One Word At A Time

After yesterday’s post, I spent the rest of my time thinking how do we fix this problem? Game culture, despite how tongue-in-cheek we might use the phrase, is a real thing now. It’s as real as popular culture in its ability to influence. We have cultural conventions now. We have cultural language.

It’s hard to describe how game culture came to be without resorting to dramatic, overblown language describing the strife that it emerged from. While the “violence in video games” discussion won’t ever truly disperse, I think we’ve come a long way from the days of Jack Thompson and his ilk. They’re not gone, of course, but for the moment, they’ve been defeated. Someone will be along eventually to take his place, but hopefully not for a while.

We won that round, at the low cost of developing a reflexive siege mentality that is one of the causes of the dickwolves thing I wrote about yesterday. We’ve traded one problem for another, which isn’t as cynical as you might think, because that’s basically how progress works. The only people who don’t have problems are dead. Dead people might have problems, too, that we just don’t know about.

So, you know, we’re doing okay, really.

Regardless of my inability to commit to a side on the dickwolves debacle, there are plenty of other instances of misogyny and rape culture in game culture itself. Nobody can rationally dispute that fact, regardless of where you come down on the dickwolves issue. The question we should all be asking ourselves is, as I said above, how do we fix this?

While I’d love to say I came upon the solution in a flash of brilliance, the truth is this was a comment made on yesterday’s dickwolves post. From my friend therationalpi:

Ya know, I used to say “rape” a lot. In videogame parlance, “rape” is just another way to say “beat on.” Like, instead of saying, “The red team really beat the blue team that game.” you might say “The red team really *raped* the blue team.” It’s a pretty common expression, that I used to use very casually.

Then I realized how much that word can bother people. For some people it brings up really negative memories and emotions. After realizing that, I stopped being so insensitive and slowly excised that word from my vocabulary. I never thought that actual rape was anything to joke about, but my vocabulary didn’t reflect that sentiment. So I changed my vocabulary.

This. This is how we start fixing things. Small changes. A piece at a time. I believe this will work, because this is exactly analogous to my own experience.

Confession time: I wasn’t always the male-feminist-ally-vegetarian-idealist that I style myself as today. I was a gamer a lot further back than I was any of those other things. I engaged in my share of smack-talk. I used the word “rape” in video games liberally and I used it as recently as 2005, when I was deep into the PvP scene in World of WarCraft.

I remember the first moment somebody called me out on using that word. It wasn’t much, just an admonishment that what I was saying was pretty insensitive. Because this admonishment came from a person that I admired and respected greatly and because it was done gently, it made me think. It made me reflect on the power of the words that I was using which was something I should have done all along. I was studying Creative Writing for my undergraduate degree; you’d think I would have been more sensitive to the power of certain words and their effects.

I realized what my words had the potential to do to another person and I changed my vocabulary. I stopped saying “rape” in the context of playing games. I don’t use it in any context other than its actual definition and even then, I use it carefully, knowing its potential harm.

It doesn’t take much to change your vocabulary. It’s a small change to start saying “yeah, we owned them” or “we pwned them” or any other permutation. Pwned is nice, albeit in an abomination-of-English-sort-of-way, because it’s a true “gamer word.” It’s part of the cultural lingo.

Why is “owned” acceptable when “raped” isn’t? Certainly, the idea of “owning” another person is offensive, if you really think about it. But that’s the thing about smack-talk in competition, isn’t it? You want it to be a little bit offensive. A polite taunt is no taunt at all. The trick is to find something that can make for good trash talk in a way that doesn’t bring up a real problem that people are dealing with and are dealing with in a culture that doesn’t treat their situation with the gravity it deserves.

Sure, “owning” is offensive. But it doesn’t trigger the same harm, in my opinion, the way the word rape does. I don’t know anybody in my life who has ever actually been “owned.” I know a few people that have been raped. I know that for those people, the former is just a word and the latter can trigger post-traumatic stress symptoms.

Choosing the word you uses matters. Telling somebody “hey, that’s not cool” isn’t always going to work. It might only work 1 time in 10, or maybe 1 in 20, or 1 in 100. But it did work for me, as it worked for my friend in the above quote.

It won’t fix the current game culture. But think about how many games of Call of Duty or Halo or StarCraft that you’re going to play in your lifetime. Think about how many times you will make the choice to either use the word “rape” without regard to its effect and thus perpetuate rape culture or choose a different word and enact a small amount of change.

It doesn’t cost much to make this change. It doesn’t take away the games we enjoy or the competition that brings out the trash-talk that’s so much a part of competitive game culture. It does, however, move things ever so slightly in a better direction.

That’s how change happens.