Why is the opponent gay?
Electronic sports (eSports) are increasingly popular worldwide, with new teams being formed every day. Gaming has become a social pastime that attracts young people in particular. Many comparisons can be drawn between eSports and traditional sports. In both, team members boost their community spirit by talking to each other, and people who play together quickly assemble into tight-knit groups. Voice communication software such as Skype, TeamSpeak and Ventrilo are often used in eSports. Many teams spend a great deal of time practising together outside actual game play – eSports is a means of networking with other players and creating friendships. Another factor shared by electronic and traditional team sports is that the teams have a common enemy – gay people.
Electronic sports and gaming have been traditionally considered boyish hobbies and masculine sports. Boys are stereotypically thought to play war games where the aim is to win by killing their opponents, while girls supposedly play animal or interior decoration games such as the Sims by EA Games. In the gaming world, the heroes are often rugged men, while the women are drop-dead gorgeous. The gaming world can be described as strongly heteronormative and gender normative, only welcoming men and boys to play – and only if they identify as heterosexual.
However, this is not the case in reality. For example, the MOBA League of Legends published by Riot Games has numerous female and gay players. The Mass Effect game series features characters from various sexual minorities or of undefined gender. Although the games feature versatile characters and straight boys are not the only group of players, the language used in social gaming contexts still conforms to stereotypes. An opponent who wins or manages to avoid attacks is often called gay.
“See how the gay boy ducked again!”
“I’m gay by the way.”
‘Gay’ has become a common term of abuse and probably the most common insult used at school. Calling someone gay is an attempt to single them out by highlighting a difference that is supposedly unacceptable to the majority. The language used in gaming has left many members of sexual and gender minorities wondering whether they are welcome in teams or the world of gaming. Does identifying as gay prevent your engagement in sports or eSports?
Once, during a campaign, I spent a while listening to my team mates calling our opponents gay. That’s when I decided I had had enough and that it was time to come out of the closet. “I’m gay, by the way,” I said, bravely, followed by a few excruciatingly protracted seconds of silence. Everyone felt awkward because, until then, no one had paused to consider their words during our campaigns, or how they may have sounded to a gay person.
“Uh, I didn’t mean anything.”
In many cases, the problem with homophobic language is that the speaker cannot place himself in the listener’s shoes and understand that his words add up to hate speech. They may have been expressing a range of opinions, puns and inside jokes for a long time, expecting the listener to take such “jokes” and “laughs” lightly. Although they are not necessarily seeking to hurt others or place them in an unequal position, words always have hearers and texts always have readers. Even if only intended as a harmless joke, homophobic language easily snowballs within a small group. Who will end this vicious spiral?
Insult or identity?
The term ‘gay’ refers to a sexual orientation whereby a person feels emotionally and/or physically attracted to members of the same sex, usually men interested in other men. In other words, it concerns a person’s identity and is not a term of abuse. I have always found it odd that the word is used as an insult. Both people and things are sometimes called gay. But can an element of someone’s identity really make them better or worse as a person?
People belonging to sexual minorities are not responsible for the fact that some people use the word ‘gay’ abusively. Finnish is a rich language with a lengthy list of swear words and expletives. Although we all could take our pick from this rich selection, instead we have chosen to denote a word describing personal identity as a sign of inequality. Calling anyone or anything gay is never acceptable, and no one should need to hear it.
Let’s imagine a group of football players. Everyone plays according to the rules and treats their opponents fairly. After the game, each player shakes hands with members of the opposite team, thanking them for a good match. They then put clean clothes on and head home. Some team members belong to sexual minorities, some to gender minorities, and the team members have different ethnic backgrounds. At what point do we decide that a member of these minorities differs from the other players?
I think that this makes my point for me. We can do better?