Nakamura Gender and Race Online

Lisa Nakamura’s Gender and Race Online focused on the “racial and gender climate in the world of console gaming, identify some cases for the pervasive sexism and racism to be found there, and assess the potential for change.” She argued that society believed that racism was becoming a thing of the past, but one could state that the Internet and Internet culture can be defined by the racism that is rampant there, removed from the “real world” by anonymity and the “magical world” created in games.

Gaming has become so prevalent in our culture that males are disproportionately represented as “gamers” as they are far more likely to label themselves as such due to the strong masculine tie between playing games and being a man. Conversely, females, transgender women, and genderqueer or nonbinary individuals were less likely to consider themselves “gamers” even if they played the same amount as their male counterparts.

Racial Issues Online

Nakamura immediately pivots from gender representation in video games into a study of racism in gaming culture. She states that black and brown bodies were still disproportionately represented by drug users, gangsters, and athletes while also lacking representation in the form of playable avatars (World of Warcraft was called a “blackless fantasy”) She also noted that, despite all of this occurring within games, non-white youth make up a larger proportion of at-home gamers. 

Nakamura quotes sociologist Ashley Doane’s definition of racial discourse as the “collective text and talk of society with respect to issues of race,” while racial ideologies are a “generalized belief system that explains social relationships and social practices in racialized language.” Video games are a type of text that encompasses the “racial ideologies” of the culture and the developers writing the game and, according to Nakamura, they can hide behind the fact that they are removed from the “real world” to utilize more racialized themes and speech that may not pass in face to face conversation.

Trash-Talk and the War Against Sexism and Racism Online

The intersection between gender and race Nakamura came to at the end was the use of trash-talking in video game culture and how it is an issue for women and people of color. Typically, gamers differentiate between “trash-talk” and discourse that crosses the line (e.g. racial slurs or death threats), but developers and gamers alike also argue that “trash-talk” is a part of gaming culture. With the addition of voice chat on console franchises like Halo or Call of Duty, players in multiplayer lobbies are inundated with “salty” individuals who utilize language to combat the fact they might be losing or to help them with an air of superiority.

Websites like The Border House: Breaking Down Borders in Gaming, The Hathor Legacy, or  Fat, Ugly, or Slutty Racialicious work to create safe spaces for LGBT, ally, PoC, and female gamers. Players can post pictures of messages that they’ve received to the forum including the Gamertag of the offending player so that they can be subjected to semi-public ridicule or be avoided at all costs. They used the example of xXStonerXx1690 who sent racial slurs to a player and stated that xXStonerXx1690 would have to face the consequences of their actions because people from Fat, Ugly, or Slutty would refuse to play with them, or the game devs might ban them for hate speech.

Personal Discussion

I had a few issues with this article that I wanted to address as a female in the gaming community. When Nakamura discussed the notion of “crunch-time” she didn’t discuss the fact that crunch time and unpaid overtime are the main causes of developer burnout regardless of gender and should be handled no matter what gender is being exploited. I also didn’t like how this article didn’t possess any sort of constraints. She states that she’s focused on consoles and named Xbox, Playstation, and Wii, yet mentions MMORPGs like World of Warcraft that only exist on PC. 

Not to mention there were no age restraints in the study to look into the differences in generational gaming cultures. Under the Bridge: An In-Depth Examination of Online Trolling in the Gaming Context by Christine Cooke et. al. found that “these behaviors appear to be dispersed unevenly across generations of gamers, creating a generational gap between trolls. Veteran gamers take on a trickster archetype when they troll, and tend towards misdirection and subterfuge, while new and younger gamers go for a more abrasive approach, engaging in behaviors such as trash-talking and killing teammates.” That doesn’t, by any means, make such behavior acceptable, but I think it’s important to look at all the factors when discussing racism and sexism in gaming culture. It also doesn’t mean such behavior is strictly relegated to younger gamers. There was also an issue with the assumption that the offending players are all male. In the case of xXStonerXx1690, while they do state that “he or she may suffer other consequences,” they refer to the players as male twice before that which gives into the Internet’s constant innate bias that anyone on the internet is male until proven otherwise.

-Bailey M

Discussion Questions

  1. What do we do with games like Grand Theft Auto that Everett noted treat Black and Brown bodies as expendable targets or violent stereotypes? Do games like these need to be removed from the market entirely to combat racism in gaming culture? Or do we just let them fade into obscurity with the onset of newer titles? (e.g. fewer people are playing GTA IV now that GTA V is out. It doesn’t remove play entirely, but people are more likely to play the newest title). Would people play a version of GTA that didn’t match the themes presented in the original titles?
  2. Does trash-talk belong in gaming culture as long as it doesn’t cross that well-known line into hate speech?
  3. Is there an inherent problem with presenting female gamers as playing games like the Sims, Bejeweled, or Angry Birds? While all considered video games, could the disproportionate likelihood for women to underreport themselves as gamers be attributed to the fact that gaming culture does not weigh all games equally?
  4. This exact study has been done a hundred times over in the Psychology field with control variables and interviews, what does this work offer us as insight that more in-depth studies have not? Or can it better be read as an accumulation of research in a more approachable format? How does it relate to us as historians?

4 Replies to “Nakamura Gender and Race Online”

  1. This was an excellent snapshot of what gaming and gaming culture can look like. You had a question about trash talk and when it crosses a line from just trash talk to threats and abuse. I am wondering if the author had any thoughts about how this line has changed over time? Has gamer chat become more or less aggressive over time and do certain games have restrictions or consequences for players who abuse others?

    1. Hi thank you for the question!
      So the author didn’t really have anything to say about the change over time of trash talk, but she did show an example of how trash talk is generally accepted as part of the game (e.g. saying stuff like “haha ur bad” or “get rekt”) even by women and people of color in gaming culture. She also didn’t look into the different mediums of chat (voice vs. text) because, while she spoke about consoles, there didn’t seem to be a unified area of gaming platforms that she was looking at. Nowadays most text chat features come with an option to mute everyone or specific people, while offering a chance to report people in post game lobbies and an employee of the game’s company will review the chat logs and see if anything constitutes a bannable offense. Voice chat is a lot more difficult to police but mostly games just come with a report feature and varying levels of helpfulness depending on the company. Also “punishment” usually results in chat restrictions rather than actual bans or suspensions.
      -Bailey

  2. This is a great summation of the article! I thought your discussion of race in the gaming world was very interesting. As someone who stopped playing video games after the PS2, I have very little understanding of the variations of character identities and had honestly never thought about how racial stereotypes played out in the gaming world. To address your first question, instead of getting rid of games with harmful stereotypes, I like to think it would be better to correct them, and aim for diversity. I also think it would be beneficial for games to make a bigger effort to educate their users on stereotypes often perpetuated in the gaming world, and also more disclaimers about the domestic violence that is apparent in games such a GTA. Not just a quick, small-font disclaimer in the credits, but an apparent and meaningful effort to educate users.

  3. Hello Bailey. You gave an excellent overview of the article with many poignant critiques! One issue that I do think the article overlooked was lack of how the lack of non-white and non-Asian programmers also effect the production of games like GTA. I do think that removing older racist games from the market would be beneficial but I think that we can only hope to make games less racist by promoting getting more diverse programmers into the field.
    In addition, I am conflicted about trash talk in gamer culture. I think many people who have played team sports would agree that trash talk is never permitted and is largely frowned upon in competition. This goes back to Nakamura’s argument that people are more comfortable trash talking in a socially distanced environment. However, when the match is between friends, trash talk is seen as playful. One model I really like for interplayer communication is Rocket League’s use of set chat responses. Players can chat their teammates or opponents but their words are preselected words or phrases. When I played this game with friends the trash talking was never a big deal (at times it was even funny) because the words or phrases were things like “good game” or “nice pass” used sarcastically. I guess the answer for this question is not a straight forward “yes” or “no,”

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