In May of this year, a young African-American videogame streamer was subject to a barrage of racist abuse in the chat stream that runs alongside the video footage of his game. He was competing in a videogame festival in the USA, playing Hearthstone, an electronic card game for two opposing players. He made it all the way to the finals. The competition was broadcast live on Twitch, an online streaming service that is free to watch. During the stream of the final, the abuse reached its peak. This is not the first time nor will it be the last that a participant in games or sports is subject to abuse, but why do the abusers behave in this despicable way?
This September, diversity in videogame streaming was discussed at a convention, also held in the USA. A live feed of the convention was available to see on the Internet. It was targeted and overcome with racial abuse. One of the panellists was a veteran of the US Air Force who was subject to racist abuse within that government institution and in the online environment. In America today racism permeates all walks of life, from armed services to digital entertainment. This is the link to the article ‘TwitchCon diversity panel deluged with racist chat’ (within it, there is a link to the video of the convention for any that are interested in seeing it).
These two incidents I am highlighting, involving the individual gamer and the convention, is the most recent example of discriminatory behaviour in video gaming that has been reported in magazines and online publications. This abuse is so common that it is accepted by those to targeted as something that happens. Female gamers who are active on Twitch or who take part in eSports competitions face abuse regularly, like unwanted advances from viewers and other competitors and explicit and violent sexual language. This behaviour discourages women from taking part in these competitions, further increasing the untrue stereotype that gaming is a male pursuit and that female participation is not ‘normal’. We not only encounter gender issues in gamer community but also within the games themselves.
In recent years, game developers have produced some excellent female driven content with writers like Amy Hennig (Uncharted Series) and games such as Beyond Two Souls and Gone Home (who chose not to show their game at a convention in 2013 because of sexist comments by the organisers) (The Fullbright Company, 2013), but a huge portion of the industry is still aimed solely at males aged between 15 and 30. An early example of sexism within the videogame industry is Lara Croft. While the industry patted itself on the back for creating Lara, a strong, independent woman who pursued her own wishes and defeated the bad guys, usually, she still conformed to the ‘feminine norms’, young, slim and conventionally attractive (Giddens A. et al., 2013, p.802-803).
For such a modern media type, the videogame industry has not done enough to promote equality and inclusion. You just have to look at the advertising posters for Duke Nukem Forever (2011) to see how prevalent the ideology of patriarchy is within the industry. Players of this game, and other ones similar to it, are being influenced by the male protagonist’s behaviour, mannerisms and attitudes to women. Work by Judith Butler helped define theories of gender performance, namely that gender “…is not something that we fundamentally are, it is something that we do” (Holford N., 2014, p.261). Portrayal of men as dominating, violent, sexist sociopaths in videogames is not a healthy image to present to young people. This might have contributed to the negative behaviour of the people who watch live streaming channels, most of whom are gamers themselves. However, research carried out by the APA Task Force on Violent Media (American Psychological Association, 2015) found that while video games are one of the factors that are involved in increased aggression, it is impossible to say that it is the only cause of that behaviour. The study took into consideration all other aspects of life such as family, peers, school and neighbourhood and community. As the perpetrators of this abuse are anonymous individuals, there will be circumstances influencing their behaviour that we have no knowledge of.
While these gender and race issues are major problems facing the Internet and the widening audience of videogames, there are many positives when it comes to videogame streaming. One example is AGDQ and SGDQ (the Awesome and Summer Games Done Quick). These are week-long videogame speed run marathons held in the USA and shown on Twitch. SGDQ raises money for the charity Medicine Sans Frontier and AGDQ for the Prevent Cancer Foundation. Last year the two events raised over $2.7 million dollars combined. They include gamers from many genders, ethnicities, nations and backgrounds. The players are recognised for their skill and generosity to the cause rather than what stereotypes they might be labelled with, even though some abuse still persists. It is a very inclusive event that tries to recognise diversity, abuse and inequality within its own community. Unfortunately, the largest audiences gather not for charity runs but for eSports events, that carry a large pay check for competitors, rising into the millions of dollars. With such offerings in place, it seems that issues of social justice are not as important.
APA Task Force on Violent Media (2015) Technical report on the review of the violent videogame literature. Available at http://www.apa.org/pi/families/violent-media.aspx (Accessed 10 October 2016).
Giddens A. and Sutton P.W. (2013) ‘Chapter 16 Race, Ethnicity and Migration’ in Giddens A. and Sutton P.W Sociology, 7th edn, Polity Press, Cambridge, pp. 671-715.
Holford N. (2014) ‘Chapter 12 Gender and sexuality’ in Farrington-FLint L. and Montgomery H. (eds) E102 An introduction to childhood studies and child psychology, 2nd edn, The Open Unitversity, Milton Keynes, pp.253-273.
The Fullbright Company (2013) Why we are not showing Gone Home at PAX. Available at https://fullbright.company/2013/06/21/why-we-are-not-showing-gone-home-at-pax/. (Accessed 15 October 2016).