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The world’s media massed to descend on gamer PewDiePie recently after he used a despicable word in one of his videos, however, the problem is much larger than him.
It’s been a rough year for mega-famous gamer, YouTube super star and millionaire, PewDiePie. In February he was dropped by Disney’s Maker Studios while YouTube sidled away from him at a fairly swift pace and this week, the world is after him yet again with game developers threatening to withhold their properties from him.
Sure, he lost affiliates because he posted videos featuring antisemitic imagery and yes, he casually dropped the N-word during a stream this week, but as PewDiePie said himself in his (weak) apology, he did nothing no other gamer isn’t guilty of doing. So does the backlash and his apology even mean anything?
The answer, of course, is no.
As a proud nerd, I couldn’t help but yell at a picture of PewDiePie’s goofy face when the news of his N-bomb broke this week. As if it isn’t hard enough for our community to be taken seriously, without our poster child being a racist arse-hat. Far more frustrating than finding myself among the ranks of fools muttering the words “we’re not all like that”, however, is knowing that PewDiePie is just one of thousands.
The truth is, I’m a gamer-light, because I refuse to engage in live chat while gaming online. Why? Because I don’t fancy being told by a band of merry misogynists to get back to the kitchen and make them a sandwich. Should I join a losing raid, it is almost guaranteed I will be told by the team I’m the reason we lost. Women can’t game, you see. I think it has something to do with our lack of opposable thumbs. Of course, should I beat a man in a game, I am not heralded or even dismissed with the usual, “fuck you, dude”, I can expect to be told they’re going to hunt me down and rape me. Nothing puts a woman in her place like the threat of sexual violence, and a woman’s place is not in the online gaming world.
At best, it’s childish immaturity… At worst, it’s gleefully open bigotry in a safely anonymous space, now that polite society has decided we can’t say those things out in the real world.
Nor is it the place for “fags”, “retards” or “n*****s”, all words you can expect to hear while gaming online. At best, it’s childish immaturity, held fast by 30-something-year-old dickweeds longing for the glory years of the school yard, when they could avoid being picked on themselves by calling another student “gay”. They chuck the words around in the place of other, more acceptable insults, like “loser” or “moron”, genuinely believing they all mean the same thing. The middling option is just sheer ignorance, the misguided belief that we all have equality now, so we can joke about women being tied to the kitchen, or LGBTQI people being a bunch of weirdos, and the black community has taken the n-word back, so that means we can all say it, right?? (Ugh, so wrong.) At worst, it’s gleefully open bigotry in a safely anonymous space, now that polite society has decided we can’t say those things out in the real world.
So what do we do about it?
We slap PewDiePie on the wrist, strip him of a few sponsors, maybe deny him the right to play certain games, which does impact his income…a bit. But what about the rest? Right now, the soul of the gaming community is being protected by those gamers who won’t stand for that kind of bullshit, people who are willing to kick you from a game if you misbehave. However, that doesn’t kick you from the server, that doesn’t stop you from simply joining another game and carrying on with said bullshit. In extreme cases, you can report someone to the service provider (PlayStation, Xbox, etc) and they may suspend the offending party from their servers, but that sort of policing relies on the notion that gamers are willing to snitch on each other, and if this sort of language is “normal”, as PewDiePie has shown it is, will that really happen?
My creative partner, Phil Logan, and I discussed this topic on our podcast, The Nerd Reserve, and both shuddered as we came to the same conclusion. For our safety, do we have to give up our privacy? Can we only keep our virtual streets clean if we allow service providers to listen in on our chat? Will the next wave of terms and conditions include a line saying your headset’s microphone will always be on, listening to your every conversation, searching for keywords, and booting you from the system when you breach policy? The horrifying truth is, unless the online community can clean themselves up, the bots will have to do it for us.
Gamers now have a choice: evolve past derogatory language or have big brother watch you, forever. So what’s it going to be? Bigotry or privacy?