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Hate Speech in Game Communities

At PAX East this weekend, we will be introducing an art project led by some of our staff and students regarding their observations of hate speech in online game communities. We have put together a video that examines forum posts and in-game chats that marginalize different groups: Muslims, African Americans, gays, and women.

Some of the interactions we noted were outright hateful and confrontational, some were much more subtle and insidious, and some were positive. Our aim is not to demonize the individuals spouting examples of hate speech; none of the content reveals any personal information. Our goal is to show how commonplace it is.

It should come as no surprise that this project was motivated by the recent Dickwolves debacle in the Penny Arcade community. We felt that the vicious harassment directed at rape survivors was an example of an enduring atmosphere surrounding online interactions between game-players, where hate speech is tolerated, accepted, and barely recognized in day-to-day play. Some writers argue that the use of such language is commonplace among gamers. We agree that it is all too common.

Many of our staff and colleagues will not be presenting their work at PAX East this weekend because they feel uncomfortable attending the expo this year. However, as a research lab in a university, we felt it was also important to seize a teachable moment.

The video will be presented in our booth in the PAX East exhibit hall along with some of our latest research-based games. Because the video contains offensive material, we will provide headphones for anyone interested in viewing the 12-minute piece at the back of our booth. The GAMBIT staff who have put together our art project will be present to discuss the piece.

We believe that the pervasive reality of exclusionary speech in online game communities stands directly against the inclusive ideals of PAX. We need to recognize this and work together to build a shared culture in which anybody who loves games can feel part of a community that plays together. We hope that our small project will encourage discussion about how we can make online game communities a more welcoming and sensitive environment for players of every stripe.

Click here to watch the Video. WARNING: contains graphic language.


On March 12, 2011 at 5:43 PM, olirat Author Profile Page said:

It would be wonderful if you could film the responses this gets as well.
And if not film, then at least write about it.
I would love to see how people react to this there, especially if they know this was done in reaction to the Dickwolves controversy.

On March 12, 2011 at 11:45 PM, feral.nsfw Author Profile Page said:

I consider myself part of the "Penny Arcade community" you describe. And I agree wholeheartedly. Especially this comment: "We believe that the pervasive reality of exclusionary speech in online game communities stands directly against the inclusive ideals of PAX."

I'm going to echo what I said here:

Gamers are a community that has slowly climbed out from ostracism into the mainstream. Gaming was once a hobby for nerds and geeks, and now it's the a larger entertainment industry than Hollywood movies. This was addressed, courageously and beautifully, by Warren Spector in his keynote speech at PAX Seattle 2010.

Yet we are bullying others in ways even worse than we were once bullied, and it is absolutely unacceptable. The common explanation, that anonymity is to blame ( may be the most accurate, or there may be something else about gamers in particular that allows these behaviors to flourish. I don't know, but it's up to us to discourage them in whatever way we can.

That said, I want to offer one criticism of your post. The Penny Arcade community is diverse - we have people of every sex, sexual preference, race, and religion. Some of us are transgendered, some are disabled, some are high school students, some are professional adults with families. Please do not let the actions of a vocal and reprehensible minority color your opinion of the community at large. I do not believe, personally, that Mike and Jerry are doing enough to discourage "fuckwad" behavior among their fanbase, as evidenced by their flippant and misdirected response to the Dickwolves controversy ( Despite that, I have personally found the Penny Arcade community to be more mature and mindful than other gamer communities across the Internet, which is why I'm proud to consider myself a part of it.


@olirat: We have a little footage of responses from PAX attendees on our Facebook page at

@feral.nsfw: Thanks for your comment, and your criticism is valid. It certainly wasn't my intent to describe the attacks as coming from the Penny Arcade community as a monolithic whole, and I'll edit the blog post to reflect that.

On March 19, 2011 at 7:56 PM, greentingle Author Profile Page said:

Try changing your clan tag to "jew" for a week. I did, you get a LOT of anti-semitism, threats and hate speech. Also people with Christian tags get similar treatment. Give teenagers anonymity via the internet and before you know it you have 4chan, and I mean that in the worst possible way.

On March 20, 2011 at 6:24 PM, brandon.morris Author Profile Page said:

We can stop this.

The reason it has been allowed to exist thus far is that Microsoft has been able to keep us under the delusion that they can't do anything about it. Bull.

Anyone who's played on XBL or seen the above video can tell you how easy it is to locate open bigots. Microsoft doesn't ban them because they represent profit. Thus, Microsoft silently endorses their behavior. The token enforcement exists only so that they are not accused of being bigoted themselves.

Let them know that we understand this, and this problem will be a thing of the past.

As has been brought up, PA is huge - and may be the best possible way to get things done.

On March 21, 2011 at 11:28 AM, speedracer4791 Author Profile Page said:

First off I'm a hard core gamer I have been playin games sense I could pick up a controler. I have a good job, 2 cars, a truck, and a crotch rocket. people are taking things to seriously the whole reason people act like that on live is bec they know they will never meet the other person. If they where face to face 95% of people would be totaly differnt. Not only that you changed your gamer tag so people saw that as a way to get under your skin so you will play bad its kiknda of an stragey. One thing that's cool about live is that if you where bulled your hole life you can be a bad ass on live and I think it helps them boost self confidence. In my opinion I think it makes the game more fun. For people who get talked to like this you can mute them on live or shut off all talking all together I do it some thimes just when I don't feel like hearing people. This video better not change talking on xbox live or I'm going to be pissed off.

On April 5, 2011 at 2:57 AM, Mark Vand Author Profile Page said:

Hi, I am from South Africa and I work for a company where we develop an online games platform for integration into online portals.

We have integrated chat into many of our multiplayer games and we have seen a lot of abuse being thrown around like this.

It is a cause for concern for us and we would like to stop this as quickly as possible. How else can it be done except through constant moderation of chat messages and banning members?

We don't like what these idiots are doing, but we don't want to just go banning them if there is a more diplomatic way of handling it. If there is a way to resolve this I would appreciate your input.

It looks like most of these comments are not said excplicitly as hate speech, but depending on the recipient it might be interpreted in that way.

Thank you for your time and thoughts.

You can mail me at if you have any suggestions.


I love play games , and the industry is doing a good job if you are a game looking for work as a designer or programmer upload your cv. I do not believe, personally, that Mike and Jerry are doing enough to discourage "fuckwad" behavior among their fanbase but it is important to make things that work.

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