The lack of a basic moral standard in Twitter culture should concern all gamers. We will always have different beliefs and experiences among us, but the Golden Rule — treat everyone the way you would like to be treated — should connect everyone.
At the Eurogamer Expo, transsexual game journalist Laura Kate Dale felt “dehumanized” after a comedian hired by Microsoft referred to her as “it,” “thing” and “this one.” I do not necessarily believe the comedian, Fraser Millward, knew exactly what he was doing. I’m not sure Millward was aware that Dale is a transsexual female. Regardless, according to her, Dale was not given an opportunity to make a formal complaint or even learn the name of the comedian.
Eventually Dale learned the name of the comedian from a friend and decided to tweet the comedian’s handle to vent her frustration. As Dale has admitted, speaking up in this way had hard-hitting ramifications:
Some tweets were supportive. Some were accusations that I’d made the whole thing up. Most of them were vile messages about how I am a man and a disgusting freak who would be better off dead. The number of death threats and dehumanizing comments I received was unbelievable. Being misgendered at Eurogamer was nothing compared with my punishment for speaking up about it. This is why trans people rarely speak up when these things happen. People tracked down my phone number. Hate flooded my work inbox. I had people threatening to track me down in person and attack me. People found my old identity and began to try to publicize it. I faced the darkest aspects of the Internet just for existing and speaking up.
No matter what set of beliefs you hold, death threats and character assassination are completely unacceptable. You may very well have a problem with transsexuality. You might believe transsexuals are freaks who need to get their heads on straight. But personal beliefs do not justify rudeness, harassment or hatred toward transsexuals.
The problem is that Twitter encourages unfair judgment. You can even think about it from the comedian’s standpoint. Millward has probably received another unfair brand of judgment. My sympathy for Millward can only go so far, however. After all, I’m guessing Millward is a straight white male. The biggest thing we straight white males have to worry about is our mouths. I learned this recently when I was called an advocate for rape on Twitter within an hour of publishing a satirical article that I thought was obviously taking the piss.
Since Twitter works as kind of a thought reader, it almost seems to force judgment of the worst kind. It’s perfectly natural for humans to have unsavory or unfair thoughts about any number of subjects, but Twitter culture exploits this idea. The fact that you only have limited characters for a tweet can result in harsh and blanket statements about people. This judgment can be contagious, too. People draw lines in the sand with Twitter, and you might feel compelled to take a side.
It’s not surprising Dale found herself in the middle of a postmodern nightmare. Reinforced by malignant Twitter (Internet) culture, many gamers are only concerned with their own satisfaction and feelings. Even more problematic, the death threats to Dale probably represent the sentiments of many non-gamers. Hatred is much easier to verbalize when you know you have plenty of cultural support.
The social fear and embarrassment that transsexuals face is not something we should take lightly. Last night I started playing a game called Grand Titons developed by Devi Ever. Grand Titons is a tough, old-school shooter that uses simple visual ideas to illustrate a need for change and escape. Your character is naked throughout the game. You start with (pixel) male genitals. You can jump, but your head hits the ceiling because you have little room to maneuver. As you progress, your character’s visage and body become more feminine, but you still have to hide for cover from enemies. The game has rich subtext that has given me a better, though still limited, sense of what transsexuality might feel like in a social context.
While a game like Grand Titons offers an opportunity to learn, I realize everyone may not want to sympathize with transsexuals for different reasons, which brings us back to the Golden Rule. I don’t care if you believe in the Bible or not. For obvious reasons, the phrase “Judge not lest ye be judged” is something everyone should take seriously in the Twitter world.