(Trigger Warning- Transphobic slurs)[caption id="attachment_7815" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Poison from Street Fighter X Tekken: A young white woman with magenta hair, dressed in a white tanktop, belt choker, and black cap."][/caption]
There are a lot of nay-sayers to social justice activism, even jaded, pessimistic gamers within the cause who feel big companies who profit off of the discrimination of minorities will never change. It’s easy to see why, with years of writing, speeches, and conventions only chipping at the seemingly invulnerable armor of those who hold the most sway in games. While the tireless battle still continues, I believe an experience of mine lends a little hope.
Senior Editor at GameCritics.com Brad Gallaway is a subscriber to Playstation: The Official Magazine (PTOM), and noticed in the recently released March issue an article about Capcom’s upcoming Street Fight X Tekken. The article posed teams of fighters against each other in a mock tournament, writing snippets in a sports-caster/trash-talking way in good fun to add some hype to the game’s release next month. Good fun until Gallaway saw this written about one of the characters, Poison:[caption id="attachment_7816" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Excerpt from the article, reads: "The Final Fighters: Hugo and Poison. You really don't want to know why these two are paired up. Hardbodied she-male (?) and permed 'roid rager; a logistical nightmare. Just rest assured that someone online has written something far worse.""][/caption]
And this:[caption id="attachment_7817" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="An excerpt from the article, reads: "It's King vs Hugo in the wrestling stakes, and Yoshi vs. Poison in the "what the hell are you?" stakes. And to be honest, the Tekken originals have the edge from the start -- maybe because we actually know what we're doing with them. There's so much of Hugo to hit that big man takes quite a pounding, and ol' Jag-Head and Ninj-Face have no qualms about putting their collective boots into their maybe-lady opponent.""][/caption]
For those who haven’t followed Poison and her controversial history, it could be said that she is video games’ first and most popular transgender character. Though many things that surround her are problematic, and Capcom won’t officially comment on her identity, she serves as an idol to some transgender gamers as a recognition that they exist in their favorite activity. There are many arguments for and against her, but what actually matters is how she is treated by Capcom and media.
Despite her notoriety, Gallaway didn’t like what he saw- unchecked transphobia in a major publication. Reaching out, he couldn’t find many people who reacted strongly to it, most likely because the community is used to seeing incidents like these brushed off with non-apologies. Eventually he brought the issue to me, and I knew I couldn’t let it die. Thankfully, I was able to get in contact with PTOM’s Editor in Chief, Roger Burchill, and bring the matter to his attention. Here’s a little snippet of what I said to him:
“I was very surprised this slipped past the editing process. I understand that this is meant to be in the spirit of trash-talking, but if sexist and racist slurs would be unprofessional to publish, I believe the same applies transphobic language. Any public support for your transgender subscribers and confirmation that transphobic hate speech is unprofessional and unwanted would be extremely appreciated.”
I find that while society is becoming more aware that discrimination exists, we are still learning what to do with it. Being accused of discrimination is a hefty charge, and all parties involved might not know how identify and resolve the problematic behavior. In the end, I didn’t want to call Roger or anyone at PTOM transphobic, because that’s most likely not the case. Instead, I wanted to identify to them “Hey, that’s not cool” and gain assurance that they don’t stand for discrimination at their publication. Because in the end, that’s what we’re fighting for, right? Recognizing what’s wrong and resolving to remove discriminatory and oppressive qualities from our actions? Here’s how Burchill responded:
“[U]ltimately the blame lies with myself as I performed the final edit on that piece. I did initially recognize the inappropriate nature of the passage and did attempt to change it to something less offensive while retaining the trash-talking "voice" of the piece. As evidenced by what made its way into print, I did a horrible and clumsy job. I was not happy with the edit when I made it and I regret that I didn't listen to my inner voice at the time I approved it to publish. The obvious solution was that I should have changed the passage to something that doesn't pander to the basest elements of gamers and people in general. I failed badly in this instance and I pledge to do better in the future.”
Done and done. Perfect. I was surprised and relieved when I got his response. Too many times have I received non-apologies or accusations of being too sensitive. It was almost too easy, however, I realized that this wasn’t exceptional behavior; it was just being compassionate and professional. I know of some online publishers who could follow Burchill’s example: find out why what you did was wrong, honestly apologize, and make a stand for higher standards next time. His apology wasn’t just to me, but to everyone for contributing to a problem that plagues our industry. PTOM will be running my letter in the Mail section of their May issue, publically apologizing to their subscribers, and using the incident to bring into light the undercurrent discrimination in gaming. Thank you Roger Burchill, because this is what a decent human being would do, despite how rarely it happens.
This is also a testament to the power of allies; to my knowledge, no one else involved in contacting PTOM was transgender besides me, but I had a few hands help me along the way. Just because you may not be a certain minority doesn’t mean you can’t stand up against their oppression. What’s more, it’s not a shameful to be an ally. The more visible it is that everyone has a stake in fighting against discrimination, not just those offended, the more others will feel inspired to take their stand and push us forward to a place inclusive and safe for everyone. PTOM might not be scouting for transgender writers and producing a fixed segment on social justice activism, but I believe if this attitude is adopted across the industry and games media, it won't be long until that does happen.