It seems like only yesterday that HuffPost SA was facing its biggest crisis in its still young editorial life. They published a piece that suggested white men should be stripped of their ability to vote. It was followed up by its then, editor-in-chief Vershani Pillay, who gave the submission piece glowing praise and full support.

The public backlash was swift and vitriolic. It wasn’t long before the author of the controversial piece was found to be fake and it all came tumbling down for Verashni and her team. The editor chose to resign and public trust in HuffPost SA was shattered.

When the author of the controversial submission was outed, a white male, his justification for writing the piece and his sentiment was shared by many. He felt that if you target the right group, you can get away with saying anything. It was obvious who he was referring to. Target the white man in South Africa in an article and everyone will sing its praises.

When opinion pieces are written around the issues of gaming culture, at the core of these articles, is a fundamental dissatisfaction with the status quo enabled by gaming culture.

His viewpoint does not tell a new story. That white men are being attacked from all sides is a concept that has struck a chord for some in South Africa for quite some time. In fact, the idea of white people being in danger is so overwhelmingly real for some that they have rallied behind a narrative that suggests there is a white genocide happening in this country for the last couple of years.

Gaming is no exception to this accusation. Article after article is perceived to depict white men as this insidious force that is deliberately ruining the gaming culture for everyone. Despite how the majority of white men feel and despite the HuffPost SA’s horrendous handling of the ghost writer saga, we cannot derail the real discussions around white men and gaming.

White men are not the enemy

Gaming culture is an incredible and wonderful place to be in. It is that very thing that drove me to become a gaming journalist. However, there are some very real issues with our culture that need to be, and often are, addressed.

  • The way women are treated and depicted in the scene, both in-game and out.
  • The constant barrage of racism that permeates most local servers
  • Problematic language that makes the scene exclusionary and unwelcoming for many

The above are just a handful of issues that stem from the gaming culture. These are not issues that are exclusive to South Africa either. Also note that in not one of those issues, were white men mentioned.

When opinion pieces are written around the issues of gaming culture, at the core of these articles, is a fundamental dissatisfaction with the status quo enabled by gaming culture. These articles are often attacking real, widespread norms and issues. To deal with the root of these problems, however, it is also important to understand who or what exacerbates and perpetuates them. One demographic seems to come up time and time again. White men.

Instead of the constant occurrence of white men serving to raise warning signs and creating the foundation upon which to have difficult but honest conversations, it becomes a personal attack and the core issues are sidelined. This was clearly illustrated in the way the HuffPost SA saga was handled by the public.

Bad editing and journalism allowed the submission piece on disenfranchising white men to be published online and supported with a follow-up article. A lack of journalistic integrity and subpar fact-checking showed up serious issues at HuffPost SA. But the narrative of the scandal wasn’t around bad journalistic process, it was about white men being attacked and that was the source of the anger. It became personal.

Likewise, when issues around the local gaming scene are raised, they become a backdrop to the same narrative over and over again. Why are white men always being attacked? Discussing general issues becomes a personal affront to every white man who feels individually singled out and berated.

When this is the reaction to legitimate issues being raised, there can be no growth, no progress. When questioning is always around why white men are being attacked and not how the status quo came to be and continues to be perpetuated, there can be no problem solving, no solutions. Gaming cannot move forward if we continue to dance out this cycle every time real issues are raised.

White men are not the enemy, but they do play a large role in the majority of issues in gaming. This is a truth you cannot overlook or disconnect from the discussions around how to fix them. Singling out a single demographic is not new to dealing with issues. When people discuss the issues of misogyny in rap culture, it’s not white men that come up constantly. Yet you don’t see black men depicted as an oppressed group in the context of that conversation.

The danger of echo chambers

The HuffPosta SA saga was full of learnings and hard truths that have major relevance to the discussions around social issues in gaming. Digressing momentarily from the perceived victimisation of white men, let’s look at an issue that is often raised in social politics, both in gaming as well as non-gaming scenes. Echo chambers.

Echo chambers occur when people interact exclusively with those that have a similar viewpoint as theirs and thus everyone echoes each other to the point that any break from a popular narrative is met with hostility. Echo chambers are seen as a large contributing factor to why politics in America has become so polarised and volatile over recent years.

The concept of echo chambers was largely introduced in the gaming culture during the rise of Gamergate and has been with us ever since. It too contributed, and continues to contribute, to polarised discussions around any social issues raised in gaming and is a problem that affects both sides of any discussion.

The creation of outrage culture is definitely one to discuss, especially in the gaming context, but that is for another time

Echo chambers arguably played a large role in why the HuffPost SA article was so widely praised by many social activists and why HuffPost SA felt the post was worth publishing. No one would have argued it critically. It’s hard to be a fair editing team when everyone has the same views and echoes one another.

So too in gaming, I often see that echo chambers play a large role in why so many fruitful discussions are derailed and unproductive. Whilst many will claim that SJWs are the sole victims of echo chambers, the reality is that both social activists and those against them fall into the same trap. This leads to extremism on both sides and ultimately makes it near impossible to have civil discussions.

Add to that, an already aggressive and toxic gaming culture and it’s a miracle that discussions occur at all. Dealing with and really dissecting echo chambers is an article in and of itself but it’s important to highlight the contribution echo chambers make to social discussions around white men and the role they play in gaming culture issues.

Outrage culture

White men are not the enemy, but they play a large role in the problems in gaming culture. The sooner this can be accepted for what it is, and not taken personally, the sooner we can work towards making the gaming scene a more inclusive space. The concept of an inclusive space is still one misunderstood by many.

Often, this concept is demonised by “anti-SJWs” as this hyper safe space where free speech is censored and white men are reviled. The common accusation levied at social activists is that they are “snowflakes” that are too fragile to interact with the “real” world. It is also argued that snowflakes and their quest for safe spaces are what led to outrage culture, another issue prevalent in our times.

The creation of outrage culture is definitely one to discuss, especially in the gaming context, but that too is for another time. It doesn’t take away from the fact that those accusing “SJWs” of being snowflakes are just as prone to overreaction. The reaction many showed to Far Cry 5 is a testament to how uncomfortable many white men feel after being subject to what is the norm for others. All of a sudden, Far Cry 5 was no longer just a game and the social context of shooting white Americans became controversial.

Never mind that these white Americans were religious extremists. When games attack brown religious extremists, it’s labelled fighting terrorism, but once it’s white American men, it’s anti-Christian and pandering to SJWs. That double standard shown by a majority of white men and the anger that Ubisoft received is a massive talking point around social issues in gaming and the context of white men in that discussion.

Gaming culture is an incredible thing to be a part of but it still has a lot of issues that need to be addressed. Derailing those discussions and those that are actively trying to fix them doesn’t help matters at all.

A similar narrative is exposed with the running commentary around Wonder Woman. First it was the women-only screenings which became a sore point for many a man. Only once men were excluded from something did gender-only screenings become a controversial issue that needed to be addressed for the greater good. Men were so incensed by it that one wrote one of the most outrageous emails I have ever read, calling for people to boycott an entire city. Another man thought it would be hilarious to buy a ticket to a woman-only screening of Wonder Woman to “prove a point” and was cheered by many.

If that wasn’t enough, many tried to play down the importance the success of a film like Wonder Woman has on the narrative of women and their place in society. Many felt that it being a woman-directed film was irrelevant. They dismissed the impact that this film being so successful has for women in film. They argued that Gal Gadot isn’t a symbol for anything or of any importance aside from being a talented actress. At every stage, Wonder Woman and everything it stands for was being downplayed. By men. Predominantly white men.

The lack of self-awareness by white men in both these issues highlights why tackling issues in gaming culture and the role white men play in it is so difficult. From taking issues raised personally to lacking the self-awareness when the tables are turned, it’s difficult to see how to navigate this and have thoughtful and progressive discussions. For those of you reading this and saying “I’m not like that at all”, I hear you. Loud and clear. But understand you are an outlier, an exception to the norm.

Derail the derailment

Gaming culture is an incredible thing to be a part of but it still has a lot of issues that need to be addressed. Derailing those discussions and those that are actively trying to fix them doesn’t help matters at all.

No one is saying everyone has to agree on everything nor is anyone saying that arguments aren’t allowed. In fact, arguments are welcome as it creates discussion and learning. But derailing these discussions out of perceived personal victimisation is problematic and harmful.

With the added complexities of outrage culture and echo chambers, it seems harder than ever before to engage with one another online. Gaming culture is evident of that, with the way in which many react to any given story around social issues. Regardless, none of these problems are going away and the longer we put them off and focus on ourselves and perceived wrongs, the worse it’s going to get.

One more time for the people in the back. White men are not the enemy. But they are part of the problem. White men need not feel guilty about this, but move past that and work together on being part of the solution. Stop derailing issues and making it personal but rather question why people feel this way and engage from a place of learning, not anger.

The ball is not only in the court of white men. As a community with a passion for gaming, we all need to try and move past echo chambers and outrage culture and look to engage with one another. We’re all meant to be on the same side. This is not to say that everything needs to be roses and sunshine nor that we all need to agree with each other on every single topic, but we should all be willing to at least try and understand one another. In addition, we should all be willing to see problematic behaviour and agree that it has no place in gaming. We shouldn’t need ghost writers for that.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Critical Hit as an organisation.

Last Updated: June 7, 2017

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