So if you’ve been perusing the forums over the past few days you no doubt know about Ryan’s recent blog post apologising for his use of homophobic language, and you may also be familiar with the slew of homophobic and racist slurs that have hit that comments section, as well as the discussion about whether such language is appropriate to use in general. In case you’re still wondering, it is not okay to use homophobic or racial slurs on this site in any capacity. It’s something we in the moderation team are being blunt about, but this is a message that we’ve tried to get across through the rules documentation, on the forums, and on Twitter, yet people still seem to be unaware of it.
I was somewhat in two minds about making this post because I didn’t want to start more hostile arguments like the ones we’ve seen on Ryan’s blog post, but I thought it was important that I made some kind of statement on this for two reasons: 1. I think it’s better for us to talk things through rather than there being an uncomfortable undercurrent of mistrust and misunderstanding over the issue, and 2. The moderation team obviously needs to do everything we can to get the message out about what is and is not okay on the forums.
What I’m Talking About
The really disheartening thing for me is I could understand that some people haven’t read the rules or have severely misinterpreted them, and thought that such language was okay on the site. That wouldn’t mean I thought it was okay or they wouldn’t be moderated, but I could at least understand it. I could also understand to a small degree how people also thought Ryan’s accidental use of a homophobic slur on the live stream made it okay for everyone to use it. What I find it much, much harder to understand is that even after Ryan said that such terms were hurtful and indefensible, and that they had no place on this site, that people still felt it was okay to post them.
The following are purely my thoughts and don’t reflect those of the Giant Bomb staff or moderation team, and I understand if you disagree with what I have to say, but please, if you do respond keep it calm and civil. I hate to have to say this but I think it’s been proven necessary by this point: I will delete your posts, I will send you warnings, I will suspend you, and I will lock down this thread, if it proves I have too. We cool? Okay.
Why It’s Not Alright
The gaming community, or at least a certain portion of it, has long had an image of being exclusionary of certain groups, and being a rather sequestered and non-diverse group of people. To some degree I don’t think this reputation has been deserved, but it can’t be argued that social spaces like Xbox LIVE have become infamous for being awash with blatant sexism, racism, and homophobia, and that there are sizeable portions of the internet where the wild west anything-goes attitude has led to potentially offensive epithets getting thrown around like confetti. It seems almost every time this issue is brought up though, there’s a rather uncomfortable lack of understanding from the gaming community about why exactly this kind of behaviour is so wrong, and I think we all need to be a little more aware of the people around us. It’s the year 2012 and this kind of behaviour has to stop.
I’ve seen a lot of people complaining that it’s hypocritical of Giant Bomb to censor discriminatory language for being offensive, while openly allowing and using just about every other swear word under the sun, but do you really believe that saying “fuck” and using homophobic or racist slurs are the same thing? As Ryan said the words carry a lot of emotional baggage. You have to remember that when people have experienced their race or sexual orientation being attacked, these are the words they might well have come to associate that with. Heck, there are some people who’ve been bullied as children or throughout their lives with these words, it’s only natural that for them that they’ve come to carry the weight they have.
I’ve seen people on the forums saying that “They're just words” and “Context is important”, and while I agree with the latter to some degree, it’s obvious that for many people these aren't just words, and that regardless of context they do cause hurt and they do cause offense. If you believe they don't then I think you need to take a look around. How would you feel about using a homophobic slur towards or in the presence of a gay person? How would you feel about using a racial slur towards or in the presence of a person of that race? Just in the comments on Ryan’s post I saw people taking offense to such slurs, but even the act of taking offence some people seem to be attacking.
Taking offence to something is an emotional reaction, it’s involuntary. We can train ourselves to try and develop less extreme reactions to certain stimuli, but you do not get to say “Because your involuntary reaction to this thing is different than my involuntary reaction, you’re dumb/silly/wrong/immature”. Really, at the point you’re telling people that their emotional response to something is incorrect, you start getting into “thought crime” territory. We’re not even talking about people demanding to be treated differently (which I think they’d be perfectly within their rights to do), we’re just talking about the basic, largely uncontrollable human reaction of people to what they find offensive, and already users are speaking out about this being “incorrect”.
To those of you saying that people would have an easier time in life if they weren’t offended by this stuff, I agree with you, but again, this is not something people are entirely in control of, and that still doesn’t give you the right to use offensive language however and wherever you want. By the same logic anyone would be allowed to come up to you in the street and call you a worthless piece of shit that no one will ever love because, hey, you’d have a much better time if you weren’t offended by that, right? And no, “I’m a person of the race/sexual orientation this word targets” or “I have friends of the race/sexual orientation this word targets” are not excuses. Who you or your friends are has no bearing on the effect these words have on people, and you as an individual member of this social group, or a friend of a member of this social group, do not get to dictate what is and isn’t hurtful, it doesn’t work that way.
Stopping This Behaviour
Often in these situations, those looking to prevent offence are accused of “just trying to be PC”, but censoring the use of these words doesn’t have to be about political correctness, sometimes it’s just about fostering an environment where people don’t have to risk feeling like crap to participate in discussion and where there aren’t unpleasant and needless tensions between people. You’re not robbed of your ability to talk about certain sexual orientations or races, or express your frustration, by these words being censored, but restricting the use of these words does lead to more welcoming and less hurtful communities.
I’ll be honest, yesterday was one of those rare occasions where I felt genuinely ashamed of a considerable portion of the community. Some of you left friendly and accepting messages towards Ryan and that was wonderful to see, but some of you behaved in a way that seemed to lack understanding, or in a way I’d associate with the less likeable denizens of Xbox LIVE. Eventually that discussion will die down, but this isn’t the first time we’ve had to moderate discriminatory language on the site, it won’t be the last, and it definitely won’t be the last time a large group of people in the gaming community show that they think it’s okay to use this kind of language. I believe Giant Bomb is better than what we’ve seen since the lantern run, and a lot of people have already shown that they don’t believe racist and homophobic language is okay, I only hope that we can all reach some kind of understanding on this issue.
Duder, It’s Over
As always, thank you for reading and if there’s any feedback you want to give me, positive or negative, whether you think I’m right or wrong, don’t be afraid of sticking it in the comments section below.
I want to preface this by saying that I’m very happy that this blog post has received so much attention, even if the comments section does seem to have devolved into a somewhat unlikeable mess. I couldn’t begin to try and respond to everyone individually but to everyone who has given me positive feedback, thank you, and to those who are disagreeing with me, I’ve come up with some answers to the most common responses I’m seeing here.
Posts That Contain Homophobic Slurs
“But What About Context?/This is Just Political Correctness/They’re Just Words/Words Only Have Power If You Give Them Power”
“This Whole Ryan Situation Has Been Blown Way Out of Proportion”
Actually, this stopped being about Ryan a long time ago. Partly this is about the reaction to the Ryan situation though, and I didn’t think it would have to go this far, but a certain subset of the community made the issue this big. Despite repeated warnings against using discriminatory language, some community members continue using it, and until the message gets through I don’t see anything wrong with escalating our efforts to stop it.
This is about much more than even that though. It’s about homophobia and racism in the gaming community and even society as a whole. For an issue like that I don’t think a discussion of this scale is an over-reaction at all.
“If You Ban A Few Words Then You Have To Ban All The Words!”
I regret to inform you that I’m locking this blog post. The comments have largely died down now, but this was meant to be a place of civil discussion, and yet throughout the lifetime of the comments section people have openly violated rules I’ve clearly stated in this post, and acted in a hostile manner to each other. I’m not going to risk this kind of behaviour continuing. If you have any questions or comments that are civil and don't violate the rules though, please feel free to talk to me in private.
As a bit of a side note, I understand that some of you took offence to the last point in my first addendum to this post (which I've since removed), and I can only apologise for any offence caused, but I stand by what I said. I don’t believe that the c-word is the exact same thing as racial and homophobic slurs. However, I do think it’s important to note that at no point did I say the term couldn’t be offensive, or even state that in general it was any less offensive than racial or homophobic slurs. I just stated that I don’t believe they are direct equivalents, don’t believe that they get the exact same use in modern society, and that in general Giant Bomb hadn’t expressed a big problem with the c-word, while at least a small number of users had with racial and homophobic slurs.
I understand the term is offensive to some, I’ve never advocated using it to insult people, those who do use it to insult other users will be moderated, and should the message ever come down from the staff that they don’t want it on the site any longer, I’ll be happy to help make sure it’s use in the community is completely discontinued. One thing I do find myself rather baffled over though, is the fact that many people making the argument that the c-word or racial and homophobic slurs were highly offensive or shouldn’t be used, openly used them themselves. When you’re spreading the use of the exact words you’re fighting against, that seems a little self-defeating.
Sadly, while I’m sure many of you were genuinely concerned about the use of the c-word, I at least felt as though some were trying to say it should be banned just for the sake of arguing against the mod team on an issue they didn’t like. At least for the moment, I’ve become somewhat soured on the Giant Bomb community as a whole, and this discussion has made me not want to talk controversial rules through with the community in the future. Normal moderator policy would have been to lay down the rules, say they’re not up for debate, and leave.
While the rules still weren’t up for debate, I wanted to genuinely explain why I believe these rules are important, why I believe they’re a good thing, and try to address at least some of those who disagreed. This was met with users not reading the post, commenting, and then seeming to walk out while giving themselves a green flag to use homophobic and racist language, users putting words in my mouth, users treating me or other people like idiots for having a different opinion, users being outright hostile or insulting to each other, users throwing around racist and homophobic slurs as much as they liked, and in some cases users displaying a scary amount of ignorance.
There were people who spread this topic, agreed with me, and sympathised with me, and to those people I am very, very grateful. There were also users who disagreed with me but managed to do so in a respectful way and I appreciate their input too. I don’t regret making this post and some people have made me feel fantastic about it, so thank you to them. But I walk away from this with the rather uneasy knowledge that a sizeable portion of Giant Bomb won’t be using discriminatory language because we tell them not to, they just won’t be using it because there’s a hard rule in place saying they can’t, and for a lot of people that’s not even stopping them.
People have said “Giant Bomb is just as bad as every other online community” and I still don’t believe that, nor does the thought that everywhere else is really messed up make me feel any better, but I didn’t quite realise we had this kind of deep-rooted problem to the extent that we seem to. All that remains now is to start moderating the users who have violated the rules here, and hope people can remember to not use these kinds of terms in the coming days. Until next time guys, I’ll see you on the boards and hope we never have to run into this kind of situation again.