The gaming community as a whole has happily dominated online spaces. As the media form has matured from its small beginnings in arcades and focus on being only for young boys, its deep-rooted relationship with the internet cannot be denied. Gamers and the internet have been intrinsically-linked from the beginning. The typical ‘nerd’ from the 60s, 70s and 80s fiddled with clunky old computing devices, obsessed over games sold on floppy disks and eventually invented the internet. Even I, born in 1990, remember asking my dad if I could switch on the dial-up to access http://www.cheatheaven.com for my Age of Empires cheat codes (RIP that bastion of 90s web design) and found the forums of gameFAQs. You couldn’t be a gamer without being online and vice versa. Now though, it’s for everyone, which is good. But we should remember that we set the tone for everyone interested in gaming – it’s imperative that we try to be the best we can online because that’s where people will interact with games and gamers first.
And by gamers, I do mean the predominantly white, straight, 15-30 males that populate the majority of game servers and forums these days. Sometimes, I don’t like what I see when they react to issues. For such an online, savvy group, we are painfully behind the social side of things. A lot of gamers identify as introverts, and it’s probably true. We turned to gaming because it meant we didn’t have to talk to anyone, and we could excel at something and be competitive and have fun without fear of judgement (excluding from family members). But introversion is not an excuse to not be empathetic and open to other people. In fact introverts are supposed to be perceptive and good listeners, but we also struggle to see past knowledge gaps because we don’t learn new perspectives. We also struggle to untangle ourselves from the issue and not take things personally, or as an attack on our character.
This brings me to the privilege bubble. At some point in everyone’s life they realise the world isn’t made fair. For people belonging to minorities and non-male genders, this happens quite early. They realise and understand that nearly everything will be an uphill struggle. Us white men will have our bubble burst much, much later, if at all, and it’ll be when someone tells us that we’ve had a secret leg-up throughout our entire lives. It may not feel like it, and we may not have asked for it, but it has been there. Our gender and appearance and nationality has been a boon rather than a hindrance, and it may make us feel like the things we’ve done are devalued. But sadly, that’s true. That job interview that you nailed or those teachers that took a shine to you was at least a little bit, sub-consciously, down to what you look like and your gender, and the bonuses – such as confidence and connections, say – a life as that leads to. What we shouldn’t do is feel victimised by it. Someone’s been giving you extra points on your scorecard and now everyone knows it and is calling “cheat”. We never chose this so there’s no reason to be defensive, unless you don’t do something to even the scales and would prefer to keep cheating.
So when women talk about being made to feel uncomfortable, getting less opportunities and being treated differently to their male colleagues, don’t automatically reject it as a gender issue. A lot of the responses to the Guild Wars 2 writers debacle are from people who want to desperately take gender off the table, through some weak attempt at equality or, most likely, their standing prejudice leads them to distrust women pointing out issues they don’t see themselves. They will bend over backwards to convince others it’s nothing to do with the fact that she is a woman, even though her mistreatment is precisely what she has been highlighting for months. As much as you think you see women and minorities as equals, you still have to respect the whole of human history where they were definitely not equals, and that didn’t just all get fixed. We as gamers need to take the time to see what’s really going on, be conscious about it and be active in dismantling it – and it starts with calling it out and believing people when they say it has been an issue for them.
Just in case you think we’re all equal now, take a look at these statistics from Psychology Today on what the white American male percentage of the population (33%) occupies:
- 80% of tenured positions in higher education
- 80% of the House of Representatives
- 80-85% of the U. S. Senate
- 92% of Forbes 400 executive CEO-level positions
- 90% of public school superintendents
- 99.9% of athletic team owners
- 97.7% of U. S. presidents
To really fix this we need to swing in the complete other way. We need to acknowledge our genetic leg-ups, and start giving them to others. Otherwise nothing is going to equalise.
So I said we should be calling “it” out, but what exactly do I mean by “it”? We all know that men acting like they’re in Mad Men are behaving badly (not to mention the men in popular British TV show, Behaving Badly!). There are certain words that never should be used, as well as certain actions. But that’s not where the sexism and the racism begins and ends. Microaggressions are subtle ways we treat people differently because of our inherent prejudices, but also from lack of knowledge and understanding. We call women ‘bossy’ and men ‘good leaders’ for the same traits; a non-white person is told they ‘speak English really well’ despite growing up speaking the language, or we explain to other people our opinion as if they couldn’t have thought of it, because we assume our dominance as white men.
Jessica Price (the dismissed Guild Wars 2 writer) was fired because she couldn’t take these insults any longer without saying something, and I think most men would have caved in a lot faster to critique to their chosen field. This was not an isolated incident, and I know plenty of people who have snapped in a similar way to prolonged microaggressions that pile way way up, especially online when no-one can see the mob they’re in. Don’t say she shouldn’t have been on Twitter, or said what she did, or been ‘rude’, because we should recognise the strain it is to be in her position. A lesser person would’ve never bothered interacting at all with the fanbase of the game, and kept up informing them of how the industry was treating her. They let her down. They let her down by dismissing her many many callings out of being mistreated and sided with a condescending influencer who feigned ignorance to keep the high ground.
So what can be done? Well the people who are in the best position to challenge gamers are…gamers. Because we listen to each other, if no-one else. If there’s some of us who don’t recognise the things in this article then we should calmly explain why their words and actions are having a different effect then what they may intend, and also when looking at a situation, try to look beyond the surface level and empathise with both party. Who’s got the power in this situation? Can gender and race be playing a part? Put yourselves in their shoes and think how you’d react, and not as someone with privilege.
Too many people are getting angry that gender politics are being ‘forced onto them’, and not recognising that this is a good thing. The online world is starting to take it seriously, and gamers are being seen as resistant to letting anyone else be treated differently. But don’t take this as an attack, don’t be defensive when there are complaints about men and whiteness. Don’t dig in heels and bury heads in sand. Be willing to listen and understand and learn someone else’s position, so we can welcome them into gaming, and be better.