Harassment Plus Otherness
Harassment and bigoted speech in video game culture have been a pretty big deal lately. If you haven’t been following along, a few notable women in gaming have been subjected to hateful, hurtful, sexist speech and harassment. But if anything good is coming out of all this, it’s that we nerds and gamers are finally having a discussion about online harassment, specifically against women. I’ve had a few of these talks with a few different people now, and a common response I get from some male gamers goes something like this:
I don’t know what you’re all whining about! Men get called nasty names in video games, too!
Yep. Absolutely true. It’s also derailing the conversation about the more prevalent harassment of women (and other marginalized groups), so let’s take a moment today to address why the harassment of men in video games has a completely different flavor from the harassment of women.
Now, I’m going to make the assumption that you, generic person making the above argument, are the stereotypical straight white male gamer. Let’s pretend you love ice cream. You hear that a new ice cream parlor has opened up in your town, and you also hear it’s AMAZING. Gleefully, you throw on your coat and hat and scamper on down to the new ice cream shop.
The moment you walk in, you notice everyone inside said ice cream parlor is a black woman. The servers, the customers, everyone you see is a woman of color.
Immediately, you are aware of your otherness.
You have entered a space where everything screams, “You don’t belong here!” For a moment you pause. Sure, you feel self conscious, but you really love ice cream. Maybe no one will care that this white guy is in their space. All the ladies seem to be having a great time with one another, joking around, trading barbs, calling each other names over their butter pecan and mint chocolate chip.
But then you speak up, and everyone notices you. Most of them comment on your otherness. “Is that a man?” “White people like ice cream?” It’s not nasty, not yet, but your otherness has been noticed. You’re probably not feeling any more welcome or at ease in this place.
Now, over in the corner there’s these two ladies that are assholes. Not only have they noticed that you’re a white male in a black lady ice cream shop, but they’re going to be bitches about the fact that you don’t belong. Yeah, they’ve been insulting everyone else, but you are different. You’re a target. Every single word coming out of their mouths directed at you is an insult about your otherness. Their racist and sexist slurs drive home the fact that you don’t belong here.
This is the environment female gamers are stepping into. It’s the environment gay gamers and gamers of color are stepping into, as well. The gamers are (mostly) straight white males, the characters in the game are (mostly) straight white males, and the developers of said game are (mostly) straight white males.
Now let’s touch on the nature of those insults guy gamers get. Nasty language ahead.
A guy gamer getting lambasted and harassed in game is probably going to be called one of three things (ignoring what might be said about his mother). These three things are:
It’s an insult in “mainstream gaming culture” to be considered a woman, black, or gay. Let’s just let that sink in a second. It is an insult when someone accuses you of being what we genuinely are.
If you are called a bitch/nigger/faggot, it doesn’t have the same impact as it would on us female/black/gay gamers. These are the words that continue to emphasize the fact that we are the other, that we are considered lesser, and that we are not welcome in “your” gaming space.
A bunch of white dudes trash talking is coming from a place of social equals. Ditto for a bunch of women calling each other bitches, gays calling each other fags, and blacks calling each other niggers. But from you, stereotypical straight white male gamer? Sadly, throughout history, straight white males have used these words very very badly. From you, these words take on a completely new context, and you’re telling us we are not your equal. You’re telling us we are all less than you. And this is baggage we’ve carried around with us our whole lives, and will continue to deal with out in the real world.
That’s why it’s different.
Now, let’s carry on with addressing the larger issue of hateful harassment in online games, shall we?