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I-Team: Is online gaming making your child racist?

Is online gaming making your child racist? We take a look in the I-Team special report, 'Recruiting Racism.'

The Rev. Nathan Dennison is a self-proclaimed online gamer. Plugging in and playing away can be relaxing, but what Dannison has heard through his television is alarming.

“I have heard some racist stuff come out of the mouths of kids. Voices that sound like they're 10, 11 years old and I want to know--where did you get that? Who taught you that?” said Dannison, senior pastor of Kalamazoo’s First Congregational Church.

“I heard a student say recently to another student, Deus Vault, which is a Latin term. I was like wow, I studied Latin in seminary and I thought where are you getting this Latin from?” said Dannison. “I looked it up. It's from this game, Crusader's Kings. They were using it as a coded, racist insult against Muslim kids. That is insanely convoluted and complicated."

Dannison told the I-Team that’s just one example of how racism is pervasive through online gaming.

Multi-player online gaming allows anyone with an internet connection to play games with anyone from around the world. You can choose an array of characters to play as, or with. While it allows you to meet other people, you don't always know who is on the other end.

“My fear is that these very bad actors are using the internet and video games to recruit young men,” Dannison said.

Symbols like Pepe the frog and echos are all over online gaming. While they might seem innocent, the Anti-Defamation League identifies both as hate speech.

“I see a lot of teens mimicking and parroting that racist stuff,” said Dannison.

Phillip Tan, creative director for The Gaming Lab at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says hate speech in online gaming has been a problem for years.

“It’s been prevalent as long as there's been chat in games, and I’m not even just talking voice chat,” said Tan.

Tan helped lead a years-long project where M.I.T. students used gamer tags identifying their race, sexuality or gender.

The study found hate speech against Muslims, African-Americans, gays and women was commonplace and often unprovoked.

“For the “black and proud” players, there was a lot of use of the n-word,” says Tan. “For the “proud to be Muslim” gamer tag, we would get a lot of references to how the person might be a terrorist,” said Tan.

Both Tan and Dannison have the same solution.

“Parents have got to get in there. They are our first line of defense,” said Dannison.

“I think it's more important for parents to generally be aware of what their kids are playing,” said Tan.

Dannison also suggests that parents have their children play the video games without headphones because you might overhear something you don’t like.

“They need to have conversations with their kids. What YouTube channels are they subscribed too? What games are they playing? Don’t come in like a private investigator or try to snoop around or violate their privacy,” Dannison said. “Just have a conversation.”

Learn more:

  • The Anti-Defamation League, a nonprofit human rights organization that fights hate movements, has compiled a list of hate speech symbols that might tip off connections to hate groups.
  • The Rev. Nathan Dannison compiled a list of warning signs to determine whether young gamers are at risk of radicalization.
  • The Entertainment Software Rating Board created this Video Game Rating System.

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