The white boys club: Creating change in South African gaming

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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

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. May or may not report you to the relevant authorities. I'm also a big fan of English Cricket. Ask me about the ICC.

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