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Exclusionary Language in Mainstream Game Blogs

Gaming communities are not well known for their inclusiveness, but how bad are they really? Which of the major sites are doing better or worse? Those are big questions to fully tackle, so I can only scratch the surface a little. You might call this a (very) rough pilot study about non-inclusive language in mainstream game blogs.

I looked through posts from this year at Joystiq and Kotaku. I was planning to analyse Destructoid too, but their search functions are inadequate for the purpose. From what I could see Destructoid are a pretty bad offender though. They sometimes excuse language in the name of satire (e.g., Gears of War is Gay). Satire can be used to reclaim language and highlight the ridiculousness of its use, but in these cases I don't think it's very clever or effective.

Posts from this year at Kotaku and Joystiq were searched for any instances of 'gay', 'retard/ed', or 'lame' used as insults or indicators of inferior quality. Post content, title, and image captions were all considered. Comments were not searched, though I would expect them to paint a much worse picture. Double-up posts were also excluded.

I found no instances of pejorative use of 'gay' or 'retarded' at Joystiq this year, but did find two articles using 'lame' problematically.

Kotaku avoided blatant misuse of 'gay', but did skirt the surface of correctness a couple of times with their continued interest in the letters to "Ur Mr. Gay" visible on the Mario Galaxy cover art, as well as a dubious reference to Brokeback Mountain in their discussion of racial diversity in the Prince of Persia movie. That article will leave a bad taste in the mouth for a few reasons.

When it comes to 'lame', Kotaku is far less restrained. Twenty-five articles from this year were identified containing clear instances of lame used as a pejorative. Some were reader reviews, but these by no means dominated the list. An additional two articles included lame within quotes, which I don't attribute to the authors, but I do still consider them borderline cases.

I found 3.5 instances of retard/ed as an insult from Kotaku this year. One of these was from a reader review from someone blatantly trying to be Yahtzee by describing the AI in Battlefield Bad Company 2 as "pants-on-head retarded". The 0.5 comes from an article where it was unclear whether the author was referring to an actual retarded man, or just a man they wanted to insult.

This is a very limited look at the issue. I've a larger-than-intended focus on Kotaku, and only looked at a couple of commonly-used exclusionary terms. Probably rather obviously, I began this time-wasting little exercise with a certain idea in mind which I wanted to confirm. That is, that there has been at least some progress towards communities rejecting homophobic language, but there is a much longer way to go for something like the ableist use of 'lame'. Retarded probably falls somewhere in the middle in terms of community acceptance vs. rejecting it as inappropriate.

Words are powerful and important. They are also wonderfully diverse, making these non-inclusive phrases blatantly unnecessary. We can do better.

Further reading:
Addressing ableist language (Feministe)
Another reason to avoid exclusionary language (This Ain't Livin')