First off, I’d like to state that you’re by far by far my favourite Starcraft 2 commentator. You’re clever, funny, hopelessly in depth, and I can feel the thought and care in what you do. Above all though, one of the main reasons I’m a fan and regular viewer is your professionalism and absence of the bigotry that plagues e-sports commentary and culture. This is why I’m writing this – to tell you what I think needs to change for e-sports to “happen” in a real sense.
The reason I’m contacting you is both because you specifically asked for feedback in your video, and generally I think you’re one of the few commentators with both the love and intelligence to take this message seriously. It’s in no way an accusation, but an explanation of why I think the Starcraft 2 community needs to change.
In your recent video on the state of e-sports in general, you state that your resolution for 2011 is to live off donations and make E-Sports a Big Deal. I agree. I’m a huge fan of e-sports and spend a lot of time watching casts, both live and on demand. However, the current e-sports culture is, to put it mildly, racist, misogynist and homophobic. A huge percentage of potential gamers are both actively and passively harassed and excluded from e-sports, and games in general. Of course, I’m not at all saying this is your fault, and I think Starcraft 2 has by far one of the best communities when it comes to general niceness (again – why I really think Starcraft 2 is worth caring about), but I think in a homosocial, androcentric world it’s easy to forget how much what people do excludes others.
In your cast, you mention that e-sports is “finally accessible”, pointing to the number of on-demand streams and live casts now available compared to 10 years ago. You also talk about Team Liquid and GosuGamers as examples of the long term appeal of e-sports and games like StarCraft 2. I agree. These sites are great resources and bring a lot of money into the sport. There’s a lot of knowledge and passion there.
However, I think the key question here is one that constantly comes up in conversations about privilege – “accessible to whom?”. As you have alluded to in past casts, the e-sports community is almost entirely male, and under 30, in stark difference to gamers as a whole. It’s also almost entirely White and Asian. While it’s easy to passively accept this as just the way things are, there are many ways that e-sports in general excludes women, people of colour and LGBT folk. I’d like to cover some of the key areas that put off people who would otherwise be interested in e-sports in general and Starcraft 2 specifically.
How does discrimination happen?
The first one is the storytelling itself. As I’ve covered in a previous article (and also mentioned on Rock Paper Shotgun), the storytelling in Starcraft 2 is certainly racist, more than a little bit sexist, and above all awfully written – relying on tired old hero movie tropes to bolster a hugely cliched and trite single-player plot. While you state that “Blizzard notoriously care about their fans”, I agree – as long as the said fans happen to be 15-30 year old white heterosexual males. There are so many incredibly sexist and transphobic examples of characters in World of Warcraft, for example – it doesn’t really give me any hope that future Starcraft 2 expansions will be any better.
Secondly, there’s the Starcraft 2 community. While this is a lot better than some I could mention, the community still stinks especially when it comes to inclusion of women. The Hathor Legacy covers one example of sexist harassment on the Team Liquid forums. Pardon the colourful language, but I think the author paraphrases it well enough:
Anybody getting any meta-messages here? The response, including that from the administrator, is basically, “Sure, bitch, do what you want, but show us your tits and comply with all future sexual demands from all of us, and once you’ve done those chores you can do your little female only thing to your heart’s content in whatever spare time you have left, only we’ll be cyber-harassing all the other bitches, too, so they’ll probably be too busy to join your little club of whores.
I’m sure you’re used to this attitude, even if you disagree with the specific example. Notably, at least one games developer who’s tried to challenge these attitudes has received actual death threats and cancelled multiple speaking opportunities in fear of her own safety. I know it was a flippant comment in your cast, but don’t you want your daughters to be playing starcraft as well as watching it? Active rather than passive? Do you think that they would, hypothetically, feel comfortable posting in the Team Liquid forums, with attitudes like this flying around? Sure, you can chalk this down to 4chan trolls but it’s missing the point – this attitude is endemic, accepted, and combatable.
Thirdly there’s the issue of LAN events. I’ve been to one LAN event, the iSeries run by Multiplay. As I covered in a previous article about combating discrimination in gaming (which incidentally contains some of my personal advice on what admins can do), I had my thread on the forum asking to meet up with other LGBT people deleted by the moderators, due to “complaints from parents” (yeah, right). I was told it would be easy to meet other LGBT people at the event and they would be “obvious” (because obviously we all look the same – seriously?). Needless to say, it wasn’t. I’m not giving Multiplay or any other organisation that wants to erase my existence without a word to me any of my money again, and I’m not going to any LAN events again that don’t have a policy on sexist or LGBT harassment – you can read my other suggestions in the article, if you wish.
Studies show that 40% of gamers are women, but this covers casual games too. Does this mean that women just don’t have the mental capacity to play a game like StarCraft, or does it mean that the scene is institutionally sexist and an abusive place for women to be? As much as the detractors are willing to say “not sexist” at the drop of a hat (like the Team Liquid example), the numbers themselves point to an incredibly patriarchal community. I don’t think there are similar figures for LGBT or gamers of colour, but I imagine the figures are similar.
What does all this mean? It means that a huge percentage of the potential e-sports fan and participant community are excluded through the racist, sexist, homophobic community and practices of both the game developers and gaming community. E-sports needs to shed it’s stereotype of only being for 17 year old acne-ridden angry white boys if it ever wants to be taken seriously as a professional sport. Yes, this is an offensive stereotype too, but there is barely anything happening in e-sports to challenge this in a positive way by making gaming more inclusive. Real, concrete barriers exist for you if you’re not a 15-30 year old straight, white or Asian male. These barriers will stop e-sports being ever taken seriously, for better or worse.
It might sound like I’m just complaining without doing anything. On the contrary, I’d love to be a part of the general gaming community, but at the moment I have to fight for the right just to be allowed in it as myself. Also, I’m steering away from mentioning specifics because I think a general understanding of the issues is much more important than immediately going out and trying to change things.
I’m not saying there’s any actions you can take, directly. It would be great for us folk who don’t fall into the group I talked about to have an ally who’s respected by the community. I absolutely loved it when you wore a purple shirt for Spirit Day and I’m sad your vlog didn’t have comments at the time to see what people thought of it. On the other hand, the Funday Monday cast you did using the “no women on the Internet” meme I found offensive and damaging, although you did make some reparations in the next episode, which was nice.
However these kind of sexist ideas persist and it would be amazing if top-level commentators like yourself called out the sexism and racism when it happens on places like Team Liquid and in general, supporting women and LGBT Starcraft 2 players. Further, you could even use any influence you might have with Blizzard to encourage non-discriminatory plot lines, although I think that’s unrealistic. You talk about doing a project per month for this year. It would be great if one or more of these projects specifically looked at tackling discrimination in gaming. For instance, a competition for women, or a tournament for LGBT people and allies – however this is complex, as roughly 10% of Starcraft 2 players are undoubtedly gay, bi or lesbian, and again the TL attitude stinks in a general sense.
Mainstream sport in general is no better, admittedly. It would be such a tragic shame though, if a modern sport like Starcraft had to start again with an antiquated, offensive attitude that plagues sports like football, even leading directly to suicide when people dare to be out. Great blogs like Geek Feminism already have articles written on anti-harassment policies for conferences, following a series of rapes and sexual harassment at events. I too want Starcraft 2 to be an event on the same level as any major sport, but I don’t want suicide, rape, violence and harassment as the default environment in 10 years time, which is exactly what happened to English club football in this country. It would be amazing if a modern sport like Starcraft 2 could have a modern attitude to difference and really show the world what sports can be.
Now is the time to nip this kind of attitude in the bud. Please think about the diversity of gamers when casting, and above all, be an ally. If you want e-sports to take off as truly inclusive sports, then much more needs to be said and done to defend and champion the rights of people the community currently does it’s level best to bully, harass and exclude. To quote your video: “it ain’t gonna be one of us [to make e-sports happen] – it’s going to be ALL of us”. I really, really hope this is the case, and that ALL gamers feel welcome and comfortable in the Starcraft 2 community by the end of 2011.