E-Racism: SXSW Panel Examines Prejudice in Online Gaming
Racism is everywhere -- including virtual communities on the Internet. A panel at the SXSW Interactive conference in Austin, Texas, examines the changing nature of online racial identity.
Nakamura repeatedly framed the cost of racism online in terms of how it harms those who attempt to participate. She brought up the example of how Quinton Jackson, a mixed martial arts fighter in real life who quit playing the game Halo 2 online because of the excessive racist chatter over the game's voice channels, which players use to talk to one another. She talked about how users are discouraged from choosing darker avatars by game companies (who rarely create more than one or two darker-skinned avatars from which to choose) as well as other players (some of whom use the anonymity of the Internet to indulge their inner racist).
Nakamura then looked at examples of avatars or character classes that became racialized. In Diablo II, for example, a type of character called the female dwarf became popular among Chinese players. The Chinese players had developed a reputation for in-game resource farming, which is gathering items like gold and selling them to wealthier players to earn money. Gaming communities frown on that type of behavior, but some players become vigilantes, choosing to kill these players on sight.
What ended up happening was a cyberversion of racial profiling: All players using the female dwarf were assumed to be Chinese resource farmers and were immediately killed off, even if these players were just trying to play as a different character. Thus, the female dwarf became a racial minority within the game -- rarely seen, but often persecuted.
Nakamura points out, "Race doesn't happen because of biology; it happens because of culture." Race (and racism) is something that develops when our culture rewards the persecution of a smaller group. Unfortunately, it seems that as our lives move more and more into the digital world, we are migrating more and more of the racism in our culture along with us.
Latoya Peterson is the editor of Racialicious.com and a frequent contributor to The Root.