The white boys club: Creating change in South African gaming

9 min read
38

CSGO

I remember this day quite vividly. I had logged into a local CSGO server to warm up before heading into comp. It was a Saturday morning and the server was fairly full. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary until a couple seconds in when a guy started shouting in his mic at a woman about who knows what. It seems I had logged into the middle of an argument.

He was calling her stupid, making a ton of sexist jokes and more, all in a thick Afrikaans accent. This is important to note as she responded to his insults by labelling all Afrikaners as stupid. Meanwhile, the chat was having a field day with sexist jokes and trying to inflame things further.

And then, out of nowhere, the k-word and was being dropped and the whole server turned from trashing a girl to trashing an entire race. People were changing their names to “Sipho” and “black accents” were being imitated through mics. Never before, had I so clearly experienced the full spectrum of what it’s like to play in a white, male dominated scene.

eSports is blowing up

76ers

eSports, as well as gaming overall, is growing at a staggering rate. Just recently the Philadelphia 76ers, a massive basketball franchise in the NBA, bought two eSports brands and is heralding a new era in eSports as more and more big name brands get involved.

And not so long ago, I wrote about how our local scene has a long way to go, but that there is still a lot of progress being made. With all of the success and growth in the scene both locally and globally, we need to ask ourselves, is everyone enjoying the success? Where are the women gamers? Where are the gamers of colour (GoC)?

Actually, it does matter

Whenever articles are posted that discuss the idea of race or gender within our gaming scene, the responses are generally not very productive or insightful.

Oh deer [sic]. It’s the patriarchy at work again, it seems. On a more serious note, so what?

I honestly don’t see the point in any of this.

Why does skin colour matter? Black dev, blue dev, pink dev, white dev, yellow dev, I do not care.

Nice. Bring race into it again… LOL

I do not understand this article. What is the point?

There is a massive problem in our gaming scene with a lack of diversity. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of stats out there around our scene aside from the MGSA 2015 survey, but it’s not hard to look around and see it.

Gaming 1

The white population makes up less than 10% of our population in South Africa. Men, of all groups, make up 48% of our population. (Source) With stats like these, it’s hard not to see the problem in our gaming scene. This is not a personal attack on all white men, it’s a statement that the white boys club in gaming has to change and everyone has a role to play in making that happen.

Responses like who cares? Well, the minority that makes up women, GoC and more care. As for reactions like “so what”, it shows a lot of ignorance that you can’t understand why the lack of diversity is bad for the scene and not at all progressive. It shows ignorance because the lack of diversity shows there are problems holding others from entering the scene.

For the remainder of this article, I will be focusing the lens around GoC, but there are points that will reflect the issues surrounding the lack of representation amongst women as well.

What’s holding GoC from joining in the fun?

KSI

A huge part of the problem is the environment in which our community interacts. Whilst online gaming is generally a place that requires a thick skin and liberal use of the mute button, it’s even worse for GoC. The story I shared at the beginning of this article was not a made up one, nor is it an isolated incident.

There is rampant racism in our local servers. Playing on international servers gives a noticeably different experience to playing closer to home. That toxic, oppressive environment makes it very difficult for new GoC to explore gaming or want to progress into the eSports scene. The teammates you end up playing with could be the same players that drop the n-word or the k-word so casually online.

Another reality is that despite the non-white population making up more than 90% of the population, South Africa is one of the most economically unequal countries in the world. There is a massive disparity of wealth between the rich and the poor and the brunt of that inequality falls on non-whites.

South Africa

Gaming is not a cheap passion to have and whilst strides in technology have made it more accessible and most popular games can run on even the most mediocre rigs, shelling out R8 000 for a new rig or R4 000 for a console is just not possible for the large majority of our country, which happen to be people of colour.

Lack of awareness also plays a role in the largely white, male scene we have. Events that people can attend are largely shared within the scene. If you were to ask a non-gamer about rAge, I doubt they’d know what you’re talking about, let alone what it entails. That’s one of the most anticipated events of the year in our scene.

The lack of awareness is also exacerbated by the infancy of our scene and its subsequent size. It’s hard to get the word out there when we’re so small, but this also leads to a vicious cycle where we let our size excuse the lack of awareness. To get bigger, we need to include more people and that means we need to talk louder about our scene.

Another large issue that has, in recent times, been addressed more is the prolific use of the white man as the protagonist for a large majority of games. It’s a point that is hard to drive home to those that are used to playing a relatable character as it’s become so second nature to expect it that it doesn’t seem important or impactful. But to GoC, it is. And to those looking to venture into gaming, it can be off putting and reinforces this idea that gaming is a white boys club.

Solving the problem and creating real change

This is not an easy fix and as I’ve said before, it will require everyone in the scene to play their role. However, there are steps we can take now to start us in the right direction and create the momentum we need to fix this problem. The first lies with all of us.

Low Priority

We need to clean up our community. Racism on our local servers is either met with stony silence or laughter. In all my time gaming locally, I’ve only seen racism called out a handful of times in game. The last time I called it out, I was quickly silenced with a barrage of insults and jeers. I know that some of you do call it out and I often see posts on our local Facebook groups where people ask to report a racist player and that is absolutely inspiring to see, but we also need to be vocal about it in game. We need to create an immediate environment that isn’t so harsh for GoC to play in.

Companies need to get more involved in the process of transformation. Instead of just throwing money at the status quo, why aren’t companies starting initiatives to get more GoC into the local gaming scene? The same goes for government. This process already happens in traditional sports successfully, so it can absolutely work in eSports.

rAge

We need to get the word out. As I stated earlier, we need to talk more loudly about our gaming scene but also make it more inviting. rAge, and other events like it, is a great platform for this endeavour. Create opportunities for non-gamers, particularly people of colour, to come and see what it’s all about. Even small things, like not all advertising featuring white people, could help create an image that is more inviting. Taking it a step further, imagine if Roxy wasn’t white?

This is not at all to knock the great work that those around rAge do, but I’m merely making the point that more can be done to create awareness around our scene and make it more inviting to people of colour. We need to shed this white boys club image that gaming has. To be fair, it’s not just a local problem but a global issue that many are trying to tackle with some promising results.

Getting the right mindset

Gaming 2

We all really need to understand the legitimacy of this issue. Do the maths. There is a huge lack of diversity problem in our scene and it isn’t okay. As a community, we need to be willing to get involved and contribute to change.

It starts with small steps like not making jokes to every article posted around gender issues. Call out bad behaviour in game. The biggest, most helpful change of all would be to stop taking everything so damn personally.

This isn’t an attack on white men, this is a call for those in the scene to get involved to create positive change. In our country, it often feels like the rainbow nation dream is falling apart rapidly but we’re gamers. We don’t ever shy away from difficult challenges. Why start now?

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Last Updated: January 4, 2017

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Glenn Kisela

I've always loved video games as well as writing, so mixing the two together was inevitable. When I'm not doing that, I do photography and design.

  • I tend to disable any in game voice setting before I even start playing a new game. If it has in game voice features I throw it into the sea.

  • Alien Emperor Trevor

    Good read, Glenn.

    I imagine it’s a lot like a death by 1000 cuts – it’s easy to brush off a “funny” racist/sexist/whatever comment from some random, it’s when there’s a constant bombardment of them that it stops being fun for the target.

    • I know all about that 😛

    • Original Heretic

      Being a pale white boy, that stuff obviously doesn’t come my way,but it bugs the crap outta me just hearing it. I’m by no stretch of the imagination some kind of SJW, please don’t even start thinking that.
      But being prejudiced against someone just one thing that you superficially perceive?!? I call bullshit.

  • Original Heretic

    I really can’t stand racism. And I really don’t get why people still want to discriminate on others according to their race.
    People who still do that need to get their shit together. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/7a380cde7b6af25d94e171730d50ed6759ef96f31a506fce19e573138ff769ee.jpg

  • Good read. Sadly there is so much more at play here than just people’s attitude to GoC.
    Our government flames things further by continually pressing on the apartheid button. If things go south… Blame apartheid.

    Now while apartheid was bad, there needs to come a point where it’s left behind. Not to be forgotten, but to allow people to move on and make a better life for everyone.

    A lot of that starts at home. People need to accept a few things:

    1) Apartheid happened. There are people still suffering the effects today. Older black people are poor and this affects their ability to raise their kids. Their kids grow up poor and the cycle continues
    2) Apartheid is over: On the other side our government must accept this and actually start making a plan to properly uplift the poor. BEE is not going to do that. BEE still requires you to have an education. Focus is in the wrong place. Focus on education.

    Why do I bring this up? Simple. People on both sides of this argument hate the other side and this causes more racism. Both sides are very intolerable. This is why gaming can come across as such a racist community because sadly whites are the ones that can afford gaming more and so the see-saw is tipped more to one side.

    So the solution? Well the solution is easy to say but requires people to stop being idiots. The solution is:
    Stop being a doos.
    People are people regardless of color gender or race.

    If you see racism online. Right click – Report. Or forum -report. Or whatever the means is that the server you are on allows for reporting. Just report racisim and sexism. End.

    Let the bans start happening. It’s up to us to clean out the filth and leave those that really do believe in the statement “White , black, pink or purple doesn’t matter to me”. Because if you believe in that statement, truly believe, then you will take action to make sure that it is true. The action is to say no to racism sexism etc.

    It’s that simple community of gamers. So do it.

    • Alien Emperor Trevor

      tl;dr

      (I kid)

  • CypherGate

    That’s why I don’t bother much with online gaming much (locally) sure a LAN with immediate frienda thrashing each other is ok cause we know how we are as friends, but online it’s totally different. I really don’t do local online gaming cause the thrashing, insults, racial slurs gets too insane. Spoils gaming as a whole.

  • Dane

    Inspiring words, and I think you have many good points. I’m going to treat this article as my weekly FFD, if you don’t mind. 😛

    I would think that developers cater for their target market, a market which is well established. Whether the market is colourful or not is a product of circumstances which have nothing to do with gaming.

    I do, however, believe that creating an equilibrium (of race) in gaming will help the scene. I’m still quite young, not going to say how young, but through my entire school career my peers balanced out in race pretty solidly. I was a gamer throughout high school and yes, the great majority of the gamers that participated in the LANs and gatherings around me were white. In fact at least a 10:1 ratio. Although, I had a lot of black friends who played console. Some of them played CoD, some played Battlefield, some Assassins Creed. All of them played FIFA. Could it be within the grasp of a well-equipped developer/MGO to learn from this (and other material things) and initiate GoC interest into wider ranges of gaming and eSports? Absolutely. It’s no secret that people of different backgrounds live differently, and have varying, prominent interests.

    As for racism in online servers (RIOP?) It’s entirely unacceptable, and yes instead of just “not being a dick” we do need to take action in a consequential manner. If someone pulls the K word, don’t ignore it, report them. Responding in a derogatory manner also adds unnecessary guilt on your behalf. I mean, of course he/she is being a doos, but they’re not going to suddenly realize it when you tell them over the internet. Heck, they probably enjoy the engagement.

    Have a great weekend everyone!

  • BakedBagel

    I do recognize the problems, but i see no solutions (that actually work) in this article.

    “We need to clean up our community. ”
    This has been tried and tried again, with failure. In most online games there is mute function :/

    “Companies need to get more involved in the process of transformation.”
    What initiatives would you suggest? PoC only awards etc? If im not mistaken a coding convention is currently doing that.
    Edit: Government has a “Gaming Body” the MSSA (lmao) and we all know how that is working.

    “We need to get the word out.”
    YES. i agree, but if people are generally not interested in gaming, they wont fork out the money for it, or be interested in it at all. Much like any hobby really. Im not forking out R1500 for the latest cleats. I dont play football.

    People are assholes in general. Unfortunately

    • Dane

      What if I told you, this article IS an action that you don’t see in this article..

      • BakedBagel

        Okay, now lets see how much real impact it has

  • bluegoon

    Respect OPs opinion but IMO leave SJW shit out of gaming.

  • Ryno Viljoen

    Having constantly defend yourself by saying this is not a attack on white people sure sounds like a attack on white people.

    Its simple what have you given up to be great at your game its not about race the best get the job ?

  • Ryno Viljoen

    Gaming is a luxury not a right. So if you want a pc or console for gaming work for it.

    • Deceased

      ^ This

      Also – NEVERMIND gaming, the INTERNET is not a place for the weakhearted / easily offended

      Obviously I’m not saying it’s right to treat people the way anonymous-keyboard-warriors treat people…
      But you know… the duck wants to swim in the pond, it’ll have to evolve to have the water just run off its back 😐

      Also – before you even consider it…
      I’M NOT A RACIST OR SEXISTS OR WHATEVER *IST YOU’D LIKE TO THINK – I DON’T DISCRIMINATE, I HATE EVERYONE

  • Darren Peach

    While I have never personally experienced local racism when playing COD and the like, I have to ask the question, If there is a lack of diversity in local gaming, does that not stem from the slow transformation or empowerment of those afflicted by apartheid ? This sort of article has very little value to me as it shames me and serves to further ostrocise my community. I remember seeing some dude with a Nazi flag as his COD handle, I sent the dude a message via PlayStation and told him to remove it for his sake, Afterwards, I put some thought into it and decided that I would not allow some young idiot with no sense ruin my gaming, So I would ignore it. Yeah, Selfish….. But I am 38 years old and I lived through the release of Mandela and have reflected on my whiteness and the fact that I was born into a very dysfunctional evil society. After two decades as an adult, I have seen the rhetoric against white folks get more hatefull and aggressive through a multitude of topics. At the same time I have started to notice the corrupt nature of those sending these hatefull messages.

    It’s very easy to take a stance but I have begun to accept that while much of it is justified, I will not tolerate poorly construed journalism with a clear political message that serves to lessen my existence and further impede my rights to live peacefully on this earth. It’s not my job to right the evils of the past. The people that are in power are tasked with that. They are failing miserably and resorting to hate mongering against a minority to deflect attention from their own shortcomings. This article rides the crest of that sentiment ( or at least feels like it does ) and further compounds the problem of tolerance and acceptance. For my part, I treat the majority of folks with civility both out of necessity and decency.

    Growing up in SA, Racism has been abundantly apparent but so has change. It’s not perfect. But perfection does not exist and many resort to questionable tactics to achieve this state. Why can’t we indulge in one thing where we aren’t lectured and shamed ?

    • I think the article itself is very important to call to attention what is happening. We miss it as white males because it really doesn’t affect us.

      My only gripe is the heading being “White boys club”

      It makes me feel dirty simply by association because I’m a white male. It makes me feel like I am seen as the problem even though I do not partake in racism and sexist crap that so many people experience.

      The issue of racism and sexism in the gaming world is real. We can’t pretend it isn’t there.
      I just hate being grouped in with assholes who partake in racist and sexist attacks when I am against that kind of stuff

      • Dutch Matrix

        Yeah. My sentiment exactly.

      • Darren Peach

        That is something I can relate to. We all have our own struggles.

      • Dresden

        It’s entities like our government and extreme SJW groups that are alienating the SAME people they expect to help bring forth a change and it’s this exact reason why a lot of people will not take articles like this to heart.

        • sadly that is true. The polarity created by our government and other groups just make everything feel sour and like it’s an attack of some sort. Even when, just like this article, it’s all about what it feels like for other people.

          It’s an observation hoping to bring attention to an issue.
          But, thanks to our lovely government and some select groups of people, a lot of others become instantly defensive. I myself feel defensive over the title of the article even though I agree with the overall sentiment of the article.

      • BakedBagel

        It doesnt matter if you are not sexist or racist.

        You are white. You have to apologise for shit you didnt personally do. Welcome to the game of Social Justice.

  • Umar

    Great article!! It’s easy for people to say it’s not about race or gender, but what are you supposed to when race and gender gets brought up so much? It’s about time we really start standing up to this. If we don’t want it to be about race and gender, then lets work together to make that a reality, but we can’t keep brushing it under the rug.

  • Frost

    There is roughly 4.5 million whites in South Africa. Roughly 5.8 million blacks that falls in the middle class bracket. So yes, if you look at percentages whites are still in a higher income bracket, but pure numbers that’s not the case. So if whites outnumber Goc’s then it’s not because of income, but because there is a massive untapped market. What are we doing to get into that market while we try and uplift the rest of the poor in the country?

  • konfab

    I will take your heed Glenn and not troll. Here is a picture of a dog instead:
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e85a0104233cc03df2ea242abcf483eaa7e578018c14f8b028b199f3dd71f880.jpg

  • Rick

    I would really like to know where all this racism in multiplayer games are taking place. I do quite a bit on online gaming and haven’t come across one such incident. I really hope Glenn isn’t taking anecdotal cases and making it seem like there is a bigger problem than there really is.

    Bigots and assholes will always be with us. You however create a far bigger problem making people believe that it is a real problem. This gives the far left ammunition to feel attacked when there was no one really attacking? Makes sense?

    • Darren Peach

      It’s a unfortunate reality that every facet of our lives will be dominated by SJW and political ramblings but I doubt they would post this article without merit.

      • Rick

        I really hope so , however SJW do not need merit. They spread hate thinking that they are doing good.

  • If we step away “racism” for a second and bring in prejudice, you’ll see it exists in every single gaming community. Throughout Europe, it’s the Russians. In North America, it’s the South Americans who get tormented in public servers. It’s not as much a race thing, as it appears in South Africa, but more just gamers who absolute imbeciles. Great read, Glenn… But we need to go deeper.

    The number of friends I have who are GoC all say the same thing when asked why more black guys don’t get into gaming, and the answer is “they see it as a white person thing.” While I don’t disagree that there’s a huge economic disparity between people who can afford internet alone, versus those who have never heard of gaming, there must be something else at hand here?

    We must… go.. deeper!

  • ChaosPixy

    Its the internet and people will troll, it doesn’t matter what or who you are, their will always be someone who is going to have a go at you. Does racism suck?… yes. Will calling it out stop it?… too an extent. Will removing racism from online gaming communities help create more GoC…. No.

    Hosted servers would not tolerate such behavior (its bad for business), report them to the admins and the turd will be banned. If its a private server then find another one, you don’t need people like that in your life.

    Nothing is stopping people of colour from playing video games apart from money, time, priorities, and the actual desire to play. No one is stopping you from going on to Steam whipping out your credit card buying the game, installing it, and playing it. No one is stopping you from creating your own gaming communities where you can play with people who value you.

    So then why aren’t they doing that? Culture. Perhaps the gaming experiences on offer don’t appeal to to the majority of people of colour? Perhaps they prefer physical social interactions? Perhaps they prefer sport? Perhaps it is frowned upon by their elders? Your guess is as good as, or better than mine…

    So here is an idea, share your gaming experiences with people of colour, encourage them to play. Convince elders that games can be good for you, “they make you smarter” and all that crap we all already know. Become a software engineer or a digital artist, Find out what it is that perspective GoC would like from their gaming experiences and make a game that appeals to that demographic. Hey presto you have GoC everywhere and probably a nice wad of cash in your back pocket as well.

    You might not be attacking white men, but it sure seems like you are blaming them, and then asking them to solve your problems for you. Stop it. You can do whatever you want, no one is stopping you. Be free, your elders earned it.

  • Gman

    Nice article, completely agree. I’ve mostly stopped playing online because of this, and if I do, I mute other players’ voices. The insults, racism, sexism and all is quite astounding. Probably fuelled by the fact that they’re mostly anonymous online, probably wouldn’t find them ever saying those kind of things in person. Keyboard warrior syndrome mostly. It’s shocking though that morals/ethics and after all we’ve been through with racism and apartheid, that it just get’s thrown out the window by these clowns.

  • Gardos

    Thank you for this article. Seriously, it means a lot seeing this kind of stuff.

  • Avithar

    As much as the gaming community is growing within S.A, i played in the MK tournament a year or so ago in JHB. i was really impressed with the diversity at the event. the major factor to be considered as mentioned in the article is “economically unequal” this negatively impacts others as they do not have access to gaming equipment.

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