Recently my daughter and another young woman were featured in a Roblox story by the New York Times. The story was compelling, not just because my daughter was in it (though I might be partial) but the story angle was compelling because it centered the voices of young women in an uplifting way. Both my daughter and the young woman featured in the story, used Roblox to either fight for social justice or for self-empowerment. We rarely hear about the positive experiences women have online. And this story was a shift away from the familiar narrative we hear about games in the media.
Why do most of the stories about games center maleness or whiteness, or both? What is going on in newsrooms where we continue to overlook stories that center the invisible contributors to the gaming industry and movement? And when stories do center girls and women, they often highlight the harassment experienced by women and people of color or they highlight how few people of color, girls, women, and non-binary people are present in the industry. In a field that's so imaginative I find it difficult to keep reading stories about these problems with no solutions or call to action. It is clear that we need stories about the lack of gender and racial diversity in gaming. Can we tell these stories from a non-white male perspective? Can we connect the fact that if we normalized people of color and girls and women in the gaming world and we worked with boys and men and white people on how to exist in a space with women and people of color, we might solve some of the problem? Can we tell stories that get to the root of the problem - human behavior?
We continue to have this back and forth about how games do or do not perpetuate violence. We look at games like Call of Duty and Mortal Kombat as violent, but what about paint ball, football, or lacrosse? As a former college athlete, I have experienced my share of aggression/violence even in a volleyball game. Does playing sports make you more prone to violence? How is online play different than "real world" play? We continue to talk about online safety and why parents should or should not let their children play games online. But why don't we scrutinize the behavior of predators on and offline? What do we as a society need to do to shift the behavior of predatory adults? What work is required of parents in educating their kids on internet safety, digital citizenship, and general media hygiene?
We're looking at a "both, and" scenario where the game is just a reflection of who we are as a society or as individuals. Yes, we should be aware of the messages, the boundaries, and the elements present in games that create conditions that perpetuate negative outcomes. However, in many less deliberate cases, games are a neutral platform. Game developers create the boundaries and gamers either perpetuate those rules, break those rules, or create new rules in the game. When we discuss the impact of games, we do not discuss how important it is to change human behavior. We do not discuss how easily games can be used to influence human behavior... for positive outcomes. Most of our discussions are centered on this reactionary, negative narrative (from a white normative lens mind you) that does not address that people hold the power to make the necessary changes required offline and online.
People bring their behavior, their values, their racism, their philosophies with them online. If a person is a social justice warrior, they're looking at an open world game through that lens, consciously or subconsciously. If a person is a predator or a bully, they're approaching the game with how to get away with those behaviors online. If a person is a creator, they're looking at the game through that lens. If that person is a person, they're approaching the game with all of the negative and positive behaviors attached to what it means to be a fleshy avatar operating in a virtual space.
My daughters play a ton of games. The more games they play, the more they don't believe that black women develop their games. It's really disappointing that they're absolutely correct. They're correct that we need better stories about games. We need better plans to improve systems that are unwelcoming for non-white, non-male voices. In this moment in time where industries, communities, and individuals are pursuing grand philosophical goals like anti-racism, equity, justice... we can't forget that the systems we build, need to be built by everyone and that we bring our human characteristics with us to every system we exist in - politics, virtual gaming, education. As we ask ourselves why a game would create x, y, z negative conditions, we also need to ask: How do we reshape human behavior, so that our outcomes are more positive?
Go down Alice's Rabbit Hole with us. Read more about our gaming and online thoughts:
I'm a former teacher and former college athlete, currently working in edtech. My mission is to get parents to partner with their child's teacher.