That’s a heck of a headline, right? Well, in our current moment, sometimes it’s important to think outside of the box a bit. In this case, the box is a video game console. No matter where you are or what field you’re in, May and June 2020 have been full of similar headlines. The tension between the black community and law enforcement has once again exploded, with protest movements cropping up in literally all 50 states. Even the games industry has gotten involved, with delays meant to boost signals, donations, and more. But aside from the obvious, what else can the games community, and games themselves, do to fight racism? Well, here’s a few suggestions.
It’s no secret that racism is rampant in online gaming communities. It’s practically a joke; gamers talk about 12 year-old yelling slurs all the time as if it’s a funny abstract. But the truth is, this stuff happens because moderation in these spaces ain’t great. Companies have tried to fight it, but between legal limitations, profit motives, and expense, it isn’t easy. We’ve seen attempts to use moderation, but that hasn’t worked well, and in some cases has really backfired. But like Activision has recently pledged in Call of Duty, more resources and manual input need to go into moderation, including reporting systems on the player side as well. Putting your money where your mouth is in games can speak volumes, especially the ones with social components.
Direct Financial Contributions
We’ve seen a lot of companies, like EA and Square Enix, pledge lump sum donations to movements like Black Lives Matter and other support organizations. Other companies like Niantic (Pokemon GO) are pledging long-term support. But those are actions these companies are taking with their money pools. What about things like microtransactions or rewards programs? Giving players an in-game option to turn their purchases towards communities and organizations, at least in part, would again give direct support and visibility even outside times of crisis.
Here’s one of the more obvious ones. Games are often criticized for focusing on the white, male experience over any other, to a super disproportionate degree. Obviously there’s been more progress on this front than any other, and we’ve seen rising diversity in what characters in video games look like. But more work can be done to close that gap, and I’m not just talking about in the games themselves. Much of these games are still written and directed by white dudes, and while there’s plenty of talent there, companies need to make more tangible effort to hire people on the margins. And that’s not just encouraging people to apply - that’s the easy way out - the industry needs to put more time and resources into scouting talent. This includes the media space as well, with companies like IGN needing to seek out these kinds of voices too.
These are just a few suggestions, many of which aren’t new but totally in need of as much support and signal-boosting as possible. Video games and video game companies can’t enforce systemic change, but they do have a part they can play. Video games make more money than Hollywood now, and most of that money is poured into executive leadership, marketing, so on and so forth. Funneling that money into support for communities, marginalized development folks, and talent scouting are all ways our little slice of the pie can help fight racism.