Online Gaming, Racism, and Ignorance

I played Halo Reach a lot over the summer and frequently played online via Xbox Live with players from all around the world. I would sit and wait in the game lobby either waiting for other players or for the game to start. In that time, the occasional smack-talk would pop up. Insults are hurled, such as ‘I’m gonna kick your team’s ass’ or ‘Your team is gonna get stomped’. The usual right? Then there were times the occasional homophobic remark would be made and people would throw out increasingly hurtful and insulting slurs at each other. Ignorance, I thought. People are stupid sometimes so of course, I ignore them and mute them.

While seeing this kind of language and behaviour was not uncommon, there were occasional outbursts of racism and moments where race and space became the primary factor. Now, the online community is just that. Online. It is common to see players from all around the world and this is what makes the game fun and entertaining. It’s amazing to think that you are playing a video game with a person from Norway, or Australia, or South Africa, or the United States, or any other country for that matter. Gaming and playing video games requires knowledge and skill of the particular game, such as Halo Reach. While communicating with teammates and opponents is important and strategic, it is not imperative. Playing the game is universal but speaking to one another, especially in different languages, is not. There were times other languages would be spoken, possibly between friends who are online together, and other players in the lobby would say, ‘Speak English,’ followed by obscenities, racial slurs, or a combination of both, depending on the language.

‘Seriously?’, I would think when I hear it. Playing online with friends is a novelty and good source of entertainment. What does it matter if English isn’t spoken? Perhaps a downfall of being able to play online is having to play online. Blatant racism, sexism, and homophobia, and terms associated with them, can be prevalent and not many people can do a thing about it. What can you do to a person possibly halfway around the world who is hurling insults and slurs? There is no online policing force and while Bungie (the company that creates and produces Halo games) does its best to prevent things like this from happening, it’s definitely difficult to do so. There are times when racial terms would be thrown around even if one was unsure what race the person you were playing against. I ask, what does race matter? Gaming in and of itself is a universal language and way of interaction. People playing Halo Reach can go a game without talking to one another but the way they play and interact in game can speak louder than words.

Racism, sexism, or homophobia spreads online and internationally just as fast as conversation with someone beside you. It’s as if the insults are being thrown from someone beside you. What can players do in this case? They may mute the offensive player, submit a player review, and that’s about it. Of course, muting the player just ignores the issue for the duration of the game. Players are protected from punishment by possibly being several thousand miles away from the person they’re insulting in an online universe. There’s not much that can be done, unfortunately.



  1. I have encountered situations like that in forums or other online groups, and it is always uncomfortable. The fact that people can get away with such behavior does not justify them doing it.

    I find the ‘speak English’ comment really interesting, because I would think that the ability to play on an international scale really exciting: somebody could have a totally different cultural or lingual background, and yet you are able to interact with them through this game. As you put it, “a universal language”. It’s such a neat common ground.

    It makes me think of the default ‘white male’ user. Maybe the average player (white males) only think that they will be playing with other average players. When their expectations are different from the reality, perhaps some of them feel the need to lash out. Perhaps, like in the presentation we heard on Friday, it is a case of white male dominance.

  2. burningtangerine raises an interesting point: is there anything that can be done? There is some measure of community self-policing–users can choose to censor (mute) particular offenders, and a scathing user review may help future users (or may simply prompt the offender to start a new account). Does the game company have any responsibility? If, for example, players in a hockey game started shouting racial slurs at each other, the NHL regulatory folks would be compelled to step in. To what degree is Bungie responsible for making sure the environment their players function in is friendly and safe?

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