more. Inevitably you get to a point where you have to mute them.”

Riot Games says it is prioritizing chat functions within the “Valorant” beta that does not rely on voice communication. “With any competitive game, we expect spirits to get high and things to get tense (and) we’re not going to ban someone just because they got passionate about winning or losing,” Valorant executive producer Anna Donlon told TheWrap Tuesday.

Donlon continued, “I also know that some experiences can go beyond enthusiasm; sometimes they extend into harassment (and) what I’m not okay with. The reality is that, for the harassed, it can be challenging to play a game competitively because you need to first protect yourself from ‘inviting’ harassment, and so you mute someone because they’re screaming slurs into the mic, or you mute yourself because that seems to keep the peace.”

Donlon said it would be “irresponsible accepting this as the status quo,” and said Riot has “prioritized developing non-voice communications, like character voice callouts for game events and the in-game ping system.” These efforts are “just the start,” Donlon said.

“We will continue to prioritize and invest resources into this space,” Donlon said, but would not immediately provide further details. The game does have a feature that lets players report offenders to Riot for review.

Greenily elaborated on the incident in a series of tweets and said it is a common experience she endures regularly as a female gamer. Because of the voice chat and multiplayer match functions in the game, she was basically stuck with the offending player for the duration of the match, which made the situation even more uncomfortable.

“Please don’t be this dude who shouted ‘OH MY GOD IT’S A GIRL’ the moment I talked; who called me his ‘babe’ (and) acted like I was his girlfriend throughout the whole game,” she said.

The underlying issue of sexual harassment towards female video gamers extends beyond Riot Games or “Valorant” — frequently games that allow general voice communications where anyone playing can opt-in and chat are also rife with men seeking to take advantage of any female-identified player they encounter.

“I want to live in a world where this guy doesn’t go and ruin other peoples’ games. Where people feel safe to speak up. But reality is that in general voice comms land, for a ton of females, their safety mechanism is identifying ppl like this early and remaining silent or muting,” Greenily added.

Valorant is in closed beta mode with a limited number of participants playing on PCs globally. Riot said the full game will launch in Summer 2020.