Let’s Talk About The Normalisation Of Racism In The Gaming Community

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.

Header image derived from Love is… by Chris Jones/CC BY-NC 2.0

Written by
From the heady days of the Mega Drive up until the modern day gaming has been my main hobby. I'll give almost any game a go.


  1. I suppose I’m very lucky that my Destiny clan is very diverse and on the occasion we play with random players, no abuse is tolerated.

    At this moment we tick almost all the boxes, we currently have 6 nationalities across 4 continents. We have a whole bunch of guys with disabilities and both gay and straight members too. I love Destiny for this reason, I now have friends from all walks of life that share a common interest.

    Incidentally, I mute everyone on COD.

    • I don’t suppose there’s room in your clan for one more?

  2. I wholeheartedly agree, racism and many things ‘-ism’ have no place in gaming, or wider life.

    I notice it more and more everywhere I turn now though. I hope this is just it being reported more and not it actually growing.

    With all the technologies at our fingertips we should be closer today than ever before.

  3. This is a great article. As a straight white English male I am extremely fortunate not to be the target of any of the hate that goes around but I am also very aware of it and how I am part of the group that needs to be working to stop it.

    It makes me cringe so hard when I hear kids in GTA screaming abuse, calling people niggers or faggots, and not in any kind of ‘joking’ tone either. I know a joke comment when I hear one and these are not they. Like you said, it’s become normalised and hearing people use it without a thought is very worrying.

    It is hard to tackle because, when all you have is a voice from a mic somewhere on the planet there is little you can do. Ignore it seems to be the general advice but that certainly doesn’t seem to be working and it must grind you down if it keeps happening.

    Ultimately everyone needs to make it obvious that no-one wants to play with people like that. At the extreme end, racists aren’t gonna pay much attention to black people saying it needs to stop but they might listen to their ‘fellow’ whites so that’s where the lucky ones of us, not on the receiving end of the hate, need to put ourselves.

    • Just a quick addition. Politicians and some of the media in this country have a lot to answer for. They have always exploited peoples emotions to get a vote to go their way but encouraging fear of ‘immigrants’ is having a real, violent, impact on this country (and the US) and we need to come together to beat it.

      We are all gamers.

  4. Great article Aran, really well put. My main port of call for gaming is TSA, which I have to say is blissfully free from nobs. I don’t read other sites, us forums or Reddit or watch opinion pieces on YouTube because I don’t have any time for the largely angry, often ignorant and pointlessly inflammatory rantings of many self promoters.
    I’m mixed ethnicity and very lucky not to come across any racism directed at me because I shy away from the places where it might happen, I can understand though how those comments you got Aran will play on your mind, they’re pretty horrible. Racism is a thing we should recognise in ourselves, we all hold prejudices but it’s so important to be careful how we express them.

  5. This definitely hits the nail on the head. As a fellow brown person that used to broadcast on Twitch, I can relate to this so much. Great read.

  6. I always report anyone abusive, I’ve not had much hassle myself but if anyone does start calling me a faggot in multiplayer I spend the rest of the game chasing them across the maps saying they have a nice ass. They soon fuck off.

    • Don’t be too cruel to them. They’ll call anyone a faggot, so it’s a bit special when they get lucky and get it right. They still deserve being hunted down and shot repeatedly, of course. And possibly reported too.

      Of course, sometimes I forget they’re just idiots and are saying that to anyone who manages to kill them. Then I get all impressed by how they managed to work it out. Was I running around in a particularly gay way? Or are just really good at these things? In which case, why are you trying to insult us? Doesn’t seem like the best plan, just slightly behind “punching a lion in the balls because you don’t like lions” on the list of foolish things to do.

      Also, what games are you currently playing? I quite like the idea of someone chasing me around complimenting me on my buttocks. ;)

  7. I don’t hear it very often at all but as has been said in the comments before me I play with TSA members. Harry my 9 year old though has heard and unfortunately repeated the N word which I was most unpleased about. I had given him some responsibility in the form of trust to add his friends and like minded younger gamers. Every now and then I’d listen outside his door to make sure everything was above board. One night I overheard him using several rude words and then the N word. I burst through the door and he looked mortified. I made him repeat every bad word to me and the N word never came up. I said to him I heard you say it and at this point found out he had no idea this was a bad word. I sat him down and gave him a bit of a history lesson and explained what the word meant and the context in which he was using it. He cried his eyes out as he never meant that. Needless to say he was banned from the PS4 for some time and a few deleted and blocked friends later we have never had the same incident again. I’m glad it happened in the way it did as he is no longer ignorant to it. It’s shocking how many of the younger gamers are ignorant to the meaning of certain words or feelings of others. Shame that not all of it is ignorance I’m just glad in the case of my child it was.

    • I still have flashbacks to when he used to say I smell of wee.

      That’s a lovely story though, and honestly, just an example of good and responsible parenting. I genuinely mean it when I say good job!

      • Yes the cheeky little bugger. He’s grown up now tef.

        There are many times I’m sure I’ve messed up on the parenting thing but I’m happy that people think I did a good job with this bit.

        Now I just have a George to try and tame. Who thinks everyone smells of poo.

    • That’s great to hear, impressive the way you handled the N word incident and really good how you give your son the space and trust to play on his own. My girls are only 16 months old but there’s things you’ve said that I’ll remember.

    • Ace job mate. Handled that like a boss.

      It points to one of the biggest problems though, kids picking up these words and repeating them with no idea the damage they might be causing. It must have been pretty common for him to have picked it up and that’s the normalisation Aran was talking about.

      Unfortunately far too few kids have a great parent who is paying attention and takes the time to educate them on it.

      • Cheers. It was mainly the one kid who was quickly blocked but yes I totally get how quickly it becomes normal. It’s a real shame that a good chunk of it is pure ignorance and even more of a shame that a majority isn’t.

  8. Good article, well said.

    Also, not touched on within this, how many sub-continental Asians can you name from games? I’m not talking Japanese or Chinese, obviously there’s loads of them, I’m talking from the Indian sub continent. I can’t think of a single one, actually perhaps Symmetra in Overwatch.

  9. The PDP thing seemed to have been blown out of proportion, and I’m not aware of the other two you mention.

    There’s actually a lot less abuse in online gaming now to what there was when I was first playing, mainly due to people using friend chat rather than open chat. It’s rare to hear anyone these days.

    Lastly I’d say these are racists who also happen to be gamers, same as there are racists on twitter or anywhere else where there is a degree of anonymity. It’s a society problem, not a gaming problem.

  10. Fifa pro clubs lobby if you want to experience racism & abuse. That’s where the party gathers.

    I don’t play online anymore cause I tend to get abuse the moment I open my moth online so gave up & only stick with offline. Overwatch is terrible with racism.

    I feel that this whole EU thing sort of made it a pass to be crude & abusive towards others & it’s a shame cause gaming is a way for most people to escape real life events but when you getting it in gaming then there is no where safe

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