Xbox Live: real racism in a virtual world

Halo Reach®, Gears of War 2®, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2®, and Call of Duty: Black Ops® 

The United Nations’ (UN) International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed on 21st March each year.

Issues of race in gaming aren’t often discussed – but a study in the current issue of the New Review of Hypermedia and Multimedia tackles the subject head-on.

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PRESS RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE PUBLICATION
TUESDAY, 19th MARCH, 2013
OXFORD, UK
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The United Nations’ (UN) International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed on 21st March each year. Issues of race in gaming aren’t often discussed – but a study in the current issue of the New Review of Hypermedia and Multimedia tackles the subject head-on: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13614568.2012.746740

Kishonna L. Gray writes that in video-game culture, the default gamer is a white male. Those outside that privileged group are often marginalised, labelled ‘deviant’ and punished for their ‘deviance’. Women, ethnic minorities and people of colour are portrayed in a stereotypical manner, reinforcing notions of whiteness, blackness, racial hierarchies, masculinity and sexuality.  

As part of her research Gray also observed, interacted with and interviewed African-American gamers playing Halo Reach®, Gears of War 2®, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2®, and Call of Duty: Black Ops® on Xbox Live over a period of eight months. She uncovered disturbing patterns of behaviour and a space racialised by the profiling of non-white or non-male gamers by their speech. In particular, she found that some gamers picked up on linguistic cues from others that suggested they might be black. The black gamer would then be confronted about his colour and provoked by the use of racist slurs. Other gamers would often join in with the insults. The episode would end with one of the gamers leaving or being kicked out of the game, or the offended gamer retaliating with his own volleys of profanity and racist language.

Most worryingly, such racism appears to be ‘normalised’ in the Xbox Live sessions she observed, with offended users rarely complaining. When Gray confronted the gamers who used racist language, they categorically denied being racist. They further defended themselves by claiming it was ‘just a game’, that the words they used were meaningless or that they would use the same offensive terms to refer to white people.
 
Gray observes that ‘the overt racism that used to permeate our society has been introduced in this virtual community.’ Although it is difficult to quantify, and may not be the norm across all of Xbox Live, the gamers of colour she interviewed were racially abused daily. They were also adamant that they did not experience similar treatment elsewhere.

Gray concludes that much of this abuse occurs and is allowed to continue because of the mistaken belief that black people, women and minorities are not gamers; the games themselves continue to be created by and for white males. Until gaming changes considerably, it would appear that only white males can leave their real-world identities behind when they enter the virtual world of Xbox Live.

*Any views expressed in this Press Release are not those of the Taylor & Francis Group.

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References & Links
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NEW REVIEW OF HYPERMEDIA AND MULTIMEDIA, 13 DECEMBER 2012, K. L. GRAY
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13614568.2012.746740

Ben Hudson, Engineering, Computer Science and Technology journals, Taylor & Francis
email: benjamin.hudson@tandf.co.uk

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Taylor & Francis Group partners with researchers, scholarly societies, universities and libraries worldwide to bring knowledge to life. As one of the world’s leading publishers of scholarly journals, books, ebooks and reference works our content spans all areas of Humanities, Social Sciences, Behavioral Sciences, Science, and Technology and Medicine. From our network of offices in Oxford, New York, Philadelphia, Boca Raton, Boston, Melbourne, Singapore, Beijing, Tokyo, Stockholm, New Delhi and Johannesburg, Taylor & Francis staff provide local expertise and support to our editors, societies and authors and tailored, efficient customer service to our library colleagues.

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