“We play games to forget the hate in the world, not be reminded of it.”
This is a statement I made a long time ago and is something I stick with today about video games. I play video games to engage in fantastical worlds, far removed from my own. Video games are an escape, a retreat. Something I can do with my friends in order to get rid of some stress. I can escape the world, be whatever I choose to be. I become part of worlds where anything is possible, from dragons and werewolves, to just respawning when you happened to be killed. However there is one thing that, no matter how fantastical the world, if other players are involved, I cannot escape.
The gaming community is not only marred by this monster, it is defined by this monster. It is expected. When people log on to play a game, they brace themselves. What level of misogyny, racism, homophobia, and so forth will I experience today? How many times will I be called a f*g? How many rape jokes will I hear? Will I be told to kill myself today, repeatedly? Will I be able to speak to my team without being told to get back into the kitchen or show my breasts? We have reached a point where online gaming has become no longer a retreat for many. Our fantasies are shattered. Fantastical realms crumble.
Video games and their respective communities, are expected to run amok with these abuses. When someone thinks of online gaming, these slurs often are one of the first things to come to mind. People, mostly men, slinging homophobic, racist, and misogynistic slurs as if they gave an experience boost, as if they added to game play in some meaningful way. People who seek to hurt and harm others, while telling them to grow a thicker skin or to learn to accept their lot in life. The same people who if you ask them to stop using these words, act as if you have taken their entire vocabularies from them.
Game companies are trying to. Riot’s Tribunal votes to ban people who sling racist and homophobic insults. Games like World of Warcraft have chat censors. However, so much can be done. Creativity is something rampant in the gaming world and with that, comes people who find ways to say these insults through type. Voice chat is a beast of its own. We don’t feel safe. We don’t feel welcome. We struggle to claim the name of gamer alongside the very people we game with.
So we make our own. We make guilds and communities. We find places we are accepted. We create cons like GaymerX to show that yes, we do play games and that games can be free of hate. Unfortunately, these attempts to escape within our escapes are often threatened.
As I outlined in my piece about the Diablo III clan ban of the prefix trans-, which has been lifted, a request for a simple change was met with hostility. I had people telling me to kill myself, that this was unnecessary, that this farther segregation of ourselves would only harm us more. Yet this very same thread showed why is was necessary. An escape within an escape. A safe place. A haven. We are expected to retreat even further into our fantasy retreats, hoping to find a way away from the biting outside and even within our own communities.
The gaming market reflects its culture it has created. A market of generic white, heterosexual, cis male protagonists. Each small difference is a triumph. It’s a push back against a culture that rejects the idea that these people play video games. Not only rejects that these people play video games, but that these words have any meaning. Grow a thicker skin. Get used to it. A culture that instead of becoming more accepting, would rather push those it hurts out. It would rather to continue to perpetuate a culture of harm and exclusion than foster acceptance (not tolerance) and community.
Gaming has become a culture of exclusion. We all know someone who slings hate speech in games. Maybe we have been guilty of it ourselves. When we enter a game and come to expect these actions and these words, we have ultimately failed gaming. Gaming is about fun. It’s about enjoyment, possibly escape. When someone has to bite their tongue and endure abuse in order to try and have fun, we have failed. We have failed as a community. We have failed as gamers.