No, it's not just your imagination — self-identified "gamers" are indeed more racist and sexist than the general populace. But now there's science backing up the obvious.
"When the gamer identity is very core to who you are as a person, that seems to reflect what we call toxic gamer culture, tends to reflect more exclusion than inclusion — so things like racism and sexism and misogyny," Rachel Kowert, the research director at the nonprofit Take This, which provides mental health services to the gaming industry, told Vice in an interview about her organization's research.
Published in the journal Frontiers in Communication, Kowert and her team's paper builds on three studies they conducted that looked into the beliefs of hundreds of self-described gamers.
"We have individual identities and social identities. So I am Rachel, I am a female, and I'm a gamer. I love The Witcher. These are my social identities and are separate," the Canada-based researcher told Vice. "Identity fusion is when the social identity, the individual identity, fuses together and you can't tear them apart… The way in which fusion is shown to develop makes them more susceptible to more extreme behaviors."
Similarly to soldiers or gang members, she said, it can become difficult to extricate the social identity from an individual's self-identification — and once that process occurs, people who've gone through identity fusion become more susceptible to "extreme pro-group behavior," Kowert said.
For many who identify themselves as gamers and feel left out of other in-groups, the sense of community is, as the researchers' wrote in their paper, "a double-edged sword." While they experience the positive social aspects of belonging to a group, the gamers surveyed by Kowert et al. are also exposed to lots of hate speech and other kinds of toxicity that non-gamers would likely recognize from sites like Reddit and 4chan.
"In the worst-case scenario," the paper's authors wrote, "gamers may be lured into embracing extremist beliefs that lead them down the path to radicalization."
To see how different content affects gamers' social attitudes, the study focused specifically on those who play "Call of Duty" and others who play "Minecraft" — and unsurprisingly found that the "Call of Duty" crowd tended to be more hateful than their blocky counterparts.
"This can vary across communities depending on what kind of people that you are spending a lot of your time with," Kowert told Vice. "I don't think it's necessarily about content but about the community in which you're being immersed."
The researcher-cum-gaming-enthusiast noted that further study on this phenomenon needs to be conducted to better understand it, and cautioned that too much shouldn't be read into their findings, too.
"I think that games are wonderful places that have more positive things to offer than negative things across the board," she concluded. "I think it's important that we have the conversation that games are being leveraged in this way, because we're not having that conversation, and therefore we can't mitigate it if we don't have the conversation."
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