Racism and Games: Gaming Culture

Marginalisation within games and gaming culture does not just extend to girls and women. In fact, despite the title of this post, it more or less extends to everyone who isn’t a young to middle-aged, straight, white, cissexual man. The reason I want to focus on racism specifically though, is because I have some thoughts on it that very rarely seem to be included in the discussion of racism in media, unless you’re prepared to get into some serious essay reading.

It is reckoned, the findings from a fairly recent study show, that African-American (although it would be sound enough to conclude that this applies to most linguistically identifiable non-white ethnic or racial minorities) gamers suffer direct racial abuse on a daily basis, when playing games online. Racially abused, on a daily basis, trying to enjoy a medium that was specifically designed for sharing. Again, you need only spend an hour playing Call of Duty to collect the necessary evidence to support this. Of course, this observation fluctuates wildly based on the specific games being played, but for it to be happening at all is incredible.

Or is it? A lot of articles centred around the report linked above have drawn attention to the ‘fact’ that the frequency and magnitude of racism in online gaming is wildly disproportionate to societal observations, i.e. it’s worse in gaming than it is in the real world. I don’t think it is though. There is, as always, a tendency to separate ‘gamers’ from the rest of society when these observations are made. I’d like to see a report that records as much information as possible (without divulging real names and addresses, of course) on perpetrators of vocal racism in online gaming, so we can tether these observations to the real world – so we can see that the racists in gaming are not just people who sit in a dark room twiddling knobs whilst bleating racial slurs, but real people with real roles in society – teachers, doctors, managers, politicians, authors, counsellors, parents, siblings, friends and colleagues, all with terrifying spheres of influence. Racism in gaming may be more overt than in wider society, but it’s the subtler kind of racism that does the most societal damage, and is just as frequent, if not more so, in its effects: inequalities in education, employment, health, religion, law – the list goes on and on, and hundreds of millions of people suffer every day as a result.

Perhaps one of the greatest tricks of societal racism, is that many racists don’t even know they’re racist. How many times have you spoken to someone, or overheard someone, who says “I’m not racist, but” followed by a racist sentiment clumsily disguised as some sort of keen societal observation? No, buddy, you ARE racist, you just lack the cognition to realise it. Accounting for the liberal company I keep most of the time, I have still heard it far too often, and I think it stems from the widely held, but incorrect, notion that racism is only ever overt. There are millions of people walking around with severe prejudices against racial and ethnic minorities who don’t consider themselves racist simply because they prefix their racism with empty disclaimers, or because they never called anyone a ‘nigger’ to their face, or curb-stomped an African-American. It’s an extraordinarily widespread case of denial.

There is an odd societal assumption that because people generally ‘know’ racism is ‘bad’ that racism is disappearing. It really isn’t. I look at all the sensationalist xenophobic media, and overhear people talking on the bus or walking down the street, and think ‘Is this what the run-up to the Nazi’s election to power in 1933 was like?’. I honestly do. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s thought it either. General attitudes towards racial and ethnic minorities are abhorrent in the UK, and I wonder how far removed the Home Office’s attitude towards immigrants is from the Fascists of 1930s Germany. I know I have digressed, but when I read reports that online gaming racism is ‘worse’ than in wider society, I think there is actually a gross underestimation of quite how worrying societal racism is. In fact, I think that even when I haven’t read reports on racism in online gaming.

All of this is not to say that overt online racism isn’t just as despicable – of course it is – I just disagree with the idea that gaming is particularly racist based on the fact that racism in gaming is easier to spot. As with sexism, the format is different but the problem is the same – societal racism bleeds into gaming, and, due to the structure of the medium, that racism is direct and overt, due in part to the fact that anonymity ensures the absence of any tangible repercussions, and because vocalisation is the most obvious way of channelling racism whilst playing online.

There are those players who claim that racist slurs are ‘just’ a natural extension of ‘trash-talking’ – a psychological tactic traditionally employed by sports teams to demoralise the opposition. So the assumption there is that trash-talking is fine, and so are racial slurs as an extension of it. I don’t think trash-talking is fine though, especially as a psychological tactic. If a team needs to supplement their skill with mind games in order to win, they don’t deserve to win. I guess that comes down to integrity though, and there are very few, if any, professional sports that could attest to keeping theirs intact. Taking into mind that this is essentially the same sort of thing that happens on a football or rugby pitch, let’s take a look at some gaming trash-talking (and yes, this is absolutely indicative of events of this nature) HERE. Let me just make it clear: the people in this video are professionals; these are the people who a vast number of impressionable young gamers aspire to be like. They also have the same mentality that professional athletes in other sports have – do whatever you can to win, even if it means acting like a contemptible human being. Trash-talking is not a defense or justification for racism, because trash-talking is just as pathetic.

I want to talk about racial representation in games in a later post for two reasons: firstly, because contrary to the rest of this blog, that topic isn’t ALL doom and gloom (though there is still plenty of that) and, secondly, because if I don’t stop now this is going to tumble into another 2000+ word saga. Expect more soon.

I’m going to leave you with my favourite piece of New Games Journalism, because even though it highlights quite how overt gaming racism can be, you know who the bad guy is. Racists are the bad guys. If only we could all realise and internalise that sentiment, gaming, and the world, would be in a much better place. Anyway, without further ado: BOW NIGGER.


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