When will gaming take its queer players seriously?

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There’s no room for homophobic slurs in gaming, despite what men like Deadmau5 excuse.

Joel Thomas “Deadmau5” Zimmerman is at it again. While playing PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds with streamer SmaceTRON this week, Deadmau5 blew up at a supposed “stream sniper,” or a player who stalks a streamer in order to kill them in-game. Instead of handling the situation like the 38-year-old that he is, Deadmau5 said “is that some fucking cocksucking stream sniper fag?” on the stream, according to Kotaku Australia. Deadmau5 was suspended afterward by Twitch, leading him to remove his channel.

In a reportedly deleted Reddit comment, Deadmau5 explained why. And for the record, he outright refused to apologize.

“im not going to stand for twitch’s double standard when it comes to censoring and suspending me for harmless shit,” Deadmau5 wrote in his deleted comment, according to a screengrab from esports consultant Rod “Slasher” Breslau. “the internet is just basically full of shit for the most part…. and while what i said was generally toxic as fuck, and not an ideology i hold closely to my moral standing by a fuckin longshot […] it wasnt ‘directed at an entire group of people who have a sexual orientation that differs from my own’ fuck off with that shit.”

Deadmau5 claims he used the word “fag” in “the heat of the moment.” But it’s incredibly suspicious that Deadmau5 would let a homophobic slur slip out of his mouth, as “fag” is a homophobic slur regardless of its context. When a straight person calls another person a “fag,” it’s implying that there’s something wrong with being queer. In this case, Deadmau5 is saying that stalking someone on a stream is just as bad as being gay. For queer gamers, it’s the kind of comment that can make us feel worthless and inhuman, and like we don’t belong in gaming.

This nuance was lost on Slasher, who criticized Deadmau5’s use of the slur but ultimately agreed that the EDM musician shouldn’t be punished by Twitch. Like Deadmau5’s own Reddit comment, he concluded that banning someone from Twitch for using the term “fag” is equivalent to censorship.

“Should deadmau5 be calling people f*gs in games? No,” Slasher tweeted late Tuesday night. “Should deadmau5 be banned from Twitch given the context and intent? I’d say also no. Twitch, not Twitter or YouTube, is quickly becoming the battleground platform for what can or cannot be said.”

Queer Twitter users weren’t having it, and many quickly criticized Slasher for his argument. Nico Deyo, a queer games journalist and co-worker of mine at Fanbyte, told the Daily Dot it was an “erroneous take on the actual problem” that “makes me think he’s either dogwhistling or wildly misinformed as to what the circumstances are.

“By obscuring the actual problem (using a homophobic slur and a punishment being meted out), he’s not only downplaying what that word means and why there are repercussions (which admittedly, he should know given he censored the word himself), but also making it clear that he doesn’t feel that this is a safety issue and a gatekeeping issue,” Deyo told me over Discord. “Hostile, toxic language that uses pointed slurs do a real harm to make the space unsafe for marginalized people and normalizes institutional violence present in those communities.”

This is particularly troubling because Slasher has defended Deadmau5’s derogatory jokes against the queer community in the past. In fact, I was caught up in a fight with Slasher just a few months ago.

After Deadmau5 made a homophobic oral sex joke and suggested that “women don’t [possess] penises” in October, I penned a viral tweet calling out Deadmau5 for his homophobia and transphobia. Slasher, who is an established professional in the esports field with over 80,000 followers, stepped into the thread and proceeded to talk over me, stressing Deadmau5 “is not homophobic/transphobic,” and that he was happy to “jump on board the irrelevancy train” if Deadmau5’s homophobia and transphobia made him “irrelevant.”

“[Slasher is] allowed to say whatever he wants, okay, fine, but yeah, it’s the fact that he has a vocal, visible position in the community is ultimately what’s going to matter,” Deyo told me. “He has an awful lot to say that makes it hard for anyone to respond to without getting harassed or silenced or generally ignored. I keep trying to say this a lot myself and yet he still gets passed around/reported on. It’s wild.”

https://twitter.com/SpaceDoctorPhD/status/1095653906808487936

https://twitter.com/ChosenOfAshurha/status/1095635359835279360

To Slasher’s credit, after reading through replies, quote tweets, and messages on the incident, he apologized, saying “i generally agree this is a bad take on the situation, so my bad.” Five minutes later, he personally reached out to me over DM after I had quote tweeted him this morning. When I asked him to comment, Slasher stressed that he refuses to change his opinion “purely based on the number of messages I get or to be swayed to the ‘majority of a current discussion,” but he does listen to marginalized, affected communities.

“So in this particular case I took the most feedback in from those who are gay and identify with the LGBTQ community as those people are the most affected by this,” Slasher told me over Twitter DM. “And most of what I heard is that while they are also concerned about Twitch’s moderation policies being all over the place, this is one of the better decisions Twitch has made and least controversial. So I took those messages to heart.”

As for some of the power dynamics at play on social media, he agrees that people with a high number of followers or fans have an “elevated responsibility,” as do those that are tweeting or posting about someone “with a smaller platform than you, or those who are marginalized, i.e.: people of color, women, LGBTQ, etc.” In his case, he’s comfortable calling out and tagging bigger figures but says he tries to exclude tags or names of people with a smaller following.

“As someone who knows [Deadmau5] in person—and admittedly I am biased on this—I firmly believe he is not homophobic or transphobic, which I believe is very similar to the tweets I sent you during that time,” Slasher said to me, referring to our fight in October. “I still hold that stance, but I understand that it doesn’t really matter here and the speech itself should be denounced for the betterment of everyone and especially those most affected.”

Slasher says he ultimately has legitimate grievances with the way Twitch handles terms of service issues, what he says this is really all about, saying Twitch is inconsistent and too arbitrary in how it dishes punishments.

Slasher and Deadmau5 aren’t authorities on what is or isn’t homophobic. Queer gamers are, and Slasher admitted just as much to me over Twitter. To his credit, it’s good that Slasher listened and backed down. But there’s a reason why queer gamers criticized him. LGBTQ developers and players are regularly silenced by straight people within the community, who act as gatekeepers on everything from queer representation to online harassment in games. Sometimes it’s through bad takes. Other times, it’s through harassment.

Either way, it can feel like being a stranger in your own home.

Game developer Penelope Evans, an industry colleague and friend who is a lesbian interactive fiction writer and game developer, explained to me that she’s had “a really mixed experience” with the gaming community overall. In one case, Evans was working on a project with Humble, the team behind the Humble Store and Humble Monthly, when Humble wanted to write a tweet about the queer and trans game developers behind her team’s project. After the tweet went live, Twitter users responded with what Evans describes as “a healthy sort of ordinary online hatred.” Some even threatened to outright unsubscribe from Humble Monthly because a queer team was making a queer game.

“I didn’t want to engage with any of these complaints—I was upset and angry, but this was my professional web existence, not something I could delete or pull back from easily,” Evans explained to me over Twitter DM. “Before most of my experiences with sexism and homophobia happened in online gaming spaces—where I was free to disconnect or express my anger. I just wanted to recede from this.”

That “healthy sort of ordinary online hatred” can have real, devastating effects. When the upcoming adult video game Huniepop 2 introduced a girl that “has a dick” named Polly Bendelson, her introduction caused “a very split reaction” that developer Ryan Koons “honest to god, did not expect,” as he shared on Twitter. But instead of taking a step back and letting trans gamers lead Koons through the controversy, he blundered through the backlash.

First, Koons clarified that Polly was “trans” and called her “biological male” in a deleted tweet, the latter of which left a bad taste in many trans gamers’ mouths. But as straight men continued to criticize Polly’s introduction as a trans character, Koons decided he would let players “be able to choose Polly’s gender” so fans could either enjoy her “as a trans girl” or as “a natural born lady just like the rest of the cast.” Koons ultimately removed any reference to Polly being trans, later explaining that he called Polly trans out of “ignorance.”

The entire controversy devastated trans players, who went from unexpected trans representation in an erotic video game to a character built entirely around a fetish for a “girl with a dick,” one that players could substitute with a vagina anyway if they were too skeeved out by the idea of a woman with a penis.

“I was really excited to see trans representation. I went and told pretty much everyone I know online,” Yori Yoriko, a trans woman writer and streamer, told Koons. “Really disappointing and feels kind of like a cop-out. Deflating is the only way I can describe it. I guess it’s better than nothing but eh, still feels pretty unpleasant.”

For the record, the change all came down to customers’ complaints. In a straw poll hosted by Koons before the genital option was added, 43 percent of respondents wanted to have the ability to skip Polly in her entirety. It’s as if straight men didn’t want to tackle their own insecurities about trans bodies and trans sexuality, so instead of telling his player base to just deal with it, Koons erased any references to Polly being trans. In other words, Huniepop 2 took away an explicitly trans character from trans women in order to appease cis men that want to buy his game.

Slasher isn’t Koons; he’s clearly listening to feedback from his critics. After all, he owned up to his mistake. But Huniepop 2‘s disastrous trans character controversy highlights the long-term damage that happens in the gaming community when straight folks talk over queer gamers. It can silence our voices, erase our needs, and destroy potential representation—not to mention, homophobia can snowball if left unchecked.

“Allowing people to remain on Twitch after using hate speech injures people directly,” Evans told me. “I think there should be concrete consequences for hate speech—which adult men don’t use by accident. They just don’t.”

Ana Valens

Ana Valens

Ana Valens is a reporter specializing in online queer communities, marginalized identities, and adult content creation. She is Daily Dot's Trans/Sex columnist. Her work has appeared at Waypoint, Truthout, Bitch Media, Kill Screen, Rolling Stone's Glixel, and the Toast. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.