By Alexander Orsonio, Aug. 24, 2021

Most people who have spent any amount of time in the gaming community can easily gauge that gaming culture is not inclusive, yet loves to pretend that it is. Not fitting into the typical mold of young, white cisgender mold is enough to paint a target on your back.  

Recent accusations are shedding light on this issue. On July 20, video game company Activision Blizzard, one of the largest players in the games industry responsible for franchises such as Call of Duty, Overwatch, and Warcraft, was hit with a lawsuit by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing following a two-year investigation. Accusations from current and former employees range from sexual harassment, discrimination and the fostering what is referred to as “frat boy” culture. 

I have witnessed this happen with friends who are women. Hopping into a voice chat with other players in an online game is always a gamble for them because misogyny runs rampant in these male-dominated spaces. Everything from “go back to the kitchen” insults to threats of sexual assault go unchecked. 

This issue is no stranger to games companies. French games company Ubisoftknown for franchises such as Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry, had its own surge of accusations of misconduct leveled at company executives for fostering a toxic work environment at virtually every level of the company, with many of the perpetrators of this misconduct receiving protection from the company’s human resources department. 

In Ubisoft’s case, some of these accusations go back seven years, with accusations of assault, harassment and misconduct running rampant with virtually no response from human resources outside of shifting the accused around the company.   

This is a tale all too common for the games industry and it leeches into gaming culture as a whole. 

Given that I closely fit the mold of a typical gamer, I can dodge most of this hate, but as a member of the Latinx community, I am not totally immune. As a former Call of Duty fan, I put hundreds of hours into the series’ online multiplayer, and I saw firsthand how hostile other players could get as soon as they heard someone speak Spanish. 

When looking at the people making the products I enjoy, it is unlikely to come across someone of my background. According to the International Game Developers Association, as of 2019, only 7% of game developers identified as Hispanic/Latinx.  

Being a pre-teen and hearing a bunch of strangers call me “wetback” for saying something in Spanish, or even casually mentioning my ethnicity, did make me question my own worth and consider distancing myself from this community. 

In my experience, player lobbies are waiting to rain down slurs and hatred on anyone perceived as less. Women, non-binary and gender-nonconforming people who are fans of video games understand these issues better than I ever could, and even more so if they are queer people of color.  

This contempt bleeds into the games themselves. In 2019, the free-to-play game Apex Legends included a gay character of Polynesian descent named Gibraltar. Many fans of the game expressed discomfort in playing a gay avatar.  

I once came across someone writing to the game’s developers to make Gibraltar straight since he could not stand the idea of playing as a gay character. 

That being said, as much as these companies appear to clean their hands of bigotry, they are not as detached from it as their PR claims to be. The games industry, and by extension the gaming community, has always had an issue with inclusion and festering bigotry. 

Similar to other forms of media such as film and music, men are the dominant force in the games industry both in its formative years and today. Representation of people of other genders, ethnicities and cultures in gaming development has often been met with hostility by the community, with the exceptions usually lying in sexualized portrayals of women. 

The character Lara Croft of the Tomb Raider franchise was an early gaming sex symbol in the late 1990s. When the series was rebooted in 2013, she was given a considerably less sexualized look, a major departure from the series’ roots.  

After the initial reveal of the new Lara Croft, I heard complaints from fellow fans of Tomb Raider about Croft’s less sexualized look. I have noticed similar receptions to other recent women lead game characters, in franchises such as Mortal KombatBattlefield V and Red Dead Redemption 2. 

These disparities in representation of people of color, women, and the queer community subsequently leads to a group that only celebrates one type of person. When the overwhelming majority of video game characters fit into a certain mold, people who also fit that same mold will generally become the primary demographic of it. 

In not highlighting minorities, the gaming community is the pit of toxicity its known for.  

The real-world effects of this toxicity can be seen on creative platforms such as Twitch, a space that has become notorious for harassment campaigns again streamers from marginalized groups, especially people of color. 

Ultimately, the gaming community itself, the group with the most power in the situation, is notoriously resistant to any sort of self-regulation or push for change.  

Activision Blizzard only recently began to actively take an effort to reduce toxic behavior in its Call of Duty series of first-person shooters. This series, in particular, is notorious for its toxic player base, where racist, sexist and homophobic insults, often bordering on hate speech, are commonplace.  

It is all too obvious that publishers are content with their laissez-faire attitude when it comes to community moderation, leaving many of these toxic communities at risk to get worse. Even Microsoft, the owner of XBOX brand, has failed to follow through on moderation when it comes to reports of death threats.  

If publishers will not help, then it is on us as gamers to use our judgment to not stand for discriminatory behavior in the gaming community.  

Do not be afraid to call out harassment when you see it, even if it comes from people you care about. Fostering a healthy community can only serve to be a positive for the medium. If we as gamers stand by and let this get worse, then we only have ourselves to blame.  

It is clear that the changes we need will not come from the top down; it will not come from the publishers and developers who make the products that we all rally behind. The effort must happen from the ground up, otherwise, it might not happen at all. 

Feature image courtesy of Florian Gagnepain.

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