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International conference examines, hopes to combat in-game hate speech

This week a group of game makers, game players and academics are gathering in Budapest to discuss and work towards solving the growing problem of hate speech within video gaming communities.

The GameOver Hate conference hopes to help establish recommendations for the development of better online gaming communities in an effort to fix what the organizers say are becoming "toxic and dangerous environments" where "sexist, racism, general bigotry and abuse may flourish without control."

The week-long international conference was organized by the Centre for Intercultural Dialogue and Integration and the Youth Department of the Council of Europe as part of a larger, years-long international campaign against online hate speech.

The gathering is the brainchild of Martin Fischer and David Pinto.

"We were both already working on and interested in issues related to the internet, online participation and human rights," Pinto said. "Plus, we were also both massive gaming geeks. One night we were playing Guild Wars 2 together and as a joke we started imagining an international conference devoted to promoting online respect, diversity and inclusiveness in video games.

"We guessed that even though there were a lot of efforts from institutions like the Council of Europe into understanding online realities and promoting online respect and diversity, none of that was even remotely addressing or engaging with the gaming communities. Communities that we knew, were part of and understood how relevant they were for today's youth (and general online population). We knew that gamers were not a niche market anymore, even though most human rights institutions still seem to think so. And so we eventually we realized it was actually a pretty interesting and relevant idea and decided to start working on it."

Pinto said that on a personal level there are two things about this movement to fight in-game hate speech that resonated with him.

"The first one is the possibility to bring new technologies, new internet possibilities and new media platforms into the contemporary human rights work," he said. "The second part is related to youth and internet culture. As I usually say: 'We're not slaves to the internet.' I believe that we have the power to shape our online environments into something that suits our needs and that is healthier, more inclusive and friendlier for everyone. A lot of young people today (and people in general) aren't attracted to human rights work, human rights initiatives, or general activism because it's generally not speaking their language. It's not part of their (online) environments, it's not manifesting itself relevantly in their social platforms and it's not part of their culture.

"But games are relevant today. And working for respect, inclusiveness and diversity is important. Joining these two things together is something I find really interesting and very much urgent for our current (and future) generations."

The hope is that the conference will help create ambassadors to the wider world of online gaming, people who have studied and understand hateful behaviors in this specific community and can proactively work to change them.

Pinto said that solutions to the problem would likely include a no-tolerance approach to harassment and real-world consequences when things get too out of hand.

"I think there will always be some sort of conflict and challenges when a big number of people interact with each other online," he said. "That being said, there are some ways to minimize the worst of its manifestations.

"And as we focus more on this problem and talk more about it, I think we'll getter better at dealing with it. If we pay attention."

Good Game is an internationally syndicated weekly news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Brian Crecente is a founding News Editor of Polygon.

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