But the change has already happened, and gaming is never again going to be the purview of mostly young, white, heterosexual males. Nor should it be. There's no point in resorting to bigotry in order to preserve a shared identity that was dubious in the first place. However, that's often why the community turns to hate speech: as a way to "other" gamers, when just being a gamer should be credential enough.
The "othering" tactic may tell us a lot about the people responsible for much of the hate speech we encounter online. Lynne Whitehorn-Umphres, a software creator and content creator in Second Life, sees pent-up adolescent anxiety behind the slurs. "You do to other people what the worst thing is that you perceive someone can do to you," she says. "Whenever you can cut someone out of a group, that's what you do. Which is why so many of the insults are about demasculinization."
That's a hard conclusion to deny. The prejudices and hatred on display over voice-chat or on message boards often reflect the prejudices of an adolescent, sexually insecure male. Thus, on Xbox Live, one of the most popular slurs is "faggot." Should a woman dare to make her presence known, the response is likely to be similarly cosmopolitan. Angela Simpson reports that "during the beta for Xbox Live it was a constant barrage of anti-girl gaming to the point where you were scared to open your mouth in a public room. ... Personally, I get more abuse for being female than a lesbian, but then my Gamertag denotes I'm a female gamer and not that I'm a lesbian."
There's no escaping the assumptions that underlie these choices of expression. The worst thing you can be called, judging by how a lot of gamers insult others, is a homosexual or a woman. The people who use these taunts may not actually hate the groups they're disparaging, but it's clear they think membership in these groups is regrettable at best. Within this subset of the gaming community, it's still wrong to be gay; being a woman is just bad luck.
In the long run, these players will either reform or find themselves marginalized by the community. Even if we don't care about political correctness (a trivializing phrase for what often should be nothing more than common courtesy), the pervasive prejudice that we find in our ranks means trouble, because it threatens the overall health of the community itself. Every few weeks, it seems there's another article forecasting the death of the hardcore market, or how the "hardcore" gamers feel abandoned by publishers. If this demographic is having trouble expanding its reach, perhaps it's time to consider the effect of its behavior. People play where they feel welcome, safe and, most of all, where they can have fun. When new players log into a round of Halo or Rainbow Six and encounter casual hate speech, can we really expect them to think the gaming community is worth joining?