Image by NBC News and Wikimedia Commons
Before white supremacists, neo-Nazis and white nationalists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, they were organizing behind the computer screen.
So begins the absurdity of NBC News’s recent video on the connection between video gamers and white supremacy. In their four minute spiel, edited by Melanie Bencosme and narrated by Debbie Rolf, NBC News illustrates a connection between the Alt-Right and video game players through their use of the popular chat site Discord. According to Rolf and Bencosme, as well as various academics, Discord is highlighted as a hangout where white supremacists planned the rise of white supremacy and Donald Trump. The only problem: Their opinions are unfounded and incredibly sensational.
The opening sentence is combined with overdramatic music interspersed with the audio and video of the Tiki torch-carrying white supremacists in Charlottesville. This changes to footage of a man playing Call of Duty in front of a computer, a not-so-subtle hint that sets the tone of the rest of this piece. Bencosme then shows us a graph, linking Discord to white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. The image of a game controller morphs into a KKK mask, with obligatory Call of Duty-type shooting sounds playing in the background:
Thirty seconds in, we get our title, and it’s quite different from the title of the YouTube video. While the YouTube video is titled How Gamers Are Facilitating The Rise Of The Alt-Right, this in-video title is less clickbaity, simply stating Connecting the Dots: The Gamers of the Alt-Right. Why didn’t they keep the titles the same? Clickbait? Maybe NBC News’s Social Media Manager didn’t actually watch the video. Who knows?
This then changes to footage of the game Friday the 13th—ironically known as a popular game to the social justice crowd—with audio of Emma Vossen, a PhD candidate “currently writing a dissertation examining how accessible games and gaming/gamer culture is to women”. Vossen’s claims that video games have always been sexist and racist are quite frankly absurd. We hear that Vossen’s research was based on Gamergate, which is naturally misrepresented as a movement “that began with intimidating and harassing female video game journalists”. Considering this video was created by a female journalist, it’s not surprising that Bencosme and Vossen are claiming Gamergate is about such. However, this is simply not true. How can one take this video seriously when it won’t even explain the Gamergate controversy correctly? It’s even worse that the false description of Gamergate is overlain with images of embarrassingly badly edited Twitter death threats (which all came from one person, a troll account called Kevin Dobson), which only serve to make the viewer think #Gamergate is a person and not just a Twitter hashtag:
Bencosme then shows us some pathetically Photoshopped Pepe the frog memes, including one of Pepe donning a terrorist vest next to the words “I’m With Her”, Hillary Clinton’s slogan. It’s meant to show the viewer how evil and scary the Alt-Right is, but all it shows is that Bencosme wasted precious hours of her day Photoshopping images of Pepe the frog to scare her viewers.
However, this speech by Vossen is just what NBC wants: she compares Gamergate to the Alt-Right. According to Vossen, the techniques Gamergate used are from the same playbook employed by the white supremacists who voted for Donald Trump.
Finally, NBC News gets to the point: video gamers facilitated the Alt-Right. Vossen starts speaking academic Gobbledygook: white male gamers think they are oppressed, and they’re oppressing women and minorities who just want to be treated as equals. We then hear a man asking someone on Call of Duty why they hate black people, and since this is Call of Duty, the other player responds in a typically trollish manner: “They’re dirty, they’re stinky, and they’re just gross”. There is no doubt about it: players of online shooters say a lot of disgusting, racist, homophobic and sexist stuff. But what Benscome and Vossen fail to mention is that players shout these things to derail and scare other players into losing. The main problem with the aforementioned quote is that it sounds like it is taken out of context: dirty, stinky and gross could just be this player talking about his house, not necessary a racist statement. With so many racist and sexist slurs being used in games like Call of Duty, couldn’t Bencosme have used a more obviously disgusting quote? This small subset of online shooter gamers, however, is in no way, indicative of all gamers.
We then switch to Kishonna Gray, the author of “Race, Gender and Deviance in Xbox Live“, who claims not all gamers are sexist and racist, but “we are having an internal cultural problem with sexist and racist gamers”. This is inexplicably interspersed with footage of a beheading from the Friday the 13th game.
NBC News asks us: “What happens when these behaviors move from the gaming world to the real world?” with footage of white supremacists marching, and Keegan Hankes from the Southern Poverty Law Center telling us that they made this switch via Discord. Yes, Discord, a voice and text chat site where anyone can hang out. Some of those people may be raving lunatics, but the same can be said for most popular sites. This is just like saying that Twitter is Islamic State’s home front simply because a few of their members use the site. It’s simply not true, and claiming a small portion of the site are in fact the majority, is wrong and misleading.
This is where NBC News becomes manipulative: there is voiceover talking about Discord while the footage is a juxtaposition of a person holding an Xbox controller and the white supremacists holding the Tiki torches. The message is clear: Anyone who holds Xbox controllers also likes to hold Tiki torches. Um, maybe we got the comparison wrong… But you get what it’s trying to say. People who play video games become NAZIS.
After the Charlottesville riots, Discord were adamant in stating that their site does not support white supremacists and Nazis:
This Tweet completely disproves much of NBC News’s video: Discord is saying they do not tolerate white supremacy, so for NBC and Melanie Bencosme to continue shouting from the rooftops that Discord is pro-white supremacy is completely wrong, and could be potentially defamatory.
Finally, this leads to the most absurd part of NBC News’s video: linking the pathetic murderer of Heather Heyer to video games. This section—just over three minutes into the video—feels like it was ripped straight out of a television show segment from over a decade ago. You know, the ones that interviewed Jack Thompson as a serious source, implored us to “Think about the children!” and linked video games to mass murder and even “virtual” rape? Yeah, those ones. Well, Melanie Bencosme links James Alex Fields Jr, the vile murderer of Heather Heyer, to video games:
James Alex Fields Jr, the white supremacist charged for Heyer’s death, was no stranger to video games.
According to Bencosme, way back in 2010, Fields struck his mother in the head and locked her in the bathroom because she told him to stop playing video games. This event, seven years ago, is apparently the raison d’être for why Fields went out and ran over Heyer with his car.
This is, without a doubt, the most absurd section of the entire video. James Fields Jr killed Heather Heyer because he was inspired by white supremacy, not because he played video games. Millions of people play video games every single day, and you don’t see them rushing out to run over innocent people with their vehicles. In the past, it was books that needed to be burned, then it was television giving our children square eyes, and now video games are the latest pearl-clutcher. Video games do not make people do bad things; these people do awful things of their own accord. James Fields Jr killed an innocent person because he wanted to, not because of video games. To blame video games is let Fields Jr off the hook for his vile actions.
Video games are not to blame for the rise of both the win of Donald Trump and the rise of the Alt-Right (there is a difference between the two). There are many reasons, too numerous and complex to go into detail in one simple analysis: Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comments, Donald Trump’s cult of personality, the obsessive identity politics of the far-Left, the Wikileaks leaks, corruption in the DNC, to name a few.
The words “THINK” appear and the end credits roll.
There are problems with elements of gaming culture and there certainly are a lot of problems with the small subset of the Right that identify as white supremacist and neo-Nazis. However, Melanie Bencosme and the team at NBC News instead prefer to distort the narrative and simply fabricate the news for ratings. Connecting gaming culture to the Alt-Right is simply an attempt to stir up controversy and bring clicks to a failing news site. Logical fallacies and straight-out fabrications will not help you do this.
How about the news media returns to what they do best—reporting the news, as impartially as possible? This yellow journalism is a sad face of the once proud journalism industry.