If you're a woman and a gamer, it's extremely common to run across other gamers that, through some moral failing or lack of guidance, will lob gendered insults at you for no reason other than existing. You don't have to search for long to find evidence of this constant harassment either - Twitch streamer Spawntaneous has an eight-part series dedicated solely to how men treat her in multiplayer games that is distressing to watch. This is common among any and all multiplayer games, to the point many women may decide to 'play incognito' instead. After all, GamerGate sent a clear message to women in games: "You're not welcome here."
Since then, companies made efforts to clean up the toxic communities plaguing their online titles. The results vary, but unfortunately, it's still all too common for women to be harassed online. However, Respawn's battle royale Apex Legends offers some real options in communication that can make the experience wonderful for women - namely, the game's robust pinging system.
Most games contain some sort of rudimentary way of communicating with your teammates online. Unfortunately, most of these options are either lacking or are too cumbersome to use. This makes a microphone essential for communicating with other players, particularly if you who want to win. But Apex Legends' context-sensitive pinging system is easy to use and helps alleviate these frustrations.
With just the click of the mouse or controller button, you can mark weapons and ammo, suggest where to go, and even alert teammates to the presence of enemies in the distance. "I love Apex's ping system!" Haley MacLean, a freelance journalist tells me over Twitter. "It's a great combo of feeling like I'm contributing to the team to the point where I don't even feel guilty not being on mic, like I do with Overwatch."
Your ping also adds a marker on the map temporarily, making this voiceless option extremely viable for communicating with your team. "You can definitely win a match without ever communicating via mic with your team," one woman, who preferred to remain anonymous, tells me privately over Twitter. She goes on to give me an idea of how useful this system is as opposed to playing the team-based Overwatch: "In games like Overwatch, teams who use mic and agree on a strategy, coordinate their attacks etc definitely have an advantage against a team who uses no mic at all. This is absolutely not the case in Apex and it's so refreshing I can play an online game and have a decent chance of winning without feeling pressured to use a mic."
By removing the need to communicate via the microphone, women and anyone else who may be shy no longer feel the need to grab the headset. Entire matches can be fought and won without a spoken word between the three-man squad. There's also the ability to use voice to text or just type out short sentences, which can help cover a few things the pinging system may miss.
Staying off mic removes one method toxic gamers may use to identify someone as a woman, and lowers the possibility of horrible, gendered insults. Ana Valens, a trans and sex columnist at the Daily Dot, explains further: "When I'm uncomfortable outing myself as a woman over voice out of fear of facing sexual harassment, the ping system lets me hide my identity and communicate thoroughly and efficiently with my other players. People don't really treat me awfully if I ping weapons or drop sites or whatever, they just acknowledge the ping or decide not to."
This is important for trans women who often have to worry about trans related slurs and misgendering, on top of the gendered insults cis women must deal with. "Being able to squad up and actually work together efficiently without worrying if people are going to give me a hard time about my voice or misgender me has been amazing," writer Emily Dare tells me. Full-stack developer Hannah Dwan expresses a similar sentiment: "I refuse to use mic because I don't want to be seen as a dude. A combo of the ping system plus being able to use the voice-to-text, if imperfect, makes me believe a lot more in my teammates' ability to communicate."
It's great Apex Legends offers this solution to women who don't want to get harassed by a toxic gamer who's heard their voice, but Valens warns this is ultimately just a stop-gap for a larger problem. "I shouldn't have to hide my identity to communicate with my teammates without facing harassment. There's still more work to be done to make sure men behave themselves in-game, and I think simply letting women avoid talking over mic by using the ping system isn't so much a solution as it is one step toward trying to figure out how to prevent harassment from affecting gameplay."
Apex Legends provides an option to play without a mic, but the crux of the issue lies with the toxicity of the multiplayer gaming world in general. Its robust pinging system offers a solution for women who don't wan't to engage verbally with random teammates and hide behind the anonymity of usernames and the voices of their chosen Legend. But the fact of the matter is, women shouldn't have to hide their identities in the first place.
It seems the mix of the pinging system and the emphasis on cooperative gameplay in this battle royale has fostered a friendlier community than many other multiplayer titles. "There's less abuse through Apex in my case - even if they know you're on a mic or silent. Occasionally a wanker appears but overall [they're] much kinder, even if you're god awful (like me)," Lauren Aitken, guide writer over at VG247, explains. She's not the only one, either - many of the women who responded to my call for opinions had similar feelings on the overall community fostered by Apex Legends. Unfortunately, there isn't report system in place yet for those occasional "wankers", but at the very least it feels like such a system isn't as necessary in Apex Legends as it is in, say, Overwatch.
All of the signs point in the right direction, though. While most multiplayer titles are still toxic places for women, Apex Legends is a confident step forward for online gaming. By providing better communication options, we can make everyone more comfortable to play online and build diverse communities as we work to wipe out toxicity.