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The fighting game community desperately wants a new image, but the bigots have the loudest voice

The fighting game community desperately wants a new image, but the bigots have the loudest voice

For the last year, the fighting game community has been struggling with a reputation problem. Ever since the dreaded Cross Assault sexual harrassment scandal became one of the FGC's most public moments, the members of gaming's most fascinating community have been faced with a problem: how to show people why they love the community they hold dear when most of the public-facing news items are embarrassments.

There's a good reason why the FGC has a bad reputation in the wider video game industry. It's based in truth, even if the extent to which it is extended to the entire FGC is unfair. Now, after more high-profile problems, many within the community are acknowledging the problem and looking for solutions.

Hate speech

“[Name unclear] sucks dick, I seen it, he said he wanted to suck my dick, I said 'yo B, I don't swing that way,' he's like 'I like the way you say my name,' and I'm like 'ahhh man you a fruitcake' I don't swing that way. And I pushed him down some stairs,” said a commentator during the pre-match mic-check of an episode of Cross Counter Live that I tuned in to last week. The commentator's face wasn't on screen at the time so I wasn't able to definitively identify who was speaking.

The video is still up on the Twitch stream (this part begins just 50 seconds into the show.) The episode hadn't started yet and someone had turned on the microphone on the Twitch stream by mistake and the stream's several hundred early-arriving viewers were unfortunate enough to have to listen one of the casters spouting a “joke” about pushing a gay person down a flight of stairs followed by his partner making jerk-off jokes.

Many a “O.O” appeared in the chat log simultaneously. It can't really all be chalked up to a mistake though. Later on during a segment on Injustice the casters were commentating a match between Solomon Grundy and the female character Raven, and from that same voice spouted a stream of: “bitch,” “bitch,” “bitch,” “hoe,” “slap that hoe,” “get outta here hoe” all in a span of minutes.

Later on that week, another stream ran into trouble offending viewers again. 

“It was coming from a show that I choose to not name because I do not want to draw any attention to its contents,” said Jon Chinnery, a crew member of the Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament series, and a moderator for several prominent fighting game streams. “They played an exceptionally vile music video slandering the tournament organizer of The Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament 9: Guts by making exceptionally hateful comparisons toward the homosexual and transsexual communities. A few of us who are trying to lead the community toward a more unified and welcoming atmosphere found the video disgusting and publicly denounced the video and the show.”

Several prominent FGC members did not respond to interview requests, and two other interviews were canceled.

The brighter side of the community

When I emailed with Chinnery he was adamant that these events like the ones described above are exceptions in the fighting game scene and do not represent the experience he has had over the past fifteen years.

“We've had players lose their homes, community members die, players' pets need surgery, and young people need scholarships,” he said. “We as a community have funded all of these things on our own because we want our own to grow and survive.”

Chinnery said that the side of the FGC that doesn't get reported on is exceedingly kind, and diverse. At least, diverse compared to other competitive video game scenes.

“Newsflash for anyone who doesn't know,” he said. “One of the top Street Fighter players is gay, one of the top Soul Calibur players is a woman, and one of the top Guilty Gear players is a transsexual. What other community has that kind of diversity? We shouldn't be running from it. We should be celebrating it! Shout it from the very depths of our organized community to the very pillars of the corporate atmosphere that is eSports.”

Back to the darker side

The double hate speech events weren't the only public problems for the FGC last week. Player Miranda Pakozdi, the Street Fighter X Tekken fighter who was the subject of the infamous Cross Assault harassment, posted a short article detailing some of the things she has to put up with on a daily basis as a prominent woman in the FGC.

“Some examples are: people who message me every day on Facebook despite me NEVER RESPONDING (take a hint), people messaging me with inappropriate/personal requests or questions, and (a recent thing) dick pictures,” she wrote.

A couple days later, IPlayWinner.com writer Paul Dzuiba posted a scathing piece lambasting the fighting game community for being hostile to new players and restricting the growth of their own scene.

“We largely shunned new players who did not immediately 'get' what the community was about, brushing them off if not treating them with downright hostility for not knowing things like 'footsies' and neutral game,” wrote Dziuba. “These players saw people not too much older than them and looked for help, and we shit on them. In doing so we did a great disservice to ourselves and the scene.”

Back to the brighter side

The bright spot of this torrent of bad news is that it has brought a number of voices in the community to call for an increase in professionalism and maturity. The crises started a conversation among several prominent people in the FGC vocalizing a desire to move things forward and get beyond the childish attacks and name-calling.

“Basically, what it all amounts to is that for our scene to grow, people need to realize we all NEED TO GROW THE F UP,” wrote James Chen, a prominent caster, on Twitter.

“The only way we can be a proper scene is if we start realizing that mature adults are needed to accomplish that,” he continued.

And a chorus of others chimed in as well, including long-time competitor Alex Valle and co-founder of the popular Level|Up fighting game stream Andy Jay Papa among others, in a wide-ranging debate (warning: next two links are vulgar) that lasted for days on end. The encouraging consensus was that all of this was completely unacceptable, and these sorts of problems are precisely what has kept fighting games from joining the ranks of StarCraft 2, Dota 2, and League of Legends among the most popular competitive video games.

“There's still a prevalent culture of racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia in all gaming communities,” said Chinnery. “While fighting games tend to be the most racially diverse and tolerant communities in gaming, we still have glaring issues with sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. As we continue to grow in numbers and popularity, we are seeing more women and LGBT members enter our fold. While they may tolerate the culture as going with the territory, many of us find that we must be more welcoming to them in order to further grow as a community.”

Can change wait?

Unfortunately, the conversation on this issue appears to have died out without any consensus about how to attack this issue. It's great to have respected community leaders say in unequivocal terms that certain behaviors are unacceptable. It sets the right precedent for the next generation. But can change wait for the next generation?

The fighting game community has a derisive term for the sorts of people who act out and give their community a bad name, “09ers.” It refers to 2009, the year that Street Fighter 4 was released and introduced tens of thousands of new faces and personalities to the scene. The idea is that the FGC progresses in stages and people need time to mature and appreciate the community. The trouble is that one of the largest sub-segments of players hasn't made it there yet.

Many of the veterans have though, and therein lies the hope for the FGC. Experienced leaders like Valle are calling for a more business-like approach to organizing the FGC, and casters James Chen and David “UltraDavid” Graham have reportedly banned the word “rape” as a verb in their casts. The Guilty Gear player Adelheid Stark called for the community to stop using slurs.

This week, after the dust had settled from the big debate, I got to witness the bright side of the FGC first hand. Chinnery's cat needed an operation to fix an infection. Out of options for paying for the surgery after losing his job, he took to Twitter to ask the community for help. Chinnery is not a big name in the FGC, but it didn't matter. Within hours he'd raised the hundreds of dollars needed for the operation.

If the FGC is going to thrive, this is the face it needs to show to the outside world, one of unity and blind friendship, rather than waiting for another bigot to hijack the message.