[CW NOTE: This article includes references to instances of sexual harassment in the workplace and in the video games community.]
Boy, is it hard being a white, male gamer these days. Your opinion is constantly disregarded and everybody sees you as the enemy. Not to mention if you mention any appreciation for “historical accuracy” or “scientific reason” in video games you’re immediately labeled racist, misogynistic, or a big dummy. It’s just not safe anymore.
If you read any of that and didn’t take it as sarcasm, I need to work on my delivery. If you read that, didn’t take it as sarcasm, and agreed with it, you’re part of the problem. A problem that we’re still having a good 50 years since the gaming industry really took off. But there are a shocking (kind of) amount of people who share this ideal unironically and obnoxiously loud. The gaming community, as well as the industry it supports, is plagued by a loud (mostly white, male) minority that seems to think the root of the gaming industry’s problem has something to do with inclusion. They’re so close to the right answer.
Firstly, let’s get one thing straight, the gaming industry is not suffering in the business sense. Just last year, the industry generated over $150 billion, and by 2025 that number is expected to increase exponentially to over $260 billion. That’s in just five years, and the rise of the gaming industry doesn’t appear to be slowing down at all. This is all information from Investopedia that’s been updated as recently as August 10 of this year. That article also mentions non-game-specific companies like Google and Apple having a desire to become gaming industry heavy hitters.
On the communal side of things, there are about two billion people around the world who call themselves “gamers.” It’s unclear exactly how many of them fall into that aforementioned vocal minority of haters, but the ones who do are certainly lying about their love for the gaming world. Video games, and the gaming industry, have always been an industry founded on inclusion and testing the limitations of human creativity. Anyone can be a gamer if they want. That’s been true since gaming pioneers like Jerry Lawson introduced gaming to home players everywhere, to when a little “Donny G” first picked up the analog-less PlayStation 1 controller and nearly overdosed on joy navigating the visually humble graphics of early Crash Bandicoot.
But, the gaming industry has its problems with inclusivity, both past and present. While advertised as a world of endless possibilities and infinite wonders, these wonders tend to almost exclusively represent one faction of gamers; you know the one. There are, of course, exceptions, but there are about ten Nathan Drakes for every one Connor Hawke. The statistics get worse, just wait til you hear the very real percentages of women and people of color who call themselves gamers.
As of 2020, roughly 41% of gamers are women, while 26% are people of color. Comparatively, even in 2021, only 24% of the game industry’s workforce are women, and 69% of the industry’s employees identified as white in a study from the IGDA. These numbers aren’t entirely shocking when you consider the gatekeeping perception of the gaming community. Gaming is intended to be a safe space, but that dastardly vocal minority makes it difficult to prove that to anyone with an interest in picking the hobby up.
There has been a stronger push for diversity in both gaming spaces and in the industry itself, but it’s of course being met with backlash. These people claiming to be gamers, but getting angry at such a push don’t love video games, they love the norm that caters to them. More accurately, they hate change. The irony of it is that the purpose of video games isn’t changing at all. The push for diversity is only ushering in a truer world of limitless possibilities and endless wonders. You simply can’t tell certain kinds of stories if the majority of your company can all check the same box.
Gaming needs diversity, it needs fresh perspectives with unique backgrounds that can relate to its entire audience. But most importantly, we as gamers need to demand to be seen as part of that audience that we have been a part of for so long. We need to demand more. Not just from our community, but also from the industry itself. Toxicity in the gaming community is hardly ever properly addressed by the industry. Aside from the empty threat of permabanning (they’ll just find another game to harass people in,) there isn’t any penalty for harassment of any nature in video games.
And it’s clear why. The recent case surrounding Activision Blizzard and the sickening treatment of its female workers is yet another example of toxicity in the industry itself. The fact that such blatant and open harassment can exist in a AAA company with no repercussions is more than just a scary thought, it’s a shocking reality that sets the bar for industry standards exceedingly low. Meetings held by Activision’s higher ups prove that the company isn’t unaware of the kind of behavior that occurs in their workspaces, but a lack of urgency and backhanded threat of NDAs thrown at their employees doesn’t make a good case for real change. With stories of toxic working environments such as that, it’s no wonder why the gaming community is rife with racist, misogynistic, big dummies.
Jamal Michel, a phenomenal POC gaming journalist and editor for sites like The Nerds of Color and Games Radar, sees clear as day the toxicity that lies within the gaming community:
“SO many toxic gamers dog whistling one another, piling on asinine commentary about representation that make it clear we’re a long ways from providing legitimate diversity and inclusion” – Jamal Michel
So What Can We Do?
The future of the gaming industry lies in its relationship with diversity and equality are mainly in the hands of the industry itself. Better systems have to be put into play. Systems that prevent harassment both in the gaming community and in the workplace. More jobs need to be offered to qualifying women, people of color, non-binary identifying people, and other minority groups. But until we see a real change in the world of gaming, we have to do our part to keep the community safer.
As a gamer, this can mean anything from reporting toxic and harmful players, or withdrawing support from companies that treat their workers poorly. Look into your favorite studio, whether they’re a small indie group or a AAA company, and see how they run their business. It sucks learning that your favorite company intended Diablo IV to be an autobiography, but it probably sucked even more for the people who had to face harassment while they worked hard on it.
As an employee, you can’t exactly change the industry all by yourself. But you can make steps to change your involvement. Look into the company you want to work for, and again, make sure they’re on the up and up. Reporting what you find to your company’s HR isn’t always the most helpful option, and leaving your main source of income is easier said than done. If that’s the case, at least don’t turn a blind eye to toxicity, misogyny, or any kind of workplace harassment. Know your rights as an employee, and don’t let your job scare you into allowing them to be violated. The workers at Activision Blizzard recently issued a statement calling out the company and CEO Bobby Kotick, citing the harmful work environment and the deployment of a “union-busting” law firm. Facing off against “the man” can be scary, but just know that you have every right to keep the environment you’re working in, as well as the one you’re helping to develop, safe for everyone.
Finally, as a “gamer” or industry official who has contributed to the history of harassment and exclusivity in the gaming space, you can help by removing yourself entirely from the community. Don’t be afraid to log off of all of your social media, take a shower, and consider being quiet as a nice change of pace.
To end this article on a more serious note, and to encourage readers to help the fight for real change, here are a few charities that support the victims of workplace harassment and sexual assault: