An Important Confession

June 24, 2008

I hate to break from the usual mission statement of WAAAGH! — and rest assured, it will be back to normal soon enough — but sometimes an issue grips your heart and refuses to let go until you’ve spoken out about it.

My friends, my heart is gripped with racism. I’m a racist. And I need to clear the air about it today.

Well… not really. You see, I’m being trained to be a racist by the very video games I play. I’m not talking human racism, with its petty concern for skin pigmentation, but fantasy racism — orcs vs. elves, humans vs. goblins, dragons vs. hello kitty. Alliance vs. Horde. Villains vs. Heroes. Albion vs. Hibernia vs. Midgard. Order vs. Destruction.

It’s in the paradigms of these so-called “innocent” online role-playing games that the sinister foundations of racism are being laid in the hearts of all who play. We are indoctrinated into a faction, slowly growing to identify with that race or side to the exclusion of all others. Sure, at the character creation screen we’re all ambivalent about the sides when we choose — but take a hard look at an end-game player, who is so far gone into the roots of racism that he or she could not fathom ever rolling a character on the “other side”.

We are given reason upon reason to hate those not like us, told that they hate us just as much, and once our mouths are properly full of froth, are set loose on a battlefield like trained dogs in a murder pit. We foster prejudices, reinforce stereotypes, /spit on those who annoy us, and desecrate the corpses of our sworn enemies. The civility that we’ve spent years and years building up in our lives is stripped away within months, tolerance given in to sheer loathing.

Even worse, we celebrate our racism. We wear t-shirts and caps and boast signature banners proudly declaring ourselves as part of the superior race. We get into heated discussions in real life with other players who dared to be different than ourselves. We adapt our race’s customs and phrases into our daily vocabulary, without a thought if they are offensive to others not like us.

We are partially to blame: while we had the choice of a race, we did not choose the same out of a sense of unity, but deliberately set ourselves apart in anticipation of conflict. Are we proud and mighty warriors, or petty, cowardly racists?

The game designers share even more blame: they deliberately created a game world to foster these racist attitudes. Without them, they reason, there would be no great conflict. No great conflict, no great game. Our desire to win and achieve and succeed wasn’t enough — we had to be given a reason to hate others trying to do the same thing.

I’m a racist, I guess. Good thing it’s only a game, right?

[Because I feel I have to clarify — this article was done more or less tongue-in-cheek. I’m not seriously suggesting that in game racial hatred/identification is anything like real-world racism, but there are some interesting parallels… and it gives me pause when I look at these games in that way.]



  1. I remember as a young Warlock in World of Warcraft – any time I was killed by an Alliance player they would /spit on my corpse. I started thinking all Alliance were scum and just grief players in general. Alliance never seemed to want to fight fair, one on one and would always run away and come back in numbers.

    Then for fun me and a friend rolled Alliance characters on another server. Damn if the Horde there wasn’t the same way! I know what you mean in feeling disgruntled against the other side but it’s not just race games that do it. Think of any FPS you’ve played where the other side was just red or blue, they still got you going didn’t they?

    I for one love having wonderous variety in the games I play! Bring on the races – make more of them! It’s the other gamers who oppose us we don’t like, not the characters they play.

  2. I have the cure for that. It comes in a small, easy to take small package but delivers big results fast.

    Only problem is it goes at 500 feet per second so you have to stand really still to get the full effect. If interested let me know, be happy to end your racist squig tendencies!

  3. I’ve never really experienced this. In WoW, there really weren’t any specific races that I hated. However, whenever I’d play a character through Stranglethorn Vale, I DESPISED the opposite faction.

  4. Tongue-in-cheek aside, I’d say it’s closer to nationalism. Basically the same thing, but much less of a dirty word to most :-p

  5. I think MMOs are just a form of e-Sport, like hockey, baseball, soccer, etc. but online. Any time you introduce team-based competition, humans tend to devolve towards their baser instincts. For millenia, we’ve fought over land, resources, mates, etc.

    These games tap into our deeply seeded primal need for competition (which is why they’re more popular amongst men) and give us a break from our more recent evolutions like grinding it out at the boring day job and driving the kids to soccer practice (so they can vent our their homework issues). 😛

  6. Okay, so let’s look at racism vs. nationalism vs. rivalry. All three are competitive in their premise — “My people are better than yours and we can prove it!” — but one is friendly at the core (rivalry) because it shares a common interest for the fun of competition, one mixes societal pride and sometimes arrogance (nationalism), and one is ugly and disparaging (racism).

    The three have different views of co-existence as well — rivalry wants to win but they don’t have a problem being in the same room/town as their rivals, nationalism wants to be the best but generally is okay co-existing in the same world, but racism has no tolerance for the other side and would prefer to see them wiped out altogether (or at least shoved out of sight). WoW would probably be more nationalistic by those standards. Where is WAR?

    If there’s no hatred, racism has a hard time finding roots. Sports teams can compete without hating each other. But are we being trained to compete with good sportsmanship, or to be so full of pride and loyalty to our side that we genuinely start to hate the other guys?

    The question is, how far are these games’ devs pushing us to get us into that combative, competitive spirit? Is the core of it “for fun”, or is there a slightly darker side that’s appealing to our darker natures? I think people can approach these games from all viewpoints, but I do sincerely believe there are some that do develop genuine racist qualities in-game, even if they don’t recognize them as such.

  7. I won’t go as far as saying people are developing racism in game but bad sportsmanship is definitely a given. I would like to say that most gamers exhibiting bad sportsman like behaviour are of the younger, less mature variety. But unfortunately that probably isn’t really true. Bad sportsmanship online vs a real-live sport probably differs mostly because of the anonymous nature of the internet or the primal need for someone to be out of their usual character.

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