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Examining PewDiePie, Toxicity, and Mob Rule in Gaming

This month's digest from Critical Distance focuses on online harassment and toxicity in gaming culture.
Image courtesy PewDiePie

The past few weeks have been eventful in this regard, with high-profile cases of bad behavior and abuse, but the writing featured here goes far beyond just reporting on the shitty things that happened. Writers look at the whole garbage fire, examining the complex systems that cause ever more waste to be added to the already-raging inferno.


Pew Die Pie's racist outburst (PewDiePie Doesn't Deserve a Pass For Using the N-Word Because He Was Angry - Waypoint ) triggered a number of articles about broader issues, such as the role of journalists, the interests of brands, and the impact of streaming on the visibility of racism. Opinion: We Need To Talk About PewDiePie ~ Game Informer
Javy Gwaltney offers a take on the responsibility of games journalists to report on racist incidents such as PewDiePie's.

Let's Play Copyright Threat Raises Questions About The Law And How To Use It ~ Kotaku
Cecilia D'Anastasio gives a balanced perspective on Campo Santo's use of the DMCA as protest against PewDiePie's racism, respecting the intent while also interviewing experts to highlight the potentially hazardous consequences.


Firewatch image courtesy Campo Santo

Gaming YouTube must get its house in order ~
Rob Fahey argues that the toxicity in the gaming community risks incurring the ire of Google, copyright holders, and advertisers—and speculates that Google might not tolerate its activities on Youtube much longer.

Gaming Culture Has Always Been Racist – Y'all Just Didn't Care ~ Not Your Mama's Gamer
Kishonna Gray argues that streaming has changed the way that racism is concealed and depersonalized in games culture.

"The problem now for many gamers (yes gamers, not Neo-Nazis, not alt-righters…gamers) is that their once hidden gaming practices are front and center. Twitch, Mixer, YouTube, and other forms of live streaming don't allow you to hide in the comfort of anonymity."


PewDiePie and other offensive streamers are just one branch of this poisonous tree. Three writers published pieces on other manifestations of toxicity in gaming spaces, including the harassment of women on Twitch and in online gaming spaces.

The cam girls who also stream on Twitch ~ Kotaku
Merritt Kopas interviews women who work in front of webcams, and makes some remarkable observations about which social spaces involve more trolling, and which kinds of work are more respected.

Sexual harassment's asymmetrical impact and unique outcomes ~ Gamasutra
Quinn Poisson looks at online gaming sexual harassment as a systemic issue that affects some people more than others, and offers a framework for thinking about how to address such issues.


Why I deleted my Steam account ~
Brendan Sinclair gives a detailed account of the toxicity festering on Steam.

"People talk about racism, sexism, transphobia and the like as if they are diseases, like it's something binary you either have or you don't. "This is racist. That is not racist." But maybe we should think of these things less like contagions and more like environmental pollutants. They surround us at all times, but in varying concentrations. They're like arsenic in your drinking water, or rat feces in your popcorn; we should aspire to have none at all, but that's a difficult enough task that we "accept" both in small quantities. (Seriously.)"


Two critics looked at the ugly mechanisms that drive toxic movements in gaming culture - a "big, malevolent machine" made up of business interests and journalistic practices, as well as patriarchal social dynamics.

Breaking the outrage cycle ~
Brendan Sinclair discusses the business interests driving angry gamer mobs, and the role that games journalism can play in fueling this garbage fire.

What Happened ~ Brendan Vance
Brendan Vance's analysis of gaming's hate movements and rebuttal to a recent article on Gamergate's origins offers an alternative not only to the "Old Man Murray caused Gamergate" claim, but also to the "Gamergate caused Trump" claim.

"This is the way I prefer to talk about the datapoints Adkins has assembled: not as a direct causal chain linking edgelords to Gamergate, but rather as adjacent subroutines operating within one big, malevolent machine. What we see within this historical cross-section is, in the end, quite a familiar sight: many men climbing higher in society by pushing other people down."

Further in-depth reading: Crash Override
Zoe Quinn's expert book on the subject also came out this month. Equal parts memoir, journalism, and self-defense guide, this is the most thorough text you're going to encounter on Gamergate, online harassment, and toxicity in gaming.

About Critical Distance: This is a digest of criticism from around the web, curated and archived by Critical Distance. We produce weekly roundups of games criticism, as well as a monthly podcast interviewing critics, and a monthly "roundtable" feature that gives you the opportunity to respond to a writing prompt and have your work featured on the site. We've worked as a hub for games criticism for the past 8 years, and are supported by our community of readers on Patreon (Critical Distance is creating a community resource for game criticism | Patreon).