There is a certain level of hostility that coincides with video game playing. Listening to someone play Xbox Live in the other room can sometimes leave you feeling like you’ve stumbled into a Tarantino film. Once while playing Xbox Live on my brother’s game system other male players harassed me and accused me of sounding like a pre-pubescent boy amongst other horrible things before realizing that I was a girl. Then the comments coming through the headset were just disgusting. This is just one example of bullying in the midst of a game in a virtual world. It would seem that in this virtual world there is enough distance between players, which for some players means that they won’t suffer any repercussions for hurling racial slurs or sexist comments at fellow players. This perceived distance makes some players feel comfortable saying things that they wouldn’t normally say to someone’s face in the real world. What is troubling is the frequency of these comments which makes it seem that the only eligible game players are white men. So what does it mean to be a woman or a minority interested in playing video games and taking part in virtual worlds? If racial slurs are tossed out frequently without seeing other players’ faces, what happens when players customize their identity online?
In Whyville, a virtual world available to players ages 8-16, race became a big issue. Limited features in non-white (or peach) colors and the white faces of newcomers overwhelmed players with a sense that new options needed to be added. As one young female player urged, players needed to take responsibility onto themselves and create new options for players who wished to identify other than white. “In online worlds like Whyville and Teen Second Life, where players themselves are responsible for designing all the avatar parts, a critique of available parts goes beyond leveling charges of stereotyping in the game industry and instead can be a critique or call to action for the player community itself,” (Kafai, et al, 1). This quote from the work “Blacks Deserve Bodies Too!” Design and Discussion about Diversity and Race in a Teen Virtual World emphasizes the role of the player in controlling their online community. It is clear from this standpoint that though virtual worlds are removed from reality, societal issues always follow. In regard to the default faces of newcomers in Whyville, players decided that a neutral color of blue would be best. Players would still be recognizable to others but at least their race wasn’t picked for them. Whether or not this course of action “solved” the problems is up to interpretation but what this case brings to light an important issue regarding video game culture and the acceptance of minorities in these virtual worlds. As a virtual world, players should be encouraged, rather than discouraged, to be themselves or whoever they choose to be online, since after all everyone is trying to escape the same reality.
Kafai, Y. B., M. S. Cook, and D. A. Fields. “”Blacks Deserve Bodies Too!” Design and Discussion About Diversity and Race in a Teen Virtual World.” Games and Culture 5.1 (2009): 43-63. Print.
Title is excerpt from Eiffel 65’s song “Blue”.