Video games often comes under fire because of their graphic violence and unique modes of interactivity that differ from other mediums. This article was written before the tragic shooting in Las Vegas this past weekend. However, we believe that by looking at two case studies specific to video games, we will be better equipped for this conversation later on down the road.
For today, we’re going to take a look at two recent developments that demonstrate how keeping politics separated from video games is impossible.
In 2005, Steve Bannon got Goldman Sachs to invest $60 million in a World of Warcraft Chinese gold farming company. 1 Bannon eventually took control of the gold farming company, Internet Gaming Entertainment. Even though IGE flopped, Bannon said that these gamers were the pre-cursor to the alt-right. “These guys, these rootless white males, had monster power… It was the pre-Reddit.”
In our previous two essays, we’ve looked at how video game communities develop hate speech as an intimidation tool and how online communities normalize hate speech so that it’s “no big deal”. This week, we’re looking at how those two ideas, when combined, created the Alt-Right. Continue reading How Hate Speech & Video Games Created the Alt-Right→
Last week, we examined how hate speech can be used as a way to intimidate and upset opponents. We looked at Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg’s use of the n-word as an example of how, even though he was playing a competitive video game, he wasn’t using it this way. It’s important to look at the reasons that people use hate speech because it demonstrates how ingrained it is into our lives. If someone is only using a word to intimidate someone, then we might be able to argue that they wouldn’t otherwise use that word. However, if a racial slur is the first expletive that someone says in a moment of frustration, then it’s most likely a word that occurs in their everyday speech.
Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg recently said the “n-word” on a stream of the popular online shooter Playunknown’s Battlegrounds.1 For those who follow Kjellberg’s “antics”, this is no surprise; earlier this year, he paid two men in India to record themselves holding up a sign that said “DEATH TO ALL JEWS”. In a half-hearted apology, he placed a lot of the blame on the Wall Street Journal for taking his “joke” out of context. 2 Unfortunately, this is far more representative of video game culture than we’d like to admit.
Kjellberg aside, online video games have festered with unpoliced hate speech ever since ther inception. Because Maze Rats is a fan of video games and a strong opponent of hate speech—in all its forms—we are presenting a three part series that looks at how hate speech is weaponized in video games, how it becomes normalized in online communities, and how disparate groups have intersected, ultimately leading to the rise of the alt-right.
At the bottom of each article, we are going to highlight an online community that pushes back against hate speech and creates a welcoming, mindful environment.
Hate Speech in Video Games
Because of the competitive nature of online video games, it becomes common practice to “smack talk” as a way to psychologically affect the other player. If you can piss off the enemy, then they won’t play as well. When someone is bad at smack talk, it’s easy to revert to saying whatever is most likely to piss them off. These tend to be sexist, homophobic, and racist slurs. After all, if it’s inappropriate in the real world, it’s probably going to be bad online, too.
A study in 2010 at UNC Chapel Hill found that people admitted to being more accepting of hate speech when used in a video game environment than in other contexts.3 Part of the reason hypothesized by the report is that games “fragment” users’ interactions with each other. While pseudonymous and anonymous message boards help to hide a person’s identity, video games have several moments in which the player’s interaction with other players is paused or ended. For example, when a map is loading and the player is sitting at a loading screen, they are generally not interacting with other players. Another example is when a player is navigating menus. Some games actually create interactivity during these breaks. The study argues that this distance makes the interactions feel less “real”, and therefore nurtures antisocial behavior.
The same team conducted another study where they surveyed actual gamers through Xbox Live voice chat. 4 Most of the interviewees “focused on the idea that anonymous gamers can say anything they like and face no consequences.” Aside from that, more competitive game modes were more likely to spark hate speech than cooperative game modes. As I mentioned previously, the competitive nature sparks aggressive speech, particularly hateful slurs. According to the study, “Most gamers thought hate speech was a way for people to distract opponents and get a competitive advantage.” A player named Johnnykom82 said, “Like in a sporting event, teams talk trash to each other.” DebatingBeeftek said hate speech is “a way to just piss another person off and get them distracted thinking about the comment instead of the game.”
Based on the current research, these sexist, homophobic, and racist slurs are generally used in online games to insult the enemy and get them “off their game”. What’s interesting is that Kjellberg’s slur was not used in this way because he had no voice chat connection to the enemy. What Kjellberg demonstrated was that hate speech is used for more reasons than just competitive intimidation.
I want to stress that I am not trying to “explain” hate speech as a way to “excuse” it. On the contrary: I want people to realize just how harmful it is, and how becoming “normal” is actually hurting the world around us. So keep in mind that, when looking at hate speech, it’s important to look at how people use it because, as we’ll see in the upcoming weeks, it’s not always used by the same people or for the same reasons.
In next week’s article, we’re going to take a look at how hate speech is used by online communities, particularly anonymous message boards like 4chan. Be forewarned: things are going to get a lot darker and a lot more problematic because the use of hate speech online has implications far beyond our virtual worlds.
Community Highlight: Waypoint
Maze Ratshas writtenseveral articles about one of the newer journalistic gaming outlets, Waypoint. While it has roots from Vice Media’s previous gaming sections, the Waypoint brand was created after Austin Walker stepped in as Editor-in-Chief.
The team at Waypoint consists of rising star Austin Walker (who does a great job of connecting the academic world with the real world), industry veteran Patrick Klepek (who, despite being in the industry since EGM was owned by Ziff Davis, still gets carded at movie theaters), ex-Polygon Reviewer Danielle Riendeau (who is also an EMT and martial artist), previous Crunchyroll Brand Manager Danika Harrod, and long-time freelancer Rob Zacny.
When Vice launched a new platform for their websites earlier this year, they removed the ability to comment on specific articles. This follows a trend set last year when NPR closed off their comments and several other news organizations followed suit.56 As it turns out, allowing random comments doesn’t help people have a civil discourse or contribute much to the overall conversation.
As a way to create a moderated community, Waypoint created a forum earlier this year. 7 The Waypoint Forum Rules and Code of Conduct outline behavior, specifically stating that “Bigotry […] will not be tolerated”. The first rule goes on to say that it is not the job of marginalized people “to educate you”.
Since I have personally participated in their forums, I can also say that moderators will direct message you if one of your comments is problematic (whether intentionally or not) and they will ask you to reconsider your message. This sort of mindful interaction is exactly what helps build a community. More video game communities should look at Waypoint, and other communities like it, as an example.
Ohlheiser, Abby. (12 SEP 2017). PewDiePie said the n-word on YouTube. The Internet’s most famous gamer is out of excuses. The Washington Post. Retrieved on 13 SEP 2017 from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2017/09/12/there-are-no-excuses-for-it-pewdiepie-apologizes-for-saying-the-n-word-in-a-youtube-livestream/?utm_term=.f5de8b789bd3 ↩
Hernandez, Patricia. (16 FEB 2017). Pewdiepie Apologizes For ‘Death To All Jews’ Joke, Slams Wall Street Journal. Kotaku. Retrieved from https://kotaku.com/pewdiepie-apologizes-for-death-to-all-jews-joke-slams-1792439824 ↩
Rogers, Ryan. “Video Game Design and Acceptance of Hate Speech in Online Gaming”. (2013). Race/Gender/Cass/Media. Publisher: Pearson. Editors: Lind, R.A. Print. ↩
Rogers, Ryan. (2012). The Virtual Locker Room: Perceptions of Hate Speech in Online Gaming. The Journal of New Media & Culture, Vol. 8, Iss. 1. Retrieved on 13 SEP 2017 from http://www.ibiblio.org/nmediac/summer2012/Articles/locker_room.html ↩
Jensen, Elizabeth.(17 AUG 2016). NPR Website To Get Rid Of Comments. NPR. Retrieved on 13 SEP 2017 from http://www.npr.org/sections/ombudsman/2016/08/17/489516952/npr-website-to-get-rid-of-comments ↩
Goujard, Clothilde. (08 SEP 2017). Why news websites are closing their comments sections. Global Editors Network on Medium. Retrieved on 13 SEP 2017 from https://medium.com/global-editors-network/why-news-websites-are-closing-their-comments-sections-ea31139c469d ↩
Harrod, Danika. (15 MAY 2017). We’re Having Too Much Fun in Waypoint’s New Forums. Waypoint. Retrieved on 13 SEP 2017 from https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/pg7mkb/were-having-too-much-fun-in-waypoints-new-forums ↩
Deception will become the most common theme throughout the series. Big Boss’ goal was to feed the US government bad information. Gray Fox becomes an enemy to Snake in MG2, hinting that he might have known Big Boss’s true intentions in the first game. So was he really kidnapped in the first game? Or was that all a part of Big Boss’s plan? So, if Big Boss’s plan was to confuse and deceive, then what if everything went according to plan? AHHHHHHHHHHH! From the very beginning, Metal Gear makes you second, triple, and quadruple guess everything you thought you know.
These games also introduce the idea of Science Fiction as an explanation for the unexplainable. In MG2, OILIX isn’t a magic alternative to oil: it’s algae! While “sci-fi explanations” are relatively realistic in this game, they will get crazier as the series continues. Continue reading The Themes & “WTF?” of Metal Gear & Metal Gear 2→
Before the Xbox, Microsoft created the MSX. Released in 1983, the computer system was an attempt at creating a “standard” for home computers. Before the popularity of standard operating systems, disks were unreadable between operating systems, but all MSX disks worked in any MSX machine.
The MSX demonstrates a fascinating cultural difference between the East and the West: unification vs competition. The MSX never became popular in the West because Westerners prefered competition more than a “standard”. Similarly, in the early 2000s, Japanese mobile gaming became popular years before the advent of the iPhone because Japanese phones were more standardized.
This could also explain why PC gaming has never been as popular in Japan. PC games can work on one PC and not on another because of minor differences in hardware. Why not just buy a box that plays all of the games for that machine?
However, I’m not an expert on Japanese culture. If you have some insight, or or want to add to the conversation, please comment on this article below!
The early Metal Gear games are played from an overhead view that is angled, also known as a “Three Quarters (¾) Perspective”, which allows them to navigate the avatar along the X and Y axis in a seemingly 3D world. That avatar is Snake, a bandana-wearing action hero with dark hair and dark clothes. The player can assign two items to Action keys, such as a weapon, a health item, a key card, or anything else. As the player navigates the world, they will encounter enemies that won’t immediately see Snake, so they are encouraged to navigate Snake around enemies in order to avoid confrontation. If Snake is “spotted” by an enemy, an alarm sounds, which floods the screen with more enemies until Snake successfully hides for a few minutes or dispatches all of the enemies. Continue reading Heaven & Algae: The Gameplay & Stories of MG & MG2→
Some games are intimidating. Dark Souls is known for punishing players who aren’t patient. Games like the Persona series require a daunting time commitment. Then there are some franchises that have been around for so long, and have such tangled narratives, that they are incomprehensible to players that haven’t done the homework. Nothing perfectly encapsulates the latter than the Metal Gear series. In an epic tale spanning 28 years, Hideo Kojima crafted a masterpiece that covers everything from heavy political topics (such as nuclear disarmament) to deep philosophical ponderings (like the nature of consciousness and the illusion of free will). It also contains poop jokes and constant objectification of the female form. It is a series that I often criticize more than I praise.
The series, as a whole, sounds like something a 13-year-old boy scribbled into the margins of his middle school notebooks. Yet somehow it was adapted into a multi-million dollar spectacle created by hundreds of talented artists and hard-working programmers. The series takes its story more seriously than it should while still making fun of itself at every opportunity. In many ways, the complete Metal Gear saga represents how a visionary artist duped the corporate world into telling anti-capitalist, anti-war stories by veiling them in gun fetishism, US military soap operas, and anime tropes. Not only that, but it popularized fourth-wall-breaking “mindfucks” for video games and catapulted its creator to “rock star” status. In order to truly understand the culture created by this series, you have to play every game. But sometimes you don’t have the time.
In a rare mini-series of The Backlog, we will attempt to understand Kojima’s 30-year masterpiece, starting with games on the Japanese MSX2 computer system and ending with modern consoles. Since the games can be appreciated in many ways, each issue is split into three categories that explain the story, the themes, and the mind-bending narrative hooks that have kept Metal Gear players asking the all-important question: “What the fuck?”