is a game and tech journalist from the US. Aside from writing for RT, he hosts the podcast Micah and The Hatman, and is an independent comic book writer. Follow Micah at @MindofMicahC
The Anti-Defamation League, which previously sought to outlaw the OK sign and Pepe the Frog, is now setting its sights on “hate speech” in video games. The gaming community can be toxic, but ADL-level censorship is not the answer.
Issues when it comes to the gaming community are never easy to tackle. Especially when it comes to the way that people decide to speak online. It goes without saying that inhibitions are dialed down on the internet. People will often speak in a way that they never would in public, when they realize they won’t get fined, arrested, socially canceled or struck down by God if they drop a racist or homophobic slur. There were moments of playing Call of Duty 4 years ago where I’d mute every single person whenever I’d enter a match. The last thing I wanted to hear when shooting terrorists was some thirteen year old squawking like he’s Richard Spencer at Charlottesville.
There are absolutely reprehensible things that are said on the internet. You can browse 4chan for ten seconds to realize that. But when it comes to gaming, especially competitive match environments, trash talk is almost part of the deal. People do it, and some tend to take it too far. That’s undisputable. What’s also undisputable is that there are already methods in place to deal with it. There exist mechanisms for reporting and banning players who break community rules – which in virtually any game with a chat (voice or text) include prohibitions against racism, homophobia and other ways of inciting hatred.
Are those measures perfect? No. It goes without saying that, from the developer’s perspective, it probably feels like herding cats. But these aren’t idiots who are developing these games. They have experience and they have the agency to make their own rules for their own games and the interactions within.
Whether or not gamers feel safe with the community rules and the way they are enforced, they can decide for themselves – by choosing or refusing to invest their dollars and their time in a given studio’s product. Ultimately, the fact of the matter is if you don’t want to deal with other people in multiplayer outside of the competition, you don’t have to.
Enter the Anti-Defamation League.
Out of context, out of touch
The Anti-Defamation League is a non-profit organization that works to “combat anti-semitism and bigotry.”
They are also the guys who branded Pepe the Frog as a hate symbol just because some online morons decided to photoshop it into something offensive and saw alt-right hate code in the OK sign and the word “Boogaloo.”
Oftentimes, they’re seen making public declarations whenever a public person says something particularly nasty. Other times they’re doing things that seem rather pointless, like hosting a virtual panel about xenophobia and Coronavirus. They also were rather infamously involved in the most recent adpocalypse at YouTube, where they were brought in to consult and fight “hate speech.”
There’s no reason not to believe the ADL will not take the same sledgehammer approach to gaming. Their ability to ignore context has already been demonstrated in the Gamesindustry.biz interview with Daniel Kelly, the assistant director for the ADL’s Center for Technology, when it was first reported that the organization is preparing its foray.
“The norms that come up in the qualitative research is that women and people of color go into game spaces and just turn off the mic and don’t speak, because they know if they speak, they’ll be identified, targeted, and harassed. That’s just the reality of how they play,” Kelly said.
Here’s the reality. Everyone gets that sort of treatment online. Men are just as likely to receive online harassment as women, and video games are no different. Trash talk exists, and it’s not a pretty thing.
We’ve seen this before
Kelly is worried that the video game industry fights hate by “adopting the tactics of Facebook or Twitter circa 2006” –. as if the Twitter and Facebook of today have it all figured out and are not suffering from excess censorship and liberal moderator bias.
There have been attempts at applying woke censorship to games before, and they have shown that those trying this approach have zero understanding of the environment – and that actual gamers have zero wish for such interventions. If Bully Hunters was unnecessary, and if Anita Sarkeesian’s nonsense was unnecessary, then so is the ADL’s.
It’s certainly not fun for a twelve-year-old to tell me he’s going to throw me in Auschwitz, but I can mute him because a developer thought of that ahead of time.
What you also notice is that, in the interview, the ADL is mum when it comes to the means of “helping” games. That’s because they’re not developers. They’re protesters. They don’t have a solution outside of censorship. Maybe they want something genuine, like less hate in the world. Maybe they want more control over people’s speech. If it’s the former, they’re terrible at what they’re trying to do. If it’s the latter, they’re sinister.
Though the systems already in place aren’t perfect by any means, the fact that the ADL isn’t coming into it with anything aside from platitudes comes across like a power play, not genuine concern. If the ADL knew what to do from the get-go aside from “doing something about hate speech” they would have said it already.
To put it succinctly, the ADL is trying to bully its way into a situation that it has no business in on the assumption that companies like Valve and Blizzard have no clue what they’re doing. I’d ask this of the ADL. Of your organization, Valve, and Blizzard, which is the one that makes money off of innovation? I think they can handle things themselves.