Racism and sexism in gaming – redux

// 23 February 2009

Latoya Peterson of Racialicious has a great piece on Comment is Free, about sexism and racism in video games and the communities built around gaming.

The post does a good job of highlighting how so much of the industry is hanging on to the idea that their consumers are young white men, even though that’s no longer the case:

Such threads remind me that in many ways I am seen as a curious outlier in the general gaming equation. I am both black and female, which stands in stark contrast to the generally accepted ideal of a gamer. In Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat, an academic collection exploring gaming and gender disparities, Nicole Lazzaro’s essay Are Boy Games Even Necessary? breaks down how the industry came to construct the identity of a gamer:

“At its formation, the game industry used traditional market research data to understand and segment the market. They came up with their target customer: a 23-year-old single male technophile. The vast majority of computer games still focus on the tastes and preferences of the industry’s first adopter, chasing him as he gets older. Because the average game player is 33 years old (ESA 2006), games offer more mature themes, lifting experiences from R-rated movies like Rambo.”

However, this identity construct has been stubbornly held out as the industry standard, even as innovations like the Nintendo Wii redefined the market for video games, even as research notes that women constitute 52% of self-identified casual gamers, and 74% of those willing to pay for gaming content, and even as more and more women become vocal about their love of video games.

It is this idea of “the single (white) male technophile” that contributes to the myopia of both the gaming industry and the more obnoxious players and informs the assumptions that most of the people on the game boards happen to be white and male, regardless of their actual identification. It also leads to a commonly accepted culture of harassment, where those who identify themselves as women and minorities are subject to gender- and race-based harassment, simply for letting people know that they are different.

However, I quickly scanned the comments and, guess what, it’s full of people denying racism and sexism are issues in the gaming world. At the end of her post, Latoya asks:

Why is it so hard just to have a conversation? What are we afraid of?

What indeed.

Comments From You

chem_fem // Posted 23 February 2009 at 12:59 pm

Glad you picked up on this, I read it yesterday. I was amazed by the commenters justifying racism and sexism by saying it was escapism. I don’t understand why some people see being a decent human being is so much effort that you need escapism from it.It’s like they are all naturally assholes that are just acting like decent people (or at least they think they are) during the day only to come home, log on and become complete wankers.

Aimee // Posted 23 February 2009 at 4:07 pm

I can’t bring myself to read the comments. I know what the comments are like on comment is free, especially regarding sexism. I find them exhaustingly depressing. I can’t understand people who think we’re so insignificant that our rights don’t matter!

Cate // Posted 23 February 2009 at 10:51 pm

Of course gaming is sexist! Every time I play a game online, if the other players find out I’m a woman there’s instantly the ‘do you have a boyfriend?’ ‘How about spending the night with me?’ comments.

Arielle // Posted 6 July 2010 at 6:31 am

I was just on Transformice, and I already had other players attacking me (pushing me off the edge in the game and verbally in the chat box). My name on there was “Honeychu” since I figured it fit the theme of the game, so I guess they managed to figure out I’m a woman.

I just don’t get why boys/men make such demeaning remarks. Perhaps it’s because they feel powerless against women in real life, so they feel obligated to take their frustration out on random girls/women online. Maybe they are inherently sexist and feel the need to “assert their dominance,” in which case, they are sad individuals.

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