THE BLOG

The Battle Many South Africans Don't See -- Social Activism In Gaming

From racism to sexism, to the lack of diversity in the scene, all of these issues are being championed by some in the local scene.

06/02/2017 04:58 SAST
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South Africa is no stranger to social movements or rallying under a just cause. From those that fought against the apartheid regime to the more recent movement of Fees Must Fall, this country has never had a shortage of those willing to fight for what matters.

Standing up for what you believe in, has never been more important than in this day and age. The battleground for these fights however, are not limited to local courts, university classrooms or the streets. They're happening in the digital landscape as well. They're happening in the gaming industry.

The Digital Battleground

Gaming, globally as well as locally, is notorious for being an uninviting, white boys' club. From the slew of white, male protagonists that are chosen for almost every blockbuster game, to the constant objectification of women, gaming has always catered to one demographic.

It has grown into a formidable industry and with the rise of competitive gaming where multi-million dollar global competitions are now the norm, the mainstream media and world have started to notice it. Locally, you have huge brands such as Telkom hosting million rand tournaments.

But what many in the mainstream media, at least locally, have yet to really notice is the battle for social issues that is happening in gaming. From racism to sexism, to the lack of diversity in the scene, all of these issues are being championed by some in the local scene.

Whilst racism is by no means exclusive to gaming, many are taking active steps to fight it. Discussions around systemic oppression and creating awareness around how it affects the gaming scene has been important. There are those actively calling out sexist behaviour in the industry as well as highlighting the issues that many women face in a male dominated environment.

What exacerbates this knee-jerk reaction is how many often take criticism of the local gaming scene personally. This creates a hostile environment which derails even the most benign of discussions around issues such as white privilege, diversity in the scene, male privilege etc.

There are also those highlighting the need for diversity in gaming, arguing how it benefits everyone in the end. Having an inclusive, diverse community allows for more voices to be heard, more stories to be told and ultimately makes for a richer, more engaging scene that everyone would want to be a part of.

This push for equal representation in the scene and creating awareness around the systemic issues in gaming is often met with hostility and aggression. Gaming has always been a haven for white men and as more and more voices begin to call out problematic behaviour and create a movement, fear of change sets in, resulting in a lot of confusion and anger.

What exacerbates this knee-jerk reaction is how many often take criticism of the local gaming scene personally. This creates a hostile environment which derails even the most benign of discussions around issues such as white privilege, diversity in the scene, male privilege etc.

Cautiously Optimistic For The Future

Despite the fierce resistance, social activists in the local scene continue to push forward and carry on the difficult discussions. They continue to call out problematic behaviour and highlight the plight of those that don't have a voice.

There is comfort in that they are not alone, as many within the global gaming scene champion similar causes in their respective communities and often face the same, if not more severe, backlash from those opposed to change.

Students in South Africa rallied under the banner of Fees Must Fall. The world continues to rally against the hateful wave that is Donald Trump. Social activist in the local gaming scene too, will rally under a common banner for a more diverse, equal and inclusive gaming scene.

Despite the often hostile reactions to social issues, there is room for optimism for the local gaming industry. The right discussions are happening. Awareness around social issues continues to increase, in spite of those attempting to stick their heads in the sand and feign blissful ignorance. Much like Fees Must Fall, there is still a long way to go in the local gaming scene but recent history has shown that there is a will and passion to go the distance.