I think blaming the aggressive and offensive minority within the gaming community can only get us so far. Yes, these people bring shame on the medium and it is terrible. Things are said that have no place in any form of group entertainment, though I truthfully doubt this will ever cease completely. Diminish, I hope so, but disappear, not a chance. Competition breeds aggression; we see this at sports games where violence, racism and intolerance still conspicuously occur. The perpetrators of these hate crimes are often identified and dealt with by the legal system, a consequence sorely missing from games and the internet on the whole.
The removal of repercussions, I feel, is the single biggest factor that allows these abhorrent practices to continue at such a level. If the anonymity were removed, even without consequences, I think we’d see a dramatic decrease in offensive chatter. Br0heim69 might reconsider calling Al3xVanc3 an ‘undesirable woman of the night who should perform fellatio on me now’ in the spur of the moment if he knew that everyone could see or hear it as; Leigh Harrison (lives in London, aged 23) called Stephanie Walker (lives in Birmingham, aged 29) an ‘undesirable woman of the night who should perform fellatio on me now’. Take that one step further and log, at a system level, everything typed and spoken by the player in a game. Have these records available when grievances are raised and use them as evidence against offenders. Lists of online handles are useless unless they are attached to something more tangible and meaningful; the people behind them. This would be more difficult to adapt outside of the closed, console realm but it would be a start.
This is only part of the problem, however. These people do tarnish the rest of the game playing community, though I think an equally large part of the issue is not with the people who play games but the people who don’t. They are, in many ways, often as dismissive as Mr. Sexism or Mrs. Racism are in Halo, if significantly less offensive. Some don’t understand games or the people who play them and often simply don’t want to. Games are becoming more widely accepted as a legitimate cultural endeavour but they are still considered a minority art form and dismissed by many. The problem with any minority is that if successful integration doesn’t occur ghettoisation will often take hold. Communities become even more insular as lines of communication break down with those around them. Customs and traditions become more important to the community in placing themselves within the wider world and cease to simply differentiate them as a group and instead begin to define them.
We see this behaviour in many of the most competitive genres of games. The concept of ‘paying one’s dues’ before you are truly accepted into a community created around an entertainment product is completely ridiculous, though this clearly occurs. We saw this mentality of ‘otherness’ earlier in the year with Aris Bakhtanians’ comments regarding the fighting game community. A figurehead of the scene for over a decade, he understandably offended many when he defended the use of questionable language and behaviour; “[the] racial stuff and sexist stuff... those are jokes and if you were really a member of the fighting game community, you would know that.” This aptly addresses the underlying psychology of a ghettoised community. Cultures and practices are held as defining traits that an outsider ‘simply wouldn’t understand’. They have come to symbolise what sets this community apart from those around it, regardless of their propriety within the wider community.
As these customs become more entrenched within a segregated community their importance intensifies. Bakhtanians later discussed, in his apology, his fear of the homogenisation of what he sees as fighting game traditions through the implementation of more ordered, controlled professional leagues. “[These] leagues ... have intent to censor the community to make it more accessible. I think the sink or swim mentality is something that defined our culture, and if that succeeds it removes something which has been important to help create some of the best fighting game players of our time.” Again, we see the active distancing of the marginalised and, interestingly, the affirmation that the customs not only hold up the community but now also shape the individual members therein.
This apology is no such thing; it is instead the self-imposed segregate attempting to rationalise his hateful conduct as legitimate cultural signifiers. His cherished fighting game community was never recognised by wider society and so closed its doors, doubling down on aspects of the culture in an attempt to justify its ‘otherness’. It is this that I was driving at earlier; cultural misunderstanding begets more cultural misunderstanding.
While games are still widely considered culturally inferior we will never be without social extremism. The overused stereotypes associated with people who enjoy games won’t go away as long as people like Bakhtanians are still around proving them to be accurate. He and his ilk are hopefully already experiencing their twilight years. Just as social, cultural and religious barriers can break down over generations, so too can those separating games from other widely enjoyed cultural commodities. The ghettoised communities, the self-styled ‘keepers of heritage’ don’t help this transition, though I think they will ultimately fall by the wayside. In them we can see how isolation leads to self-imposed isolation and hopefully recognise that this does not make us stronger as a common community built around a shared passion. We will be part of a minority culture for a little while longer, it is up to us what state our community is in when the rest of the world is ready come and find us.