Ash and I attended one of the most heart felt and inspiring panels at PAX, called the Other Us (read Ash’s coverage here). It got both Ash and I talking all night long about everything from how people treat each other in the gaming community, to why women, the LGBT community and minorities get essentially attacked for just being alive in places like XBox live. I don’t think any sane, rational person could condone this as OK, because it is just flat out not. We tend to avoid politics on this site and for good reason, we aren’t covering them, we cover the the things we love which includes games, comics, movies, TV, just about anything creative. The unfortunate problem is when politics and the degradation of someone else for being different (no less than a political stance — don’t kid yourself), creep into our otherwise fun community, then they have to be addressed.
So why a community divided? That is a harder one to tackle. PAX is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It is 60,000 people who truly love gaming in all its forms jammed into one place to talk, play and generally evangelize this form of entertainment. We all have that in common and it brings us all together for the most part. I think this is the community at a whole, now were we all cut from the same cloth? No, not by a long shot. An example being when I went to the D&D virtual table panel (a let down but it’s a topic for another time). I came up to the line which was waiting outside to get in while the PAX enforcers were counting people off to avoid breaking fire code. The man in front of me, in his 40s, dressed in “PAX Garb” consisting of a fedora, tackle vest, cargo shorts and crew socks, looks at me and says “I guess we see who the real gamers are.” Stated as fact, drawing a line in the sand. All those people on the floor playing F.E.A.R. 3 or Dance Central (both excellent) weren’t in his league. Was he wrong? Yes…and no. You see, much like any passion related activities, we are a community and we aren’t. We are a community that is a union of communities all joined by our love of gaming, but divided by our passion for sections of gaming. Ask the JRPG fan if he enjoys Halo, and more then likely he’ll tell you all about the lack of coherent story or the paper thin characters. Ask a casual gamer what they think of CoDBlOps and they most likely will espouse their feelings on it’s near impossible nature in multiplayer. Ask a hardcore table top gamer about the Kinect and they no doubt will tell you it is a useless piece of hardware designed more to get $150 out of your pocket and less an innovation in the way we interact with games. No one is wrong in this situation and all of those people fall under the umbrella of being a gamer, but if they are unable to look past a different type of game as being inferior it makes it that much harder to become a united community when gaming is under attack.
This is where the XBox Live comes in (and I don’t mean to single it out, there are plenty of places people spread their negativity, this one is just common). When you log onto CoDBlOps to play for a little while and are immediately inundated with a verbal explosion of “n*****” and “f**”, you may think to yourself, “These are my people?” Well they are and they aren’t. They play video games just like you, but possibly unlike you they tend to be male, white and immature. A lot of them may only play shooters or even just CoDBlOps. I’ll assume that just by being on this site, you probably have more interests than that. One solution to this audio vomit that came up during the panel was to basically moderate this behavior, and remove it through education. While this will work when you are in a position of authority, the problem is that when you are just a voice on a microphone talking to another voice on a microphone there is no initial level of respect. Much like a substitute teacher stepping into a classroom and demanding silence, it often gets ignored if not incites more foul language and behavior. The other suggestion was to report them and get your friends to report them. This is one of the best functions built into the XBL community and it often works. Ash has had students who have had their accounts disabled for hate speech like we are talking about and if enough people raise enough hell, XBox listens. Does this solve the problem? I’d say no again, it may dissuade a few but not all, and often this inspires even more anger and disgust from the trolls by provoking how “everyone just doesn’t get it” and that all of those “f**’s” and “n*****’s” in the community are making his life worse.
We live in a society right now that feeds off of fear of the unknown. Be afraid of the unseen terrorists, the minorities, the gays and the like because they are invading your town and changing things. It’s a mindset perpetrated by your 24 hour news cycle and without a monumental shift in this country it appears to be only continuing. The idea often enough is to keep us focused on fearing or hating each other and then the country can be run by whatever means necessary for whomever is in power. Fear the right-wing because they are trying to take away your right to live and hand it over to corporations or fear the left-wing because they are trying to take away your ability to earn money and make you a socialist. This feeds into our community of gaming whether we like it or not. It is a mindset that “if it’s different, squash it, because it is against you”. Don’t know how to beat down that subject when you’re on a microphone? Degrade them by all means necessary, after all, you’re enemies. You are out to kill or be killed.
So what as gamers must we do to combat this? I stated earlier that we are a nation of communities united under the umbrella of gaming. Well, the work it will take to reduce if not eliminate this hate speech begins at home. That’s right, you have to roll up your sleeves and get serious in your own community first. Have a group of friends you game with often? Does one of them speak like this on XBox live? Time to have a little sit down. Maybe make the point, that much like many of us dealt with in school, being made fun of for being different is not OK. No matter the difference. Whether fat, gay, straight, female, male, handicapped, anything. It shouldn’t feel OK to anyone but a sociopath to treat people like that, and often enough when a friend points it out, it hits home. Next, time to do some community outreach. If you deal with a guild or clan on a regular basis and one of the outliers of that group acts like this online, time to call a meeting. The more we stand up against speech like this in our own community and the one’s around us, the more we force people to think about how their talk affects the people around them. The more we will reduce the problem at it’s heart, fear of the unknown. Casting people out for their actions should be a last resort. Welcoming them in and telling them this is not OK, asking if them if they have ever been treated wrongly, and sharing your stories about how you’ve been treated should be the main path to resolving this fear driven plague.
I’m going to leave this article with a story of my own. I grew up a swimmer and in the chorus. Not just the regular chorus, the one that dressed up in tuxedos and sang and danced at retirement communities. I got called gay on enough occasions, but worse then that, I am a stocky guy and when surrounded by other swimmers I stick out like a sore thumb. I was called fat and bird-chested (I also have a con-caved chest ). My nickname was “Gerber“ and it was relentless. I took most of it in stride and it made me the rather sarcastic, quick-witted person I am today. I never got in fights because I learned to verbally defend myself, but it also led to a complex I still fight which is finding my body disgusting. It used to make me lash out at others in middle school and early on in high school. I was lucky though, I had a solid set of 3 friends who were all best men at my wedding. It was this set of friends who made me realize that just because I was treated this way, didn’t mean I could lash out and treat others the same. Being stocky or bird-chested doesn’t make me different, it makes me more like anyone else then they could possibly know. Everyone is different, it’s what makes us who we are. The difference between when I grew up and now is the Internet. Instead of using it as a place to find people more different than we are to make fun of, we should be using it to connect to people who are more alike. We should be building communities instead of flaming them.
This is our eureka moment. Attitudes like the ones I’ve been discussing only persist as long as we allow them to. They only grow as long as we stay divided. Even in basic ways. Only play Rock Band 3 but have a group of friends that play D&D? Give it a try, you may like it. Never picked up a JRPG in your life because you “only like Halo”. Sit down with a Final Fantasy, you never know what an introduction to a new world may do. Growing ourselves as a community and crossing over these lines in the sand only makes us stronger and makes the outliers loud voices softer. The more we say using hate speech isn’t OK; the more we welcome people into our community, our guild, our circle of friends; the more we silent the filth and trolls that make certain aspects of gaming and the internet so uncomfortable. Because I have news for those that fear the unknown. Things are changing. I don’t mean in an “Obama health care” sort of way, they are changing at a much greater pace then that. Gamers are no longer pale, geeky white males. They are black, they are latino, they are female. They are your sisters and dare I say it even your mothers (you can thank Zynga for that). The LGBT community is growing a strong voice and gaining rights they should have had all along. They are joining women and minorities and attaining positions of power in things as small as your favorite game developer and all the way up to the White House. So we can allow these loud few to persist by ignoring them, or we can start to band together and speak out against things we do not agree with. It’s up to us, shall we begin?