Producers of the film Gaming In Color have started a vigorous conversation about the LGBTQ gaming community (stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer and/or questioning individuals/identities) and the bullying, homophobic language and negative attitudes that often occurs in gaming towards players who are seen as easy targets by other gamers.
We sat down with Director Philip Jones for an in depth explanation about just how prevalent cyber bullying of LGBTQ gamers is and how the video game industry must address this subject and reject certain behaviors that were once thought of as funny and widely accepted as the norm.
Jesse Tannous: Was there a specific personal moment or event that acted as the catalyst for your desire to create this documentary? If so, what was it and how was it significant?
Philip Jones: The biggest event during the production of the film in terms of inspiration was far and away GaymerX, seeing all of the different identities and kinds of people that love games or are making games as a career or passion. Among many other things, the convention served to bring a diverse group of people together and unite a few key parts about them. That convention was a long time coming with a lot of different passions and expectations behind its creation. We'd seen all the different experiences and ideas that hadn't even yet been tapped into in games or film at all, and we found a really unique opportunity to capture both in one junction for the first time ever.
JT: For anyone who is confused and may be unintentionally using homophobic language, can you define exactly what it is for the average gamer?
PJ: Unfortunately a lot of video games culture perpetuates the homophobic and trans phobic language that remains quite common in society at large. Of course well-known slurs are the worst case, and sadly still often seen and heard from online game players. Other things can be harmful as well, including just general making fun of anyone who appears to be different, bullying of people of alternative sexualities or gender identities, and dehumanizing these types of people. Micro-aggression is a topic the film explores a little bit into, which is a certain behavior or attitude that can be casual and nonthreatening but still hateful or derogatory to minority people, conscious or not. Even things like this, which can include sexist language or 'gay jokes' remains highly harmful. Just as we have to combat these things in society, we have to identify them in video games culture as well.
JT: This is a three-part question…According to your research how prevalent is online bullying of the LGBTQ community in gaming?
What do you think are some of the causes for it to be as prevalent as you've found?
Do you think cyber-bullying prevention is something that game developers should take a more active role in?
PJ: This sort of thing is very prevalent, and of course it varies from person to person. However the biggest issue surrounding this is that online harassment is so rarely taken seriously in games, by community managers or the game's developers. Players are so often invited to behave in any way they want to online, they are given the tools and freedom to treat another person horribly if they so desire, usually verbally, with no sort of punishment or consequences on their game or access to it being involved. Now sometimes this is curtailed, for example with League of Legends' Tribunal system, but this is a rare occasion. Oppression is structural; it is effective in the form of a system. Games are the aesthetic form of systems. We have to examine the systems we put in place in games, and form the structures to reduce the amount this happens by discouraging players from engaging in toxic behavior. Online anonymity will likely always exist in some form in games, and having the ability to speak freely and openly is usually a good thing, but when these privileges are abused and people start getting hurt or turned off to games completely, worse of all in a way that attacks their identity, then a very serious conversation needs to be started to figure out a solution to this. The culture needs to change, that's the end goal, and I'm confident that there is a way that games can usher in a new, more accepting, less hateful generation of players.
JT: What sort of reaction are you hoping and have you had from the audience after viewing your film?
PJ: Our response has been extremely positive thus far, which we are very excited about. A lot of people weren't fully sold on the idea of a film on the subject as it's new for this subject, but I think we really accomplished what we set out to do. Viewers have been really engaging and receptive to the ideas presented and what the doc turned out to be. We are really hopeful for the future of Gaming In Color and want as many people to see it as possible! It's an inspiring call to action that celebrates new ideas. That's something everyone should be able to understand and connect with.
It’s no surprise that online bullying and harassment has been around ever since the Internet became our main source of information sharing, entertainment, communication and social gathering. And even though the unwritten rules and or enforceable “laws” are somewhat fluid, in the end the gaming community and society at large will be responsible for activism against hate of any kind-anywhere.