Gatekeeping Games

Despite its issues, pigeonholing the video game community as toxic can actually do more harm than good.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Nintendo Switch that I share with my younger sister has remained relatively unused since the start of this academic year, tucked away on its charging dock in the basement. We only have two real games: Animal Crossing (for her) and Breath of the Wild (for me). On the few occasions that I’m actually able to play, I need to remind myself to take out the Animal Crossing cartridge and switch it for Zelda before returning upstairs to the family room. I take my usual seat in the corner as the TV plays in the background and load up the game. The Switch isn’t known for its graphics, but the intricacy of the game still continues to astound me. There are hundreds of locations to travel to, with dozens of adventures to find and places to discover. In a world like this, it’s easy to forget the actual point of the game: saving Princess Zelda from Ganon. Instead, I spend my time traveling from temple to temple, making sure I’ve got the whole map explored and every possible quest fulfilled. After all, what’s the point of playing an open-world game like this if you’re not actually going to use the whole world?

I don’t play many video games, nor am I particularly good at them. I only know the most basic maneuvers in Zelda: use the joystick to move and press Y to attack. The harder moves fly past me: any parry or rush I make is pure luck. However, my lack of skill doesn’t detract me from my enjoyment. There’s something strangely calming about repeatedly hitting buttons until your enemy explodes into a plume of purple smoke and monster parts. Furthermore, I’ve always enjoyed fantasy stories like Zelda. The deep lore and otherworldly sights of the game make it all the more interesting, which is why I can sink so much time into exploring the map. It’s fun to imagine that, even if it’s just for a little while, anyone can be the hero of Hyrule.

But how far does “anyone” really extend? Even as a person who doesn’t play video games often, I’ve still read countless horror stories of people being excluded from the gaming community. Some are shunned as “fake fans,” others are insulted for their playstyles, and still, more are ridiculed for the games they enjoy. Unfortunately, certain people seem to believe that games are solely limited to those of a specific gender, preference, or skill level.

One of the most notable divisions is that of gender identity, where women are frequently insulted or seen as inferior. In 2014, an online campaign that is now known as “Gamergate” was launched against several women who were prominent in the video game industry. Several even had their addresses revealed and were threatened with horrific acts of violence. On a more day-to-day basis, female players face discrimination, especially in online multiplayer games. Studies have shown that women often feel forced to take measures like hiding their identity or not interacting with other players in order to stay safe.

Such elitist and unwelcoming culture is what stigmatizes this community as toxic; though there are plenty of kind and helpful players, they are often overshadowed by the cruel and judgmental minority. It’s much easier for outsiders to only see the negative aspects of the gaming community, and as such, many feel compelled to speak out against the modern-day gamer. For example, the media often describes video games as harmful—evident in the infamous claim that “video games cause violence.”

Despite their intentions, beliefs like this only further divisions. They create an “us versus them” mentality, through which gamers see themselves as persecuted by the status quo and in turn reject others who they think are invading their personal safe haven. The idea that video games cause violence is, therefore, further perpetuated and the cycle continues.

The logical solution to this cycle seems to be getting rid of video games altogether. After all, if there isn’t anything to criticize or to be toxic about, surely that should eradicate the problem entirely?

But is it truly the fault of video games alone? Well, they can certainly create a breeding ground for discrimination. These online landscapes are incredibly easy places to find and to indoctrinate others in hatred, with right-wing hate groups apparently recruiting gamers. But that simply proves the point that gaming toxicity is a mere manifestation of the bigotry people face in their everyday lives. Its communities are a reflection of the true problem, an issue of intolerance that humanity has faced for thousands of years. And unfortunately, solving this problem won’t be as easy as just getting rid of video games. Even if the gaming community didn’t exist, racism, sexism, and other elitist views would still show up in other parts of our lives.

At the end of the day, video games are just that—games. Most players are simply playing to have fun, be it by competing in multiplayer games, exploring adventurous challenges, or playing through interesting stories. Universes are formed, skills are acquired, and friendships are formed through these games. Criticizing video games or the gaming community has little beneficial impact on anyone, especially since the real problem lies elsewhere. All that this judgment does is create a community of exclusion in a world already filled with barriers.