~ By Lis Maurer
Derogatory language about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons, often used to bully and harass others regardless of their sexual orientation, can often be heard in face-to-face interactions, such as on the playground or in the classroom. Now, these expressions of anti-LGBT sentiment can be as easily found online: we see it on blogs, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, in online gaming environments, and even in reviews for smartphone applications.
In July, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) hosted a forum focusing on this emerging issue. The forum, “Homophobia in Virtual Communities: Highlighting the Problem and Working Towards Sustainable Solutions,” featured a specially created video with examples from real, publicly available online content, followed by a discussion panel of gamers, industry professionals, and media experts. The forum provided opportunities to explore both the problem and what can be done to address or reduce such behavior, as well as creating games friendly to people of all orientations.
The specially created video shown at the forum is available for viewing online. While this video might be an eye opener for some viewers regarding the gaming environment youth might encounter, please note that it includes explicit and offensive language. Although harsh, it provides a window into the virtual worlds in which youth are increasingly interacting.
The panel discussion from the event can also be viewed in its entirety online, and includes topics like:
- how the use of anti-LGBT slurs makes gaming less fun for everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation
- whether online communities differ from real-world (face-to-face) communities regarding the acceptance of and/or the provocation of homophobia
- portrayals of LGBT characters in games and the implications of marketing an LGBT character/game
- opportunities for further discussion, including the potential role of moderators, or the ability to “flag” hurtful or personally attacking content
Also referenced at the event was the first ever survey of gay gamers conducted in 2006 by Jason Rockwood at the University of Illinois. It found that:
- Two thirds of respondents said that the gaming community is “somewhat hostile” or “very hostile” to gay and lesbian gamers (53% and 14% respectively)
- 88% reported experiencing other players using the phrase “that’s so gay,” in a negative manner
- 83% reported experiencing other players using the words “gay” or “queer” as derogatory names.
A new survey on this theme has just been created and can be taken online. An interview with its creator, Paul Nowak, describes how this study is similar to and different from the original. Nowak hopes to learn more about what LGB gamers want from video games, and how that might differ from their heterosexual peers. He also hopes the data generated from his research can help gaming industry efforts to create games that avoid being offensive or insulting to players of all sexual orientations. Nowak hopes to collect additional data on this “widely neglected gaming audience.” The survey takes about 20-30 minutes to complete, and will be available online through January 2010.
The use of anti-LGBT slurs makes gaming less fun for everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation. Unfortunately, anti-LGBT slurs have moved beyond the classroom, and indeed beyond face-to-face interactions, and into the realm of virtual worlds and on-screen communications, and young people can now take bullying and harassment using homophobic slurs into these environments as well. With this new capability, a new challenge is presented to educators, youth workers, and parents: in what ways can we use these opportunities to best educate and prepare young people to have the skills they will need to master media literacy and seek to model respect for themselves and for others as they enter the global economy?
Additional resources and information:
- The Gay Gaming Community Site Gaymer.org – a site about “having fun without hearing the bashing; …a safe haven where gaming is the focus, not hate.”
- First-ever survey of gay videogamers: Research may help design games that don’t use stereotypes article from the Washington Blade
- The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) press release announces project to combat homophobia in virtual communities
- Read GLAAD Director of Digital & Online Media, Justin Cole’s opinion piece for a popular gaming website titled The Impact of Homophobia in Virtual Communities. He invited readers to post their questions, comments and reactions, from which he then drew upon for discussion during the July forum.