Friday, 12 April 2013

Video Games: real racism in a virtual world

A fascinating new study in the current issue of the New Review of Hypermedia and Multimedia uncovers blatant racism in video games.

I hadn’t thought of race in gaming, but considering video games’ widespread use and impact, it's an issue well worth addressing. And we should look at sexism in gaming, as well.

Researcher Kishonna L. Gray writes that in video-game culture, the default gamer is a white male. Those outside that privileged group are often marginalised, labelled ‘deviant’ and punished for their ‘deviance’. Women, ethnic minorities and people of colour are portrayed in a stereotypical manner, reinforcing notions of whiteness, blackness, racial hierarchies, masculinity and sexuality. 

As part of her research Gray observed, interacted with and interviewed African-American gamers playing Halo Reach®, Gears of War 2®, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2®, and Call of Duty: Black Ops® on Xbox Live over a period of eight months. She uncovered disturbing patterns of behaviour and a space racialised by the profiling of non-white or non-male gamers by their speech. In particular, she found that some gamers picked up on linguistic cues from others that suggested they might be black. The black gamer would then be confronted about his colour and provoked by the use of racist slurs. Other gamers would often join in with the insults. The episode would end with one of the gamers leaving or being kicked out of the game, or the offended gamer retaliating with his own volleys of profanity and racist language.

Most worryingly, such racism appears to be ‘normalised’ in the Xbox Live sessions she observed, with offended users rarely complaining. When Gray confronted the gamers who used racist language, they categorically denied being racist. They further defended themselves by claiming it was ‘just a game’, that the words they used were meaningless or that they would use the same offensive terms to refer to white people.
Gray observes that ‘the overt racism that used to permeate our society has been introduced in this virtual community.’ Although it is difficult to quantify, and may not be the norm across all of Xbox Live, the gamers of colour she interviewed were racially abused daily. They were also adamant that they did not experience similar treatment elsewhere.

Gray concludes that much of this abuse occurs and is allowed to continue because of the mistaken belief that black people, women and minorities are not gamers (in fact, I recently read that 42% of gamers are women); the games themselves continue to be created by and for white males. Until gaming changes considerably, it would appear that only white males can leave their real-world identities behind when they enter the virtual world of Xbox Live.

Black and women game creators, we need you!  Where are you?

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