I’m guessing a lot of Border House readers are sick of homophobic epithets and attitudes in gaming. Without fail, in every clan, vent channel or game involving built in VOIP I’ve played, there’s been some degree of homophobia, racism and sexism and usually zero challenge to this from other users. I think homophobia, racism and sexism play out very differently in the gaming arena, though, so the methods used to deal with them will be very different. To start with, I’ll talk about homophobia and my personal experiences with it. I’m not saying this is everyone’s experience; I’m wondering what other coping strategies people use and thought I’d throw the discussion open to specifics.
Note: I’m using homophobia here as a shorthand for any hate speech against lesbians, gays and bisexuals. Trans issues are slightly different and I’ll cover them in a later post.
Setting the bar
The problem with dealing with homophobia on a clan, tournament or forum level is setting the bar. Like it or not, “gay” is such a prevalent pejorative where I live that blanket bans on anyone who uses it is probably an overreaction, and to an extent thought-policing. While language maintains a homophobic culture, it’s not the words themselves that are the issue, it’s the attitudes behind them. I think part of dealing with homophobia (or indeed any inter-personal difference) is accepting that everyone is affected by discrimination, even the people discriminated against. We all have learning to do about how we treat other people and we all have our own intersections of disadvantage. I live in a social group of 90% queers, and I think it’s easy to forget that “straight” culture is much more likely to use “gay” as an insult without intending to be offensive, even by LGBT allies.
In my experience there’s a couple of ways people use “gay” as a word. Just to be clear – I disagree with them both, but this is about picking battles. The word “gay” as a pejorative is not the issue to me – it’s the attitude of homophobia that can be behind it, a subtle difference but one worth remarking.
The first way people call something “gay” is when something bad happens, in general. It’s usually directed at something inanimate – perhaps a mission failure, grenade going off in the wrong place, being out of mana. Most clans don’t even blink an eye at this kind of speech, and indeed most users aren’t even totally aware they’re saying it This is one end of the scale – a relatively depersonalized, catchall curse word. At the other end of the scale is when it’s directed at people, either directly or by personifying something inanimate. Normally this is then preceded with another string of homophobic epithets (faggot, queer, homo, cocksucker) and it’s aimed at a person the player doesn’t like – perhaps a disliked clan personality, or someone who just killed them, or an elf (why is it always an elf?). This is clearly homophobic, in the very literal definition of the word, and not just a linguistic tic picked up from socializing in homophobic society. To be clear – there is a very clear and quantitative difference between generally throwing the word “gay” into a sentence, and using a long string of personally directed homophobic epithets.
The problem is most (straight) people don’t seem to realize the dividing line here. People will tell me I’m overreacting when I comment on the latter, based on an example of the former. So what to do?
Dealing with it
I think it’s very clear to most folk the difference here. I think a lot of people would also recognize that the former case makes the latter case possible, in these online social situations. From the perspective of dealing with, the problem is there’s a huge grey area which people often oversimplify. Generally, I’ve found trying to complain to clan admins/forum admins/tourney admins about it goes one of two ways:
Complaining about homophobia as a general clan issue. Generally this ends up with someone telling you “that’s just how people talk” (completely ignoring the huge range of hate speech I just outlined), and that I don’t have a right to be upset about it, it’s just words, etc.
Being personally upset about something directed at you. In every case here I’ve been told that I’m too sensitive that [the perpetrator] isn’t homophobic because of X reason, that it’s personal and I need to get over it.
Usually once a public accusation of homophobia has been made, it gets followed up by the perpetrator going into defensive mode, casting accusations, telling you about their gay friends and how offensive I am, or how I should be educating people rather than having a go. Most of the times in my experience the admins think you’re the one that’s overreacted. The few times I do lose my calm (god forbid!) over something that was (arguably) an overreaction, this is used as evidence every time I do have a point.
Finally I’d like to note that the written and spoken word are very different things. I think while a degree of spoken homophobia probably needs to be tolerated for the anti-homophobia lobby to not come across as mad, when it comes to forum posts and the like there’s no reason for the same leniency.
What can you do as an LGBT ally?
If you’re a clan admin, tournament or LAN organiser or forum admin there’s actually a lot you can do about it. Firstly remember that your clan, tournament or forum already has LGBT users who don’t talk about it because they know the abuse they will get.
Set a clear, simple rule about what’s allowed, or not. These can be different between speech and chat. Then, most importantly, stick to it.
If you run a tournament, have sanctions for hate speech as any other professional game would. For example, there’s several Heroes of Newerth top-level games I’ve seen which actually have homophobia and racism in the in game chat during casts with thousands of people watching. In every single case, the commentators didn’t even bat an eyelid or mention it at all, which is especially marked when S2 games, the publishers of Heroes of Newerth run most of these casts themselves. In my opinion at this level of play, this should be an instant game forfeit or fine for the perpetrator’s team as it would be in any other professional game.
If you run a forum, have a very clear and simple rule about what speech isn’t allowed. If you run a vent, again have a rule. And make sure you stick to it! Take complaints about LGBT-phobia seriously and don’t dismiss them out of hand.
If you run a LAN event, acknowledge homophobia as an issue and set up someone to deal with it if and when abuse happens. I actually had my forum post deleted from the i-Series forum when I asked to meet up with other LGBT gamers due to “complaints from parents”. Of course, I had zero solidarity or support from my “not-homophobic” clan at the time. The incredibly patronizing forum admin told me that of course they had a lot of LGBT gamers there and it would be obvious who they were when I was there. Of course, it wasn’t in the slightest, and I was by far the most obviously genderqueer person there. Needless to say I’ve not been since!
If you’re a games developer, get writers who are worth a damn and they should put in LGBT characters anyway because, you know, they’re good at writing. This is a whole other post, though, perhaps one for the future.
Finally, if you’re just a regular user, then call people on their homophobia. Just because you’re straight doesn’t mean you can’t pick up on it – this is as little as it takes to be an ally. Be supportive of LGBT gamers when they report abuse such as my story above. It takes pressure from both sides though, and gaming organisations really, really need to start doing something about it.
Over to you
Do you run a clan, tournament, LAN event or forum that deals with homophobia well? Are you an LGBT ally but struggle with knowing what to do about it? Do you want to have a policy in place but lack support or experience? Have you experienced a good example of any of these things? Post a link to your website or VOIP in the comments!