Felix Kjellberg – better known as PewDiePie – has used a racial slur during a livestream. He was surprised by another player in a game of PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS, and responded by calling his opponent the n-word, along with several other expletives (most starting with f—).
It was an instantaneous response for him. He used the word – a word that everyone knows is offensive – without thinking. As Ian Miles Cheong complained on Twitter, it was a word that he used in a ‘heated gaming moment’. And that’s a problem. He later went on to say:
No, I’m not going to stop ‘freaking out’ about this.
And yes, I am going to write one of the (probably greater than 10) articles about this.
You don’t have to play an online game for long before you find people using slurs like this without thought – not only as exclamations but to actively refer to one another. Gaming communities are filled with loaded insults, equating the marginalised with the negative. The people who claim there is nothing wrong with the current amount of diversity in games are often the same people stringing together these slurs while playing online shooters, telling us that we just shouldn’t get offended so easily.
When race, culture, gender, sexuality, and disability are used as insults, minority groups are told that they are not welcome. And this isn’t an accident. The toxicity in gaming culture is designed to keep people out.
It’s bad enough when the people perpetuating this culture are random dudes on the internet; it’s significantly worse when it’s Felix, a man with 57-million YouTube subscribers (many of whom are children or teenagers). If he accidentally lets language like this ‘slip’ during a livestream, it makes me wonder how much similar content he edits out of his other videos.
Felix has a responsibility to be better than this, although many of his supporters disagree: this morning, Twitter was filled with people claiming that he can do whatever he likes because he doesn’t even work in the games industry. This is a ridiculous misconception. A man who makes all of his money streaming games and greatly influencing consumers is absolutely working in the games industry. This is his job, and he as a responsibility to do it well. He failed to do so today.
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And this isn’t the first time. In February, Felix was dropped by Disney and YouTube for his anti-Semitic rhetoric. Similarly, for his most recent offense, Sean Vanaman – co-founder of Campo Santo, creators of Firewatch – has stated the company’s intention to file a DMCA takedown of all Firewatch content, and any of their future releases, on Felix’s YouTube channel. Sean is pushing for developers to acknowledge that they have been complicit in profiting from Felix’s inappropriate behaviour, and to cut Felix off from the content that made him a millionaire.
These consequences are vital. If we are ever going to improve video game culture, it’s important that people understand that this behaviour is not acceptable and will be punished. We need to be better than this.