South Korean lawmakers are considering a bill that would make sexual harassment in online games like Overwatch punishable in court. Kim Sumin, who is a secretary of the National Assembly Women’s and Family Committee, proposed the law in an attempt to close gaps within current legislation and to increase awareness around the issue.
South Korea already has laws that cover online insults and defamation, but according to a Seoul Newspaper story accessible via Naver, Kim wants to amend the existing legislation because it “does not have explicit punishment for sexual harassment that occurs in online or non-workplace spaces,” where “the number of victims has been continuously increasing.” If the bill passes, it’s likely that the same infrastructure, like the fact that players need to link their Battle.net account to a social security number, can be used to enforce it.
As per translations from Twitter user gatamchun, Kim called out Overwatch as an example of a game where “the reality is that women are often sexually harassed.” She also stated that there is currently “low awareness about how sexual harassment in online games is wrong.”
One Korean feminist group began using Overwatch hero D.Va as a mascot in 2017. They told Kotaku that, currently, “in a sexist country like ours, it would be impossible for a person like [D.Va] to appear,” because she would be forced out of the professional gaming scene by abuse.
Harassment that is specifically sexual in nature disproportionately targets women, and muting offenders puts these same women at a disadvantage as it makes teamwork much more difficult, thereby making it harder for them to climb the ranks. Even top Korean player Kim “Geguri” Seyeon, currently the only woman of any nationality playing in the Overwatch League, previously stated that she considered using software to disguise her voice while playing.
South Korea is far from the only country that struggles with sexual harassment in games, but it is a leader when it comes to esports. Whether this bill – if it ends up being passed – will help to even the playing field for women who want to go pro, or just to play in peace, remains to be seen.