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Gaming's racist and sexist personalities aren't a new threat to children

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Technology changes the fears, but not the strategies

JonTronShow/YouTube

“Do you watch PewDiePie?” I asked my oldest son. He shook his head no, but then asked why I would even bring it up.

“Because he doesn’t understand why jokes about genocide aren’t funny,” I explained. My son goes to a German language school, and this wasn’t the first time this particular topic has come up.

I don’t think PewDiePie is an anti-Semite as much as I think he’s a rich white guy who doesn’t understand that anti-Semitic humor isn’t the best way to make a point.

PewDiePie is thoughtless, and his wealth and built-in following insulates him from having to look at any of his beliefs very hard. I wouldn’t be upset if my children were fans of his, but I would try to explain why shock humor is lazy and more likely to get you in trouble than get you a laugh.

But Jon “JonTron” Jafari and Colin Moriarty bother me, even if they don’t really change how I think about parenting. Jon “JonTron” Jafari is a massively popular online personality who seems to sincerely believe in the white supremacist rhetoric he repeats online, and is comfortable defending what used to be considered hateful beliefs, and are now simply part of the daily discourse in the age of Trump’s own white supremacy.

Colin Moriarty got into “trouble” after joking that women striking for the day would lead to “peace and quiet.” The humor is that most days he’s forced to tolerate hearing women speak, and it will be nice that he doesn’t have to. He seems to see the controversy over his maintenance of the sexist status quo in gaming mostly as a career opportunity.

“To me, it’s personal freedom, responsibility, the right to succeed, and the right to fail. And the right to express yourself freely, without having to worry about being called a bigot or being called a sexist, as I was for making a silly joke,” Moriarty told Glenn Beck in a recent interview. “And I’m glad you brought that up specifically because there are so many people that play video games, there are so many people that enjoy entertainment that don’t have anyone speaking for them.”

I would quibble with the idea that no one is standing up for sexist humor in games, but let’s leave that aside for a bit. These are influential people basically arguing for backwards points of view, and they’re doing so in a sincere manner. It’s not humor being misconstrued as much as its gaming personalities arguing that sexism and white supremacy should be given a bit more respect in gaming discourse.

And you know, our collective children are out there listening. But I gotta be honest, I’m not that worried about it.

This doesn’t change anything

The current political climate seems to embolden people who used to feel uncomfortable being outwardly racist and sexist to openly espouse those beliefs, but I don’t think gaming personalities are, on the whole, doing much to harm our children. Nor should they change the way most people parent.

If you’re already paying attention to what your children are watching, and by that I mean YouTube and Netflix as well as “standard” television and what games they play, you’re ahead of the curve. Be sure to watch a few episodes if your kid is into this or that YouTube personality online, and try to keep an eye on their subscriptions and maybe do a Google search for the names of these people every now and again. But that’s really all you have to do.

Gaming has often had issues addressing racism and sexism, and it has always been important to teach your children how to interact with their media in an active and responsible way. The shift in the past year has been that some people in gaming are much more comfortable being open about their racism and sexism in the wake of Gamergate and Donald Trump, but it’s not like the issue has ever been subtle.

If you’re concerned about the news about some prominent YouTubers or gaming personalities and their movement towards or comfort with some pretty backwards belief systems, that’s natural. If that has made you more aware of what your children are watching and how they’re watching it, that’s even better. But it’s not like YouTube itself is any more or less scary than other forms of media, nor is the idea that gaming can be a dangerous place for women and anyone who isn’t a straight white male particularly new.

If gaming personalities are more comfortable openly talking about moving in the wrong direction politically, my advice would be to be more comfortable talking to your kids about sexism and racism. Explain why jokes about having to tolerate the existence of women on days they show up to work aren’t particularly funny, and how they contribute to an environment that welcomes men but treats women with skepticism or contempt.

YouTube isn’t getting more or less racist or sexist, we’re just beginning to see the response to an environment where being racist or sexist seems like a good career move for some people. If you’re scared of these spaces as a parent, don’t be. But be aware of them and pay attention to how your children interact with them.

YouTube and the world of gaming is just like everything else when it comes to being a parent: If you pay attention and speak with your children openly about the content they consume and why they like it or things they don’t understand, you’ll do fine. Technology isn’t changing how we should parent our children, it’s just making the skills you should already have, or be working on, even more important.