how does the gaming community exclude marginalised groups?
It certainly appears as though there are few industries without deep ethical problems. Yes, some of these issues will be behind the scenes. They might even be limited to older generations of leadership perpetuating outdated ideals. However, one medium that seems to have been especially problematic for some time now is video gaming.
We’re going to take a closer look at the video game community’s exclusion of marginalised groups. Where are the points of concern, what is the impact, and where are improvements being made?
For the majority of its lifespan, the gaming community has had a monocultural focus. Indeed, the community goes beyond simply prioritising cisgender, heteronormative, non-disabled, white males. It actively operates in ways that exclude anyone who falls outside of this narrow classification. While the demographic of discrimination is broad, the most prevalent issues fall into a couple of areas.
A primary example is gatekeeping. This is the process of shutting out a certain segment of the population from careers, activities, even simple community engagement. It often begins as something as innocuous as fans being overprotective of their niche interest. But this has ballooned in a harmful way. Some members of the community have taken it as an excuse to harass marginalised players who don’t fit the traditional demographic. Women are among the most common victims of this. But this issue is bigger than the misogynism of a few insecure fanboys. Gatekeeping has a presence in the industry. Female workers are often discriminated against when hiring for leadership roles.
This brings us to another prevalent problem. Members of the community have created a culture of toxic behaviour. They are excluding marginalised groups by making the community difficult and mentally damaging to be a part of. There is a history of game content portraying women, LGBTQ+, disabled, Black, and Latinx characters negatively. While there is some improvement, casual forms of racism are also still present in games today. Black gamers playing Red Dead Redemption 2 Online as characters of their own race were subjected to racist language and behaviour. Not from in-game characters, but other online gamers. This was often excused under the idea that such behaviour was historically accurate. But this problem extends far beyond in-game portrayals. Toxicity is rife behind the scenes in development studios.
Most recently, the industry has been hit by revelations of misogynistic behaviour and sexual abuse throughout Activision Blizzard Inc. A lawsuit has been filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing following a two-year investigation. It found multiple instances of female workers experiencing sexual harassment and pay disparities. The lawsuit also highlighted a culture of disturbing misogynistic microaggressions. The company denies the activities are part of its current operations. However, this doesn’t alter the fact this behaviour is reflective of attitudes to minorities throughout the community.
The Impact of Exclusion
The consequences of excluding marginalised groups go beyond the immediate distress of the victims of harassment. It disrupts the industry and limits the richness of the community. One of the core problems is that continued exclusion and toxicity limits diversity.
We’re seeing positive efforts toward diversity across other media. Content producers are starting to recognise the value and importance of embracing multicultural contributors. This includes character depictions, creators, and representative leadership. The presence of marginalised contributors has the potential to enrich the content of media and the community itself. Varied perspectives help to engender empathy for those outside consumers’ immediate monocultural demographic. The positive representation of minority figures in the industry can provide marginalised gamers with role models, too. This can then encourage them to pursue careers and join a cycle that perpetuates diversification.
However, when the current lack of diversity as a result of exclusion is allowed to continue, everyone stands to lose. Hostile environments have resulted in an industry where 2% of developers are Black, 24% are women, and 3% are non-binary. This is not just an unethical bias toward a single demographic. It also means the industry is lacking the diversity that would help it to truly innovate. Gaming needs the varied perspectives of minority developers, media figures, community influencers, and esports competitors. Otherwise, it will continue to trudge along its limited monocultural path.
Areas of Improvement
There is some slow progress being made. Parts of the video game industry are waking up to the reality of exclusion. This is most visible with regard to gamers living with disabilities. While there has been a largely passive bias against these gamers, efforts are being made to improve accessibility. Often, this involves embracing the assistive technology that is changing how disabled gamers overcome other daily challenges. Connected devices in the Internet of Things (IoT) can be adapted for voice commands. Software is increasingly compatible with screen reading devices for those with visual impairments. Indeed, games are being utilised to enrich the experiences of those living with neurodivergent traits.
That said, the push for continued improvement needs to come directly from the community. Individuals and groups need to call out toxic behaviour when it happens and make it clear there is no place for it in gaming culture. The fact these types of discriminatory actions are still seen as “antics,” rather than serious cultural issues is part of the problem. This is prevalent in esports and online competitions in particular, where toxicity can be excused as “trash talk.”
Gamers also need to demand higher standards of diversity in products. Not just more female characters in AAA titles, but truly diverse contributors. This includes seeking out indie developers from marginalised groups and supporting them — both financially and through promoting their work on social media.
Video games are far from the only media that exhibits prevalent toxicity. But there are highly visible examples of activities that exclude marginalised groups. Indeed, there are few areas of the community where negative behaviour isn’t present. Steady progress is being made. But there needs to be a greater commitment from the community and industry as a whole to be active in tackling the issues and raise up diverse voices.
Charlie Fletcher is a freelance writer passionate about workplace equity, and whose published works cover sociology, politics, business, education, health, and more. You can see more of her work by visiting her portfolio.