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Racism in Sports Games: Moderation Must Be Improved

Operation Sports

Racism in Sports Games: Moderation Must Be Improved

Sports video games and how they interact with the US and global discourse right now around Black Lives Matter, systemic racism and police brutality are not high on the list of priorities at this exact moment. However, we have seen in the last week how many big corporations and folks who generally would not speak out on such issues are finding their voices right now in an effort to promote change and support allies.

From my perspective, this is a turning point for the discourse in a way that feels very different from the talks that took place around Ferguson, Colin Kaepernick or any number of other moments you want to point to in recent history. The talks are larger in scope, the actions are more pronounced, and the “public relations” and “public approval” aspect of these discussions are now leaning in a direction that differs from the past. And while it shouldn’t matter how popular something like this is in order to create changes, it is still part of how those changes take root in society. If an issue is so polarized that a person or entity can say, “well, clearly this is a split issue so I don’t need to do anything,” then it does generally mean progress will be ignored, slowed or halted.

With that in mind, I was sent an article today from The Faceoff Circle (warning: racist examples are shown here) that details a lot of the racist and generally bigoted team names and player names you run into in the EASHL within NHL 20. To be clear, this is not a new issue in the EA NHL series, or any online sports game for that matter. I have played EASHL for many years, and there is an abundance of terrible stuff you will see if you play often enough. This did get some extra attention with NHL 20 because Thatcher Demko, a goaltender on the Vancouver Canucks, was streaming when he ran into some racist names. The story was then picked up by some Canadian outlets and it led to this response from an EA spokesperson.

“We do not tolerate racist or derogatory language in our games. NHL 20 uses profanity filters that remove inappropriate language. And we also take swift action to remove any derogatory or offensive slang that we find, or is reported. We’re always looking at ways we can improve these filters and our tools, so we can ensure our game is an inclusive place,” the spokesman said via email.

“Unfortunately, there are instances like this where players are able to get around the filters in the game. We immediately investigated this instance when it was reported and we have taken the action to ban the player.”

EA has been vocal this week discussing how they want to improve this environment both within the company and supporting those outside of it:

With that in mind, I’m not specifically writing this to blast EA for allowing racism to be in these games. That being said, being about change means also looking at the content you allow to make it into your games. As of now, the report features and profanity filters in EA NHL are not good enough. On top of that, as is pointed out by Jeff Veillette in the The Faceoff Circle article I previously mentioned, there is not much of a moderation team in place to deal with these reports. In other words, the “swift action” to remove racism from these games is generally not very swift at all right now — at least from my perspective.

Warning: racist example of what I’m talking about below.

racism in sports games

This goes beyond EA NHL as well. There are various racially charged names, logos and teams I’ll run into within MLB The Show and its Diamond Dynasty mode. The same is true for community content in NBA 2K, and just about any other sports game with community creations in it. Created content within these games has been incredible in terms of what it does for custom rosters, sliders and artwork, but it also means these games are open to the same sort of ugliness that can tarnish them and make communities feel less accepted welcomed.

The moderation tools in some sports games are better than others, but the point is it never really feels like anything changes, and I do think part of that has to do with the feedback systems in place. You never know if a report you made led to a change. It also goes beyond the games themselves to Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. If we never know if the reports we send are being dealt with one way or another, then what’s the incentive to continue to report them and how do we know we’re not just screaming into the void?

Games are global, and so you have communities who are not in the same place as the US in terms of where they are right now in these discussions. There are various other variables and factors that make it somewhat hard to pinpoint the best course of action, but the point with games is about safety and acceptance. If you’re a person of a particular race, gender or sexuality and see bigoted elements directed at you, why would you want to play that game again? Simply saying “ignore it” is not a good enough answer.

I don’t think anyone expects racism or hate to vanish if moderation and reporting systems improve in sports games, but that doesn’t mean you don’t try. For example, Infinity Ward is going to try and up their moderation moving forward.

Does this mean there will be people who react and try to DDoS servers or figure out new ways through filters “for the lolz” and to show how edgy they are? Sure, but that comes with the territory with games and, again, it doesn’t mean you don’t try. Video games have a beautiful way of bringing people together, but Gamergate and the like also show how often video games can come up short in this space. Video games and entertainment as a whole are just one space where we all have to do better and be better.

I do think EA, 2K — and by extension Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo — and other sports game developers and companies will try to improve from here, but I do think it starts first and foremost with moderation. Being responsible for content that makes it into the games they create is the first step in improving the environment we all choose to spend time with during our daily lives.


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  1. I agree wholeheartedly with the message of this article, but I strongly disagree with the choice of image accompanying the piece. I understand the temptation to provide an example, and anyone who has gamed online knows how tragically widespread these examples are, but examples (and especially those presented before any context is established) often do more harm than good. Regardless of the intent behind the example, it gives a wide platform to the original hateful idea, and it subjects your Black readers to having to see and be reminded of those ideas. I would suggest you replace the image with one that won’t immediately subject Black readers to confronting examples of hate (it’s not their responsibility to confront it), and if you choose to provide examples put them farther down the article with an appropriate disclaimer.
    Thank you for being responsive to the feedback.
    And again, I think this is overall a really important piece. We all have to use our platforms to influence positive change and I think this article is a great example of what that looks like. I hope other outlets follow your lead and start addressing racism within their realms, and calling out the organizations who have the power to do something about it.
    Look, I hate to be the fuddy-duddy curmudgeon here, but I play games to get away from stuff like this.
    Maybe if EA and the rest weren't pushing so much of the flashy new content online, while leaving offline modes to rot, we might not be seeing so much of this.  You think?
    Yes, I know, improving offline modes would mean actually needing creative thinking on the developer side, instead of farming it off on the community. 
    But if community based content can be so easily turned to just about any ignoble purpose, then maybe it's time for the industry at large to start refocusing on offline content.
    LoadStar this  has nothing to do with online offline. This has everything to do with targeted hate from a group with a lack of accountability from the community and the gaming industry to police this.
    While you may not play online, I do from time to time. I’ve never understood some of the rhetoric. I have reported people for stuff. At the end of the day, everyone should be provided the same decent gaming experience online for the game they want to play.  Not be called the N word over and over which I have had in lobbies. I’m not black however a guy I play with has hood in his name and gets it. And when you hit that person they don’t stop.  
    Chase thank you for bringing this to light. I didn’t realize that existed in NHL. Ooof. We need to just be better overall. White, black, guy, girl, keep the trash talk about the game. Keep the racist phrases out. Work together in this to provide the best community. 
    Wow! My post was deleted. Operation Sports. Why have a comments section if you only want like minded people? Just tell me if you want hive minded people.

    (The post was deleted because you said it was a slippery slope to ban blatantly racist things because any censorship is bad censorship, and instead your opinion was just "log out" so yeah. If deleting something like that means this is now a hive mind then fair enough.)
    “Washington Redskins”. That phrase should incite way more anger than immature 12-year-olds spewing nonsense online. The fact that it’s 2020 and there’s still a football team with a blatantly racist team nickname is just unbelievable to me. I love how we completely ignore certain types of racism, while being outraged by other occurrences. 
    “Washington Redskins”. That phrase should incite way more anger than immature 12-year-olds spewing nonsense online. The fact that it’s 2020 and there’s still a football team with a blatantly racist team nickname is just unbelievable to me. I love how we completely ignore certain types of racism, while being outraged by other occurrences.*

    While I agree with the general sentiment, this is a bit of "whataboutism" in that the Washington team name is not something we have as much control over curtailing within the community itself. The NFL and Dan Snyder need to figure that out, and public pressure can continue to be placed there to get the name changed, but that is an official team and trademark that has different legal elements to it than what I wrote about here.
    I personally only put Washington or Washington DC football team in any article I write or edit that goes up on the site, but it's not specifically the same sort of moderation issue. Other racist names and such for Native Americans/American Indians should be moderated with the same focus within the community, but the official NFL team name is a thornier legal issue.
    I have been a member of this community for 16 years. Any talk of race has been forbidden here since I joined in 2004. that way please.

    Crimson, I get what you're saying, but I have been a member of this community for 17 years, and it is forbidden except in specific situations, which have come up before this and have led to discussions before as well in very specific spots like this. I promise the site won't self-destruct due to this one specific discussion taking place in this one specific spot.
    “Washington Redskins”. That phrase should incite way more anger than immature 12-year-olds spewing nonsense online. The fact that it’s 2020 and there’s still a football team with a blatantly racist team nickname is just unbelievable to me. I love how we completely ignore certain types of racism, while being outraged by other occurrences.*
    the first thing that needs to happen is for the NFL to force out Dan Snyder, not because he wants to retain the team name but because he is a blight on a once proud and winning franchise. if/when that ever happens, I wonder if it would be enough of a compromise to change the name to the Skins, or to the Reds. that should at least be less offensive than Washington Bullets or Washington Senators.
    I'd also like to see Cleveland revert to being the Naps, or the possibly the Browns. I always liked how New York had a baseball and football Giants and St. Louis had a baseball and football Cardinals. maybe the NFL Washington football club could even become the Washington Nationals.
    As for other types of racism in sports games, I dont encounter it because I dont play online. and if I did I especially wouldn't play against/with people I wasn't at least somewhat familiar with.
    Sports games and by extension sports game boards should not be a safe space for racists. You should not be able to escape "politics" through sports. For too long organizations like the NFL and EA sports have turned a blind eye to their racist fan-base and exploited black people and expected them to suffer in silence less they upset the user base. This can't be accepted anymore.
    if this issue really takes a hold, I can even see sports video game companies keeping the Redskins and Indians names out of their game.

    As someone with a Native background, (Two of my great grandmas were 100%) the Redskins/Indians thing never bothered me. Just was a name of a team. I don’t speak for everyone though. I can only share my feeling.
    The lack of moderators have stopped me from playing online. From "shock-value" screen names to the absolute disgusting "trash talk," it seems a lot of people have lost any sense of decency. And respect.
    I started reporting gamers, but I found response times and the lack of bans very disappointing. I even took off the headset just to stop listening to the non-sense.
    Today, I only game online with true friends and not some random people. Even though it doesn't happen very often, it provides something online gaming should be: fun.
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