About a week ago, Angela from Lesbian Gamers invited me to collaborate on an essay addressing the hostile climate that frequently arises within the gaming community. After tossing around some ideas, we agreed that we felt uneasy about proposing a one-size-fits-all "solution," nor were we interested in pointing fingers or dredging up a long history of internet blowups and controversies. So what, then, to do?
We finally decided it might be most useful to point at some specific concerns and then simply raise a few questions about how to address them. We don't expect to uncover a miracle solution, and we're aware that many people may not share our concerns. But for those who do, we hope a conversation will help identify ways we can work together to create and nurture a community with higher standards for vigorous and respectful discourse.
So here goes:
This short essay is an attempt to engage others in a conversation about how we can work together to enhance civility and raise the level of discourse about video games. We realize we're members of a diverse community, and we're not interested in squelching strong opinions or dictating a set of inviolable rules. But we think there must be constructive ways to address the hostility, belligerence, and stereotyping that so often characterizes public conversation about video games among gamers.
The hate mail, berating commentary and forum spamming we've seen on our own sites and others (much of which is deleted before ever seen) emanates from within the gaming community itself. Ironically, the medium we love that provides us with so much joy has also developed a fanbase with a reputation for anti-social, intolerant behavior in both Australia and the United States where we live. We know it's a gross and unfair mischaracterization, but the broad set of cultural assumptions about games and gamers is largely negative, and we too often affirm those assumptions by our own behavior. We're not interested in being scolds or behavior police, but we face an uphill climb convincing a parent or new gamer whom has visited a tirade-filled forum, or whom has been repeatedly attacked on Xbox Live as a "faggot," that video games are good for our souls, as James Paul Gee suggests.
As bloggers we understand that personal expression and a free exchange of ideas are fundamental to our purpose. As a community, how can we meaningfully respond to the creators of the "Ladies of Liberty City" video in a way that might encourage more reflection about what such a video communicates and whom it may harm or offend? How can we constructively address members of our community who use the public and anonymous nature of our forums and comment areas to attack or berate others? Is banning specific commenters or IP addresses the best solution? We can moderate and filter, but is there something meaningful to be gained by allowing such people to publicly have their say? Can we nurture a community that responds to these situations in a useful and instructive way? Can we engage a critical mass of gamers willing to model respectful disagreement and thoughtful discourse?
Or are we wringing our hands about something only a relative few of us care about? Is it unlikely we can do anything substantive to create a more civil environment among gamers? Should we simply do what we can as individuals and hope things improve over time? We'd like to make a positive contribution, but are we being hopelessly idealistic?
These are earnest questions, posed in hopes of engaging conversation and clarifying for ourselves the best way to proceed from here. In the end, we love games and gamers. We want to help foster a welcoming community for everyone who loves games. We welcome your ideas and feedback.
Angela and Michael