Gaming Culture Has Always Been Racist – Y’all Just Didn’t Care
A lot of people are asking me why I haven’t written about the racist slur employed by PewDiePie recently. I already did and so have many others.
The perpetual use of the n-word within gaming isn’t fueled by neo-Nazi ideology and didn’t emerge with the election of Donald Trump. You can’t blame Gamergate for this one either.
This is gaming culture. And I’ve been expressing this for more than a decade.
The danger isn’t in an individual instantiation of racist or sexist speech. The danger is in the power of the platform that one has to reach a multitude of individuals – normalizing this behavior and sustaining the digital and physical violence that’s associated with the behavior. This fuels the power of structural and institutional oppression.
The devaluation of certain bodies within gaming bear the brunt of the backlash. Bertan Buyukozturk, Zachary G. Hill, and I discussed the blurring of physical and digital boundaries for women in particular in our recent article “Blurring the boundaries: Using Gamergate to examine “real” and symbolic violence against women in contemporary gaming culture” which calls for us to “extend discussions of in-game violence and increased aggression to account for the “real world,” violent, realities of women as gamers, developers, and even critics of the medium.
The process of devaluation includes exploitation, marginalization, cultural imperialism, powerlessness, and these ultimately lead to violence – both symbolic, representational, and actual.
Racist apologists for PewDiePie and others are reflected in Chauncey DeVega’s DailyKos article, “Not So Post Racial After All: Xbox Live and Real Racism in a Virtual World”:
The theories which have been developed to critically interrogate and map colorblind racism, such as how it has moved from the “front stage” to the “back stage,” involves “harmless” racial humor and jokes, and where white folks can use the common deflection “I am not racist because I didn’t mean it that way” are all present in Kishonna Gray’s findings:
Most worryingly, such racism appears to be ‘normalised’ in the Xbox Live sessions she observed, with offended users rarely complaining. When Gray confronted the gamers who used racist language, they categorically denied being racist. They further defended themselves by claiming it was ‘just a game’, that the words they used were meaningless or that they would use the same offensive terms to refer to white people…
It was necessary to highlight the justifications used to ‘figure nigger away’ by those who often employ the term without a Black person being present. And this twitter user highlights that the power of the word is or should be diminished if a Black person wasn’t the target of that word.
@zTakeoff: Yall trippin, I know pewdiepie said the N word but you guys needa calm tf down. Soft asf, it’s a word not used in a bad way. CONTEXT MATTERS
@BrandonPegler: Honestly he isnt fucking racist, when he said it he had not intent of it being towards black people its a word people say to fucking everyon
And individuals justifying its usage as a pejorative term to insult another gamer regardless of race recognize the power of that word as the most powerful insult! “Nigger” is the pinnacle of speech meant to offend and hurt. PewDiePie knows that. That’s why his ass used it.
The problem now for many gamers (yes gamers, not Neo-Nazis, not alt-righters…gamers) is that their once hidden gaming practices are front and center. Twitch, Mixer, YouTube, and other forms of live streaming don’t allow you to hide in the comfort of anonymity.
Anonymity on the internet disinhibits people, compelling some to say and do things that they would not otherwise do.
So the normal, everyday, practice of uttering racist, heterosexist, and sexist speech is brought to the fore. PewDiePie quickly backtracked because he remembered he was streaming live. Anonymity won’t protect them any longer.
And I guess I am glad that more people are seeing how toxic these spaces are. But for us, this is how it’s always been. And gaming culture has sustained it.