Why I Play Less: Reflecting on the Patriot Act’s Dark Side of the Gaming Industry

Image above provided by Pixabay. 

Lately, I have been watching Patriot Act on Netflix. I am hooked. Truly, it is refreshing to have a show that is both witty and addresses serious, intense topics; social issues people do not always discuss as much as they should. The fact more Asian Americans, especially South and Southeast Asians, are speaking up and having representation, is also wonderful. We have a way to go for my relations to have the representation they need, but it is a step in the right direction. One day, we can make sure the people living in the Global South can enjoy some love, too. As some of the side research I do on inequalities regarding digital scholarship indicates, the Global North still has a lot of privilege in that realm despite attempts by open access initiatives to change this. I recognize there are criticisms on the terms Global North/South, and once there is consensus on more appropriate terminology, I will adapt accordingly. When discussing inequalities of information dissemination and scholarship, it is most appropriate (for now).  In any case, I digress.

Hasan Minhaj had a very profound episode regarding the video game industry (one more reason to love him – unapologetic nerd like I am!).  It was a nostalgic moment as I watched him address how much money goes into the industry, a reminder of how no matter how long I have been busy with other hobbies, the gamer girl was still in me. Even if nowadays, I am more interested in writing content that deconstructs some of the experiences I had or critically examining in-game storylines or lore I saw than actually playing.

I played one game I shall not name (for now) the longest, and hardly experimented with anything else short of tablet or phone games here and there. Because I hardly have time anymore for it, people will not see me there. Some may suggest this makes me no longer a gamer girl. It is what it is. Reflecting on these changes, I realized something – something that goes beyond the reasons I have told people on why I have “moved on” from the scene (for the most part).

I think me “leaving” the scene was for the better. I sometimes hop on Discord chats to say hi to people from my previous community and may elect to play with a friend or whatnot when time is on my side, but I cannot see myself being as active as I once was. This is for several reasons, one of which was brought up on the Patriot Act episode: The Dark Side of the Video Game Industry.

For one, sexual harassment in the game industry is still rampant. The toxic culture of misogyny and entitlement among white gamer boys (and at times, the women who defend them) is still an issue. There were a few cases I remember in my less cognizant days where I did not speak out enough on this, fearing I would be targeted (as I had been a few times). I feel unless I can speak out, I am complicit by investing more time in a place or server. Seeing some places punish people over less, yet other places not doing anything about a problem player until players are disappearing is disheartening. And if I cannot do anything to change either case without repercussions, it is more discouraging.

Second, related but in a different way: the tone-policing of women of color, and the double-standards putting all women gamers as “aggressive,” “bossy,” “irrational,” “emotional,” and “*insert slur here*” when they address an issue, especially in a position of power, has hardly been addressed sufficiently. It does not happen in one single place – it happens everywhere. I had been called a number of unpleasant things, and subjected to a number of microaggressions with my make up when things do not go some random problem player’s way (I dread for what full-on POC gaming women deal with). I had this treatment behind my back even more so, and also been publicly humiliated by griefers despite standing by what my community wanted from me, and received shaming at times for decisions not my own; decisions not under my control.  I will not go into every case here or air out dirty laundry incessantly. It is, well, unnecessary at this point.

Also, as with many things in my life, I will not say my part has been perfect in any of my time as a gamer, either. I had been young and stupid in my past several times, and I am not beyond needing room for growth even now. There were times I distanced myself from massive community drama and some of those instances, it was not only unwise or unhelpful, but it made me complicit in the issues I list here. Issues I have since seriously reflected on, and decided further berth from the gaming community is my way of ceasing complicity. If I do not enjoy something or agree, I sometimes must voice my opinion by not being present (or as present).

An interesting thing to note, though, that much of what I described as the problematic treatment of women gamers (and women of color in-kind) does not seem to be delivered to the white male staff. They deal with some hassle, but I rarely see them subjected to the same level of public shaming and disparaging, with full intention to stress or chase off. Problem people often targeted the women they could reach and exploit the emotional labor of for their own personal gratification. Women who did not engage them were then painted in a negative light, for not enabling it. After having read some of the research women in ethnic relations and pop-culture studies had done on incels, I am disappointed but hardly surprised at their findings on this entitlement many gamer boys feel regarding women. Seeing Hasan Minhaj’s covering of the persistent sexual harassment going on in Riot (covered much by none other than Kotaku) now reminds me of a hardcore truth. The truth that it is easy to punish individuals in a gaming community, but harder to deal with the systems that made and emboldened these individuals.

This leads me to my third reason for stepping down as staff at my latest community. There was always a persistent feeling, one that only intensified in time, that no matter what I said or did, I was not doing “enough.” Yes, I am a maladaptive perfectionist, but I think it was more than that. A small handful of scenarios, I should have tried to do more but many other times, I really could not without going against protocols in place.  Feeling unable to fix a problem, whether because there was nothing I really could do or because I was feeling stifled versus empowered by the system, was not a feeling I enjoyed in the least.

One of the “last straws that broke the camel’s back” was seeing too many cases when some problem was not nipped at the bud when it could have been, even considering everyone had lives. And I could not help with speeding the process enough for it to do anything. As it was, private conversations trying to rectify the situation was not working. This particularly hit home for me when I brought up concerns with an avatar I considered, quite frankly, racist in both intention and impact. Some people told me they did not notice the issue, for the avatar, harkened to a parodic scene in a film where there were attempts to criticize racist behavior (but the racism was ‘laughed at’ instead). No, I will not personally identify place or individuals, as it does not matter when it is clearly a gaming culture issue I am criticizing (and I had already told people my issue). Either way, nothing appeared done at the time. It may have been resolved when I left (which was not long after the avatar was used, to be clear).

Maybe things had changed since I left, but at that point, I felt nothing I did behind the scenes with the established channels solved any issue I found. So, when I was asked if I planned to stick around (I was already inactive for a month or two), I said no. I felt defeated. Had felt defeated. Would continue to feel defeated. Having a group of senior staff who had some administrative privileges worked for some issues, but then attrition followed and the original system and the brokenness involved found a way to “correct itself” (that is, the broken-to-kind-of-fixed system went and broke again). Again, gaming culture is something I attribute to this more than anything. Change has been difficult in gaming culture, I notice, for the people who have the most impact are not willing to make the changes (such as the gaming companies who feed into the issue).

When I did step down, the worse was assumed of me by some people (I will not name names or community status). I may have repaired the relationship damage from the awkward leave that ensued, but thinking back, it was all likely for the better. To stick around on staff would have left me feeling I was enabling the same issues to happen again, for I was that burnt out; and I had no reason to believe otherwise. No time or energy on my part (which was increasingly limited), would have fixed anything.

My relationship with the server changed when I stepped back, as well. I noticed I had some toxic connections in the community, who at this point really started to treat me differently once I was no longer staff. Several people also had chosen to limit contact or disassociate with me once it became known, I was becoming more involved in my work as an educator and (albeit imperfect) supporter of social justice. While some of this might have been benign and circumstantial, a small voice in the back of my head now doubts it.

I acknowledge I have fear and insecurities, and things may not be as bad with some of the people I once counted as online friends. Maybe. At this point, though, I still see a lot of the same problems, different day. Yet, it was not at my latest home server where I began to see more and more issues (at least not only). The server was a very small, even (sadly) tamed version of a problem that goes on all across the gaming community, a reflection of the Dark Side of the Gaming Industry that Hasan Minhaj criticizes.

When I speak of servers that really were worse, I speak of a case when I was far, far much younger and less assertive, where out of fear, I kept a low profile about my ethnicity around an anti-Vietnamese, anti-Korean, and anti-Japanese player. Said player also became an administrator for the server where I met him. This disgusted me more than anything, for I still had the history of my family in my memory and marrow. Still, I also had to believe in redemption and hope one more soul could help my family, too, once seeing the error in his ways, right? Yeah, I own to this having been optimistic of me and a little too naive with this person, in retrospect. In any case, I called out and challenged the bigotry when faced with it by this player, hoping to utilize my anonymity to my advantage for confronting his racism. Naively perhaps, I thought I could succeed in this. What was learned from his hateful grandfather could be unlearned, after all (in theory)? Jane Elliot challenged racists on a regular basis and still does her work, so I could have followed her example, right? Back then, I clearly did not even have the idea of what antiracist work looked like.

Not surprisingly, said player eventually …blocked me? He never explained why, so I assumed it had to do with me challenging his worldviews. At some point, I heard from an associate he eventually assumed me another racial group he did not like based on rumors of my photos (surprise, surprise). Well, that was that. I was already well on the way of giving up on him, anyway. You learn and grow, sometimes the hard way. While I have since developed a more learned antiracist practice (with much, much more to learn), I could have cut my losses probably even sooner than I did with this person I challenged. Perhaps even trolled him once or twice in the process, something I have only reserved for very select, “unique” individuals.

Instead, I regrettably thought I was using the privilege of anonymity for the better. As it turned out, this person looked for any reason to see the difference in people, in the most awful way that epitomizes the very traits hate groups look for in potential recruits. Reflecting on this, I now make sense of how the alt-right and neo-Nazis of America had been able to recruit so many from the gaming community. From people who did not appreciate anyone who challenged their worldviews, whether by word or simply by existing.

Sad but true, racism, if it was not obvious from what I have said before, is well and alive in the gaming culture. Racists seem to be very well safe and not called out as much as they would be in the real world (where they still are not challenged to become antiracist enough). The people who are not bigots about it do not seem to be having the conversations they should be having with their hateful MAGA-hat wearing buddy. It is not even a matter of “I tried and I failed.” Many do not even bother trying. The one anecdote I listed from my much younger, less learned years is just one of many who still thrive and are enabled in the gaming community.

I am reminded in these reflections that still, again, women (especially women of color) are more likely to be treated as “the awful *insert slur here*” or “aggressive” for asserting themselves for things their white men playmates will not. Women hate on other women who point this out, approximating to the white men power in place, under the illusion they are equals and not token women defending the status quo. There is a gross aversion, even among more progressive-minded gamers, to changes that would be more inclusive in communities, to accommodate more than just White Euro-American sensibilities. They say it is “too political” or “ruining fun” if any of this is pointed out. Whose fun is it ruining, I ask? I genuinely love video games and embrace my inner nerd, something I did not think I would say in such a public forum before. Yet when I have been vocal about some genuine, in-love feedback to change any of this, even a little, I meet resistance.

Or people do not understand where there is an issue when I privately voice these concerns. Some – maybe many – get it, but rarely is it the voices that matter or have the most impact.

Even with this, in my list of things that have built up to my less involvement in the gaming scene, I write in love. I want what is best. If what is “best” (for me in this moment) means me only occasionally logging in as a non-staff, so be it. In the future, I hope there can be some real change in the systemic issues that make gaming communities marginalizing for women, LGBTQAI+, people of color, and other groups lacking representation. I want to see more corners of the gaming community looking critically in the mirror, at their own reflections and what they hope to gain by keeping the status quo. And be frank about it.

I had to do it. We can all do so much better.

All of this can happen whether I am involved or not. When a head person of a gaming company says they consider video games and gaming culture “the last safe refuge for white teen boys,” it really reeks of privilege – of Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility. No one is saying white men cannot play games or not find their own image in characters. All anyone else has wanted is more representation, to get a fair share of their own main characters looking back at them. To enjoy the same experiences those white gaming boys do from a very early age the moment they lay hands on their first game controller.

Why someone considers this a form of “endangering” white teen boys, is beyond me.

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