Even just a year or two ago, few people would have predicted that video gaming in 2017 would be loomed over by the ugly spectre of racism, and yet here we are. There have been prominent YouTubers who have expressed views that seem to demonise certain members of society because of their skin colour or culture. It kind of bubbled over over the last year with Oculus’ Palmer Luckey’s decision to fund advertising billboards that push so-called alt-right views. A few weeks ago, PewDiePie made what is at best an incredibly poorly judged anti-semitic joke, and just this week I saw another YouTuber, JonTron, backing views of white supremacy. He currently has three million subscribers and over a million Twitter followers.
As a guy with brown skin, this trend isn’t just worrying to me, but frightening. We’re living in a period where police forces in the UK are reporting a rise in hate crime against people from minorities, regardless of what colour their skin is, and the fires of such racism have been fueled by the likes of Brexit and Trump’s electoral victory, both playing on people’s fears and prejudices.
If you’ve played online, you will probably have heard people throwing out insults like the N-word or “raghead” at people, and most won’t blink an eye. “It’s a part of gaming culture, so what?” and “It’s just a joke,” are both excuses I’ve heard personally, but we can’t dismiss this so easily. It isn’t a joke and hearing such things alienates people, people who want to be involved and included. This is not how “gaming culture” should be.
It can be argued that the gaming community began as a niche, as a place where those who may have felt like outsiders came together. A community where people like this could share their enjoyment of games with each other. However, it’s no longer just a hobby for these outsiders, but one that’s shared by hundreds of millions of people. This should be celebrated and viewed as a success. Those who felt like outsiders all of those years ago are now the bedrock of something that has reached and influenced so many lives, and yet the loudest voices seem to promote division.
I’ve had my fair share of abuse directed at me. I remember a live stream we held on Twitch a couple of years ago, following our day at EGX, and there were a number of comments directed at me or about me which boiled down to jokes about not blowing myself up or being part of a terrorist group. While we were live, I ignored them to keep the show going, but while I was trying to sleep that night the comments were running through my head. There were people out there that weren’t interested in what I was saying about games I saw and played that day, but instead only saw me as a man with brown skin.
For some reason the throwaway racist comments have almost been normalised in some sections of the gaming community, to a point where I only feel truly comfortable playing online without a microphone or only with people I know, which are either community members from TSA or close friends and family.
Racism is wrong. Maybe I’m an idealist, but I want people from all backgrounds to be able talk to each other and learn about each other. Of course there will be times when you don’t agree with another person’s view, which is absolutely fine, but you don’t attack that person, least of all based off their racial background. Discuss their views and your views without being dismissive. Clear up misconceptions and talk, don’t just shout over them.
Some may dismiss this article as “virtue signalling”, but that’s a particularly unhelpful phrase I find is used to dismiss opposing arguments. Video games offer us such a unique place in which ideas from any corner of the world can be shared and experienced in a way that movies and books can’t manage. Embrace that, don’t shun it. A good game can come from anywhere and from anyone, and that game can help build bridges.
Do not let views that divide people become the norm in an industry that affects so many people around the world, be it in the development scene, the gaming media, or the community. This isn’t a call to arms, it’s a call to talk about issues or problems you may have, whatever they may be and from wherever they come from. Listen to one another, because that’s the only way we can help make the world a better place.