Sexism, Misogyny, Bigotry, and Xenophobia in the Gaming Industry

Who’s responsible for diversity and equality inside the games?

I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t grow up playing games. In the developing country where I was born and raised, video games were for boys. Girls played with barbies.

I hated barbies even in those days. Not that I had anything against barbies, but my mother, who is a hoarder, liked to buy me toys and then lock them up or showcase them inside glass-paneled shelves, instead of letting me play with them. I suppose I channeled my frustrations by assuming the role of the hater who didn’t like the toys in the first place.

My cousin, a boy three years older, had something else to occupy him. A gaming console. Whenever I was at their house I’d watch him play and wonder what it was like, but my cousin was too busy showing off his talents than have me play with him. The one time I tried, I lost. I lost bad. It was the first time I played video game after all. But the sensitive child that I was, I couldn’t handle the criticism and laughter from my kid cousin, and I decided I hated video games too!

It wasn’t until 2011 that I gave gaming another go. My then-partner happened to be a huge gamer, and he said this— I love this game, and I want you to try.

And so I was hooked.

It was a game called League of Legends, something I continue to play to this day, even though the ex and I are no longer together.

It didn’t take me long after I started playing LoL (short for League of Legends) to notice the sexism, often borderline misogyny, if not full-fledged misogyny that went on inside these games. LoL is an MMORPG, so, often you’re matched with 2 or 4 other players from all around the world.

Not just that, some people were also plain bigots. As expected, these qualities would come up often when a game is going bad and everyone is blaming each other. Sometimes it’s “stop playing like a girl” (and no, it wasn’t said to me), or “speak proper English”, or “it’s spelled XYZ”.

Comments such as these are par for the course in LoL. But I can’t imagine LoL being the only MMORPG that has this problem.

The worst part is that there’s no one to call people out inside these games. The best you can do is report a player after a game for verbal abuse, but who knows what happens after someone’s been reported. I once heard of a player being banned for a few weeks for raging too much. But this guy was back in it with a brand new account just the day after.

Unlike social media, there are no records of games, unless you’re actually recording them, and these are rare.

Most of the time these people lash at one another, speak profanity or make sexist, misogynistic, bigoted remarks, and as soon as the game ends, it’s all gone.

Lack of diversity isn’t just a Hollywood or workplace problem, it’s also a gaming industry problem.

As of season 9, LoL has about 145 champions, most of which are men and women who look very white, and a bunch of other mystical characters. LoL was released in 2009, and it took almost 4 years for it to finally have its first black champion, and another two years to have its second black champion.

Let’s just say that it’s simply not enough. Two black characters in 6 years? Just two?

But it’s not just that Riot (the maker of LoL) is too slow to keep up, the players themselves are also a problem. Now, of course, we knew that was the case if the comments are anything to go by. The N-word is thrown around like candies during Halloween in these games, after all.

One Reddit user wrote after the release of the second black champion:

With the release of Ekko, there are now 2 black champions in League of Legends. While many might say this is a good thing and promotes diversity, I’d say the opposite. Now before you call me a racist, hear me out.

Lucian has always had the identity, since his release of being the lone black. But since Ekko’s release I feel theres just been too many champions that are black. I mean, before Lucian there had been at least a hundred champs before League saw its first black, but since then theres only been like 10? 15? since the last one.

It just doesn’t make sense thematically and doesn’t appeal to the games predominately white community. I mean, we have yet to see any black casters or pros for example.

These are just my thoughts, and sorry for any grammar mistakes English isn’t my first language! And also, don’t say Im racist cause Im not. Im just from a place where blacks have been indoctrinated as prejudiced against. Thanks for reading!

EDIT: Why the downvotes? Read reddits ToS. It says not to downvote unless its irrelevant to the discussion, not just if you don’t agree with it.

The commenter is clearly either racist or utterly ignorant (I don't know if that’s any better, but whatever). At the very least, this user is showing signs of xenophobia when they say “It just doesn’t make sense thematically and doesn’t appeal to the games predominately white community. I mean, we have yet to see any black casters or pros for example.”

Some other comments from Reddit and LoL forums are more or less the same.

For example, one Reddit user asked:

What’s up with the lack of African American champions?

Some of the responses followed:

You shouldn’t make a character be black just for the sake of being diverse.

Also this:

Games don’t need to, and shouldn’t be, diverse for the sake of being diverse.

A forum member asked:

I’m not black myself, but I have a couple of friends who are. They wanted to know if and why/why not there are no black characters in LOL?

And the responses:

Because Riot isn’t Disney and they don’t have to please every ethnic group maybe?

And this (although it’s kinda funny):

Because the league hasn’t yet implemented affirmative action.

And this:

Because this game is about heroes.

Obviously, I’m not suggesting all LoL players are racists. Most likely, it’s not even the majority. But as we all know by now, people who have misogynistic and racist ideas tend to be small in number perhaps, but loud as hell.

I try not to worry too much about race or gender issues. One has to pick their fights, and as much as these issues bother me, I have simply chosen different fights.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy for me to keep my cool when a player makes a racist or sexist remark during a game. To the best of my ability, I try to speak up without compromising the game (typing too much when an enemy champion is attacking me and I’m trying to run away has gotten me killed a few times…)

But in the end, it’s just not enough.

Honestly, I don’t know how one even begins to fix this problem. Make more black and brown champions so that people will start getting familiar with diversity? Somehow make gaming more accessible to black and brown people so that more professional gamers are people of color?

I have no idea. But seeing how we still only have just two black champions on LoL, maybe that’d be a good place to start. Which, at the end of the day, means companies like Riot that make these games would have to step up their game and actively work to fix their diversity issues.

And what about the notion that gaming is mostly a sport for boys? As it turns out, this is not a third world country problem, the entire world has a sexist problem. Maybe parents should start creating a more inclusive and gender-neutral space for their children.

Things are vastly different from how they were some 20 years ago. But society still isn’t moving fast enough to address these issues. And if we have learned anything, nothing ever changes unless we change ourselves. So, everyone out there playing LoL or some other MMORPG tonight, take the opportunity to watch what you say during games.

We all do stupid shit when we rage-bully during a game. And when we’re mad, things that come out of our own mouths are unbelievable. Watch it! Watch what you say/type. It may only be a game, but these games have real-life implications. The kind of person you are comes out when you’re rage typing. If you catch yourself saying sexist or bigoted things during a team fight, maybe you’re part of the problem!

Fix yourself first if that happens, and then try to speak up when someone else in your team or the enemy team is being an ass. It may seem like a small gesture, but you could be making an impact even with that. The right deed is never too small after all.

I’m an engineer, writer, and amateur photographer. I write about what I know and what I’m trying to make sense of.

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