Tonight I started writing a post about women in gaming. I was talking about how the little things we do and say create a culture where being male is the default and women are treated as outsiders. Outsiders whom it’s ok to ask personal and irrelevant questions, and who should not be offended simply because offense was not intended. I hit a wall and closed the post.
During this time I learned that a former teammate of mine died. It was only after I gave up on the post that I learned she was trans. For those of you who don’t know, the cause of death among transgender women in their early 20s is almost always suicide. Given the tone of one of her friend’s posts, I’m all but certain that was the cause. This has to stop.
It doesn’t matter that she was trans.
It doesn’t matter that she was young.
It doesn’t matter that she was an athlete.
It doesn’t matter that I didn’t really know her.
What matters is that the effect of being treated like an “other” is pain. Deep, internal pain that makes life not worth living as long as it remains.
There are people all over the world who are treated poorly because they are outsiders. People from all walks of life, in all sorts of categories. Many such people happen to play video games.
I shouldn’t need to explain to you that the gaming community as a whole tolerates those who target individuals for being “different”. I put different in quotes because even women fall into this category even though they make up approximately half the population.
I also shouldn’t need to explain that our actions have an impact on the community. Every time we default to calling someone “he”, or call the people we’re playing with “boys”, or stay silent in an effort to avoid drama when someone calls something that displeases them “gay”, we perpetuate an idea that gaming is a space for non-queer males.
Let’s put an end to this already.
For every one asshole who asks me if I’m a woman during a game of League of Legends there are at least a hundred other players who know that that question is inappropriate. Well guess what? If every time someone acted inappropriately towards my former teammate Sam just for being an Other someone stood up for her, she’s probably still be chasing plastic.
I’m not going to ask you anything on behalf of Sam. Hell I’m not even going to ask you anything on behalf of me. She’s dead and I can take it. But I am going to ask you something on behalf of my people, nearly all of whom are some form of Other.
Please, be active. When someone in a game says something sexist or homophobic or transphobic or hell is just rude to someone for any stupid reason whatsoever, call them out. Make it clear that you are on the side of the one who’s being attacked. Avoiding drama be damned, it is not ok to attack or diminish another person just for being who they are. I don’t know if I can do anything to fix that small percentage of assholes, but if I can encourage the rest of you to speak up then maybe, just maybe, we won’t need to see more of this.
In a blog post like this it’s easy to talk about suicide prevention as a motivator, but I think that’s overkill. Everyone has times when they are feeling down. Humans are most vulnerable to each other and everyone has days when they don’t want to deal with jerks. Even if by some miracle you don’t, I promise you that someone you care about does. When that person is going through a tough time and a stranger starts calling them slurs or objectifying and diminishing them, wouldn’t you want someone to stand up for them?
By standing up for the people you are playing with you not only help them, but you encourage a culture that doesn’t tolerate bigotry towards those Others. It’s not just that you are an upstanding player or whatever, but your actions will actively be appreciated and that appreciation will spur those you help to do what you did. Calling people out is hard, but in an online game you can do it with minimal risk. As people it’s our job to protect your own, and the best way to do that in-game is to act with integrity and discourage those who do not.
Finally, a special note to the content creators out there:
You are extremely powerful. YouTubers and streamers especially, you are the ones players look towards as examples of how their game is to be played. If you are calling your team “boys”, then you are encouraging a mentality of online gaming being a male space where woman and non-binary folk are Others. Asking you to change how you act is unfair, especially since such turns of phrase are often part of your success, but please remember that you have great power, and with that power comes responsibility. Consider that the reason you are successful is your followers. All of your followers. As I’m sure you know gamers are a diverse group and it would be foolish to think your base isn’t also diverse. Whenever you treat someone with disrespect or your tongue slips and you let out a slur, there’s a pretty good chance you are attacking one of your own. People can change, but they will not if their role-models do not. So please, consider carefully the kind of community you want to foster, and then work towards making that a reality.