There is more to gaming than simply killing people with foreign accents to a Hans Zimmer soundtrack or donning the cowl to defeat Clown Princes of Crime. Great games and, especially, the gaming life itself, like other forms of creativity such as books or films, can stir debate and encourage us to reconsider views we’ve previously held. None of us is perfect. We need to be aware that views we hold might be wrong or not as thought out as we’d believed. To be Socratic, our uncertainty is all we can be certain about.
So why am I mentioning this here? Gaming is, aside from the previously mentioned definitions, an accessible medium which invites many people into a singular area of interaction (if you’re like me, that seems like a recipe for disaster). Whether this interaction is co-operative play to withstand hordes of zombies (sorry, I mean ‘infected’) or to blast each other’s faces off, it is interaction nonetheless.
And with any kind of interaction of random people, there will be conflicts of world-views, opinions and beliefs. This is more so when people can hide behind high-scores, large weapons, avatars and names like “Be@ast1244_FTW”. The typical symptom of Internet anonymity allows for people to tell others “precisely” how they feel about women, black people, the government, USA, Muslims, gays and so on.
To take one type, there are plenty of examples of unjustified discrimination against women who game. This is so not because of the gaming medium so much as it is women in a space largely dominated by males. This happens in laboratories, science clubs, comics – basically all forms of “nerdfests”. There is two-bladed problem here: there is little doubt that male camaraderie forms against females, since many men do not like the thought that they are being “beaten by girls”; secondly, women often report that men see females in a male dominated space as a kind of “open invitation” to flirt with and hit on her. For many males, there sits, pupating, the idea that because a girl has entered a largely-male dominated space, she “must” want the attention of men. This is rubbish of course. Maybe they just want to game, like anyone else. Many of the better sex have told me they’ve turned off their microphone during multiplayer and provide a sexless avatar-name so they could just get on with the actually playing.
There is no debate to be had here. It simply is the case that women are discriminated against because of their sex – but, remember, this isn’t unique to gaming. People are unjustifiably discriminated against for all number of reasons: race, sex, their voice, age, and so on. We should all be upset and not just about the cases in one particular area of unjustified discrimination, but in all of them.
The one I particularly want to focus on is sexual orientation. One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do is related to the gay community. It is nothing so difficult as “coming out”, but something which is in many cases far worse. I was asked by an American journal to write about the LGBT (lesbian, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people) community in South Africa. It meant I was forced to look at the data concerning violence done to individual gays and lesbians because of their sexual orientation. The numbers are shocking in South Africa; especially with the rise of corrective rapes in rural areas where gangs of lecherous males “correct” a lesbian by “showing” her what it’s like “to be” with a “real” man. The police also do not take it seriously, since when lesbians report the crime (and even the threats), the police often laugh these ladies off.
Violence is terrible but violence motivated by idiotic views even more so. There is no reason to consider gays or lesbians as “wrong” or “strange” or “unnatural”; more so, there is absolutely no reason to treat them badly. Bad treatment ranges from actual violence to name-calling. Recently, Kotaku had a passionate, well-written and powerful piece by Dennis Farr, detailing his experience as a gay person within the gaming community. The point of his editorial is to highlight that he finds being called “faggot” a horrible affront, since it reminds him of his past horrible experiences.
We can have arguments about whether this is a reasonable claim. Firstly, one could argue that name-calling in general is an indication of childishness and, worse, little creativity. You do yourself no favours by calling people names. Secondly, one could argue that if we were to take Farr’s argument seriously, we would have to discover which words people do not like and remove them from discourse. However, this would be a gross caricature of Farr’s point which is that if we want to insult someone, most of us would not resort to say, racist slurs, so why are we nonchalant about using homophobic ones?
What struck me is not particular arguments but rather the lack of them. The response to Farr was the typical insulting, latent homophobic responses to people encountering a gay rights’ view. Whenever I’ve written about gay rights, I end up encountering similar arguments against me. The most common is rhetorically asks why we should be forced to engage with gays at all? That is, why can’t they just keep quiet, why must they force their gay agenda on everyone? Or, to put it in the eloquent words of a Kotaku commenter: “Keep that s^%t in the closet man.”
During gay pride week last year, UCT’s Rainbow Society had their closet – their symbol left on the main campus – burnt. It’s hard to say whether the people were homophobic or not, since we’re not clear on their motivations. Regardless, when I wrote about it, many people said it was properly those gays seeking attention and did it themselves. All of these views tie back to saying the gays want attention and they shouldn’t get it, since they need to grow up and stop forcing their gayness on others. Why should gays have Gay Pride Marches, people claim? You don’t see heterosexual people marching to celebrate their heterosexuality!
OK, yeah, except, for example, nearly every advert on TV displays heterosexual relationships: everything from dishwashing ads to cars, when they have a couple on, always display a heterosexual one. Name the last time you saw a gay couple on ads for a general product. Yeah, I can’t either. It’s in movies, TV, books, games and nearly everywhere else. Heterosexuality has not been a targeted position of hatred by a majority, such that heterosexuals were explicitly attacked for it; it’s not condemned in books people believe are the written word of their god; it’s not outlawed in constitutions, such that you can receive the death-penalty for it. So excuse us, who defend gay rights, if we happen to think there is almost no similarity between heterosexuality’s past and homosexuality in terms of politics. When people stop reacting with “keep it in the closet”, when people stop trying to say it threatens something idiotic, like marriage or children or “the family”, that will be when we can stop going on about it.*
The gaming community is no different. We legitimately consider racist slurs beyond the par and so we should do the same for homophobic ones. We are a diverse community and should be a space in which we are open to anyone, not discriminating against them because of their sex or sexual ori
entation. We are constantly berated by media pundits and family-values warblers for being childish, meaningless, juvenile and so on. By not showing respect toward, for example, women and gays and lesbians and by not treating them under the wonderful moniker of “fellow gamer”, we are only showing these critics they’re right. This is one area in life where we can make a slight difference, amidst a generally homophobic and sexist society. Can they shoot a gun well? Can they protect you from the infected? Good. They’re your fellow gamer, experiencing the stupidity of bad voice-acting, monochromatic plots, blocky graphics, just as much as you are. That’s what matters, not who they’re sleeping with because, frankly, that’s none of your damned business.
We’re better than this and we can be mature about it. Let’s try be an area where those often discriminated against for no good reason can find some solace. If all you do is never use the word faggot and don’t immediately flirt with girls who you meet online, I think we can start making actually quite a large difference for people we should be proud to call our fellow gamers. Now let’s kill some infected, eh?
* I wont go into other useless arguments about homosexuality, like it being “unnatural” and so on (which is not a moral property, but a useless description, since cancer and earthquakes are natural as well as rainbows and rivers).
Last Updated: November 1, 2011