There is a certain culture of exclusion happening in the realm of online games today. By a “culture of exclusion” I mean to say that certain actions on the part of both developers and players can be very unwelcoming for some people in the games they want to enjoy.
Today, I'd like to discuss this culture of exclusion with some examples of how certain sectors of the MMO gaming world make some players feel like second-class citizens in a realm where people should be generally equal. I'd also like to show some examples of ways in which the reverse is happening and a culture of inclusion is trying to be put forward, as well as what you can do to change the culture that pervades the gaming landscape today.
Perhaps the best way to start the discussion on exclusion is by using the term “second-class citizen status” to denote the way some folks are treated.
We've talked about Regional Restrictions before, and I've said that, at least in relation to SWTOR, that there may be a good reason for it, from licensing issues to maintaining good service and acquiring good PR through high uptime. An issue arises, however, when a game tries to explain their regional restriction policy by saying that certain parts of the world are filled with cyber-criminals. Instead of combating the actual issue, which is cybercrime as it relates to games, reasoning like this does not endear potential users toward a company.
The lack of certain functions in a game may also put forth the idea of exclusion. By this, I think of closed captioning and subtitles for the deaf, or visual cues that the colorblind can easily distinguish. Some of these are costly or time-consuming to put in after the fact, but if they're not available in-game in the first place, I'd think that some concessions ought to be made to put them in.
A Culture of Bullying
The culture of exclusion is also a culture of bullying, to put it generally and rather mildly. It happens in the actions we do and the words we use. Every time we utter a homophobic, racist, or hateful slur, it detracts from both the overall feel of the world we're trying to play in and the dignity of the other people we are playing with.
The exclusion mechanic can be seen in many ways, such as when people coin a term such as “slut plate” to refer to armor that isn't exactly protection so much as decoration on an avatar. It can also be heard and seen across the internet, when a video that includes a statement where women are built for rape is part of a gaming community's commentary offerings, or if an advertisement for your game has an MMA fighter putting a LARPer in an armlock.
Reversing Negative Culture
Of course, pointing out the inherent issues that make up a culture of exclusion is one thing. We can also work our way towards reversing the negative culture that appears to have become inherent in the game spaces we occupy.
The first thing we need to do is to reverse it is to be careful with what we say. The mediums available to gamers are many, and the best way to change the culture of exclusion is to start by being more conscious of the things we do and say and then working accordingly to be less hateful in our mannerisms.
The second thing we can do is to speak up diplomatically when we know someone is in the wrong or if an existing system of exclusion can be improved upon to make it inclusive. In the case of the “women are built for rape” link above, Gazimoff of the gaming website Mana Obscura sent a very diplomatic letter citing the misdeed, explaining why it is wrong, and asking for action in its wake. If we were to talk about same-sex relationships in SWTOR, we could also ask diplomatically for that feature to be added in later on.
The last thing that can be done is for players and developers to be pro-active at creating a positive culture for everyone. For example, despite the spirit of competition in a PVP game like Darkfall or EVE Online, it doesn't mean that a culture of inclusion isn't there. Darkfall and EVE have their own player-run starter guilds that teach people the basics of the game and help people get settled. Everquest 2 recently had a series of player-run events called Pay it Forward, where adventurers and crafters donated goods or money to new players or lower-leveled adventurers and only asked that these beneficiaries do a good deed for someone else in return. On the developer front, Trion Worlds' community manager Elrar has acknowledged that characters of the same sex can get married in RIFT through their new marriage system.
The road towards creating a culture of inclusion in our games is already there, waiting for more people to walk the same path. While the culture of exclusion still exists, it's up to the players and the developers to make sure that the future of MMORPG gaming is not simply lucrative, but also inviting for everyone to play.