Do Gamers Use The Word 'Gay' Too Casually?

Words are powerful, but they also have the potential to evolve. I myself have been very guilty of using the word 'gay' in a derogatory way without really thinking about the impact of that word. My argument has always been that the word, in a certain context, has a different meaning - but is that a cop-out?

Sanya Weathers thinks so. In an interesting article, Sanya discusses the way gamers tend to use the word 'gay' as a casual insult.

Gaming forums, being somewhat dominated by young straight males, tend to be one of the last places in our culture where you can toss around homophobic (and misogynist) slurs with abandon. I don’t mean there’s always evil intent. When you ask one of these kids why he said “gay” when what he meant was “stupid” or “contemptible,” most of the time he’ll just blink at you. A few of them mumble an explanation that basically goes “I didn’t mean gay, like, GAY. It’s just a word on a gaming forum, it doesn’t mean anything.”

Well, it’s not just a word, it does mean something, and I don’t allow it to be used in a derogatory way on any channel where I have mod powers. If you do allow it, you’re basically saying to every kid who is LGBT or questioning that his or her kind isn’t really welcome in your community, and that the only way they can stay is if they pretend they don’t care. Just like you don’t care if some mouthbreather uses “gay” as the very worst possible insult.

Is this a case of political correctness gone mad, or is it a valid complaint? My view on these things is if someone is genuinely offended or upset by the way in which I use a word, the onus is on me to be more careful with how I use it.

Sanya is looking for a change.

It will cost you nothing to change this paradigm. It doesn’t take very long, or many repetitions of “do not use that word” before people find other, better insults. You don’t even have to ban, or get agitated. You just have to say no. I’ve proven it on multiple forums ranging in size from hundreds to tens of thousands of people. So much for “it’s just a word gamers use.” Gaming forums do not have to be ruled by the worst our genre has to offer.

So, speaking of help: Help me, fellow mods and CMs. (And help me, players, by reporting and not responding when you see it.) We’ve got to stop tolerating homophobia in our communities. I’m not saying we have to go and get gay married. You don’t even have to support an agenda of any kind. All you have to do is say that you will not permit one of your customers to call another one of your customers a faggot.

Personally, Sanya's piece has made me question the way I use the word 'gay'. Plenty of minority groups believe that taking control of a word and transforming its meaning is a powerful act of defiance, but as a heterosexual male, it isn't really my place to do that.

Thoughts?

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Comments

    I don't engage in the pointless sniping which takes place on forums, I have better things to do.
    But in such an environment, words like gay seem largely interchangable with idiot, jerk, tool, loser or any other insult (or the l33t equivalent) as they have reached the stage where all are meaningless adjectives or adverbs used to gain attention.
    Is it being misused? Yes. But it is not being used maliciously by the cruel, it is being used in ignorace by fools who want to get a reaction. They won't change if they get one.

    What about "raped" or "molested"? Those words get thrown around my friends' LAN parties quite often, just because "owned" didn't aptly describe how badly someone got beaten. There are plenty of words gamers use that would turn heads in public.

      Totally. The word 'rape' is so casually used in competitive gaming. I've always found it a bit weird.

        My sister used the word "fraped" when someone used her facebook login to post rude comments. It's a bit sick to compare the two things like that. I'm also "not in the loop", so maybe I'm crazy.

      Oh! I was playing Alice: Madness Returns whilst on TeamSpeak for the past few nights.
      I used the word 'molested' a few times. Ignoring some of the darker themes of the game, I was being half chomped on or groped by enemies (There's a boss which is pretty much two hands, and he grabs Alice and throws her around like a plaything).
      Close to the definition, but possibly still not appropriate, I guess.

      In terms of trying to convey a sense of being physically violated, it's hard to think of something that tops that and hyperbole definitely plays a role here.

      That and "obliterated" doesn't quite roll off the tongue as well.

      ...Especially if you actually have someone very close to you who was, in fact, raped.

      <----

      :-(

        Yeah same here, I tend to try my hardest to not use 'gay' or 'raped' in context when relating to anything. I've been told off majorly by a very close friend for using the word 'gay' in normal speak when describing a stupid piece of tech, she has a lot of gay friends, so it was hurtful to her. Which I understand.

      Yeah playing TF2 I've heard the term Spawnraped - which although its offensive, makes perfect sense in the situation in which its applied.

    I used to use the word all the time, now I never ever use it unless I mean homosexual. I pretty much forced myself to stop saying it because it really bugged me.

      I went through the exact same thing. I used the word a lot back in school, as it was what all the kids said when they meant 'bad'. Afterwards I realised that it was offensive to gay people with whom I had nothing against. So I made an effort to stop using it in that way and it really wasn't very hard.

      Now when I hear someone over 18 use the word 'gay' when they mean something bad I usually think they are immature, often times I will make a joke about them calling it gay, to point out that the definition doesn't really work. I'm not going to get on someone's back about it, I just hope that by showing how dumb it is to call something bad gay, they will stop using it and will never offend anyone with it.

      Though I do have to say, I have a problem with someone saying that 'gamers' use the word gay too much. Young people use the word too much, it is just that most young people are gamers. To say that gamers are using the word too much is making an unfair generalisation, which I actually find more offensive than people using gay in a negative way.

    Do... do we actually use the word "gay" a lot though? I know what Sanya's talking about, but I haven't heard it used like that since... high school? I would argue that it isn't necessarily gamers who use the term "gay" as a casual insult, but rather, as she points out, young, straight males who use the term, who also play games, bringing their language to the mix. Just a (possibly large) union of sets between people who play games and people who use the word in that context.

    We sure do.
    I myself am guilty of it. But I tend to only use it around friends I know won't it as bigotry.
    My girlfriend was the GM of a guild in WoW and also has guides and blogs for Resto Druids. She took a stance on it and banned guild members using terms like that ( among others)
    She did a fairly big post on it last year: http://treebarkjacket.com/2010/10/05/habitual-and-negligent-intolerance-or-how-i-came-to-realise-that-i-enable-bigotry/

      It's an interesting viewpoint to take - how has the guild adapted to this change? Were there any teething issues or those who were unhappy with what she implemented?

        The guild fell apart a little while ago due to player burnout and other issues. The language rules were generally well-received; a few people were vocal in their disagreement but most people accepted the change and were mature enough to respect the new rules. It was relatively seamless.

        Some people said that they felt it ruined their fun (some people can't have fun unless they are calling each other fags and talking about raping people, apparently); others said they felt that the guild environment was a lot better.

    For me the problem is when someone says "gay" they are using it in a negative context. It does not even have to be used in a homophopic way but it still associates someones sexual preference with negative feelings. This in my opinion places a uneeded strain on the gay community which already has to face hate from many areas.
    As a teacher when I hear students using the word I encourage them to use words that better illustrate their feelings. I much rather hear a student call another an idiot than call them gay for doing something stupid.

      As far as I know a few peoole left (guess some people feel it's their right to throw around hurtful words)
      The rest just took a bit of adjusting to get used to. Obviously some people slipped up. Most were fine with it. Who would have thought there was mature people left on the Internet?

        Sigh reply fail *throws iPhone*

          Don't throw it those things shatter quicker than candy glass ;)

            Might make it better :P

        I would say in that sort of a situation some people will leave just because they feel like they are being censored. It doesn't matter if it is only a single word, and the single word is one people probaby shouldn't be saying, a very small minority will always rebel no matter how minor a censorship is. You would expect some to leave, I'm sure the majority didn't mind the change so much and could easily adapt.

    Whenever I see the use of 'gay' thrown around like that then I just remember that the original meaning was 'happy' and it just changes the whole tone of whatever rant the person is on.

    The one that bugs me, and most fellow female gamers I've spoken to, is when people start talking about how they were 'raped' in a battleground or whatever it was they were doing.

      You really touched on sumething there in your first sentence. words are evolving all the time. The general understanding of the word gay in the past was of happiness and enjoymeny. maybe it is undergoing another evolution. homosexuals have definitely taken the word as their own and let it empower them, In the same way that african americans took the N word from the whites who used in a derogatory way towards them, but if the use of it is causing so much displeasure amongst homosexuals then maybe it is time to let the word go. The only problem with this is that it may take a couplem of hundred years (going by the past) as well as other words that represent homosexuals (such as faggot) being used in the same derogatory way over the internet

      Or maybe everyone should just accept the old saying "you can't clean up the internet"

    yes. when you stand back and hear, gay and rape being used how they are. They don't understand what they are saying, they are being homophobic even though they don't mean it, you are harmonizing gay with bad.

      If being homophobic is having an irrational fear of homosexuals (Mind you this doesn't really make sense semantically) then how on earth are they doing that by using the word in a different context? I love dogs but still use the term "that was a dog act."

        Though saying it is homophobic itself is probably a bit much, it does promote the concept of homophobia by equating the word gay with something bad. I'm sure you love dogs very much but the reason the phrase 'that was a dog act' exists and is understood is because dogs are seen as being lower than human, ie 'that person did something that was less than what a human would do, something that only an animal would do'

        You are promoting the concept that dogs are a lesser life form than human, or at least have a lesser concept of morality. I'm sure there are people that would argue both sides of that, whether dogs are better than people, but the phrase exists because that concept exists, that is why people understand what you mean when you say it.

        For people to understand that when you call something gay you mean bad, means they must understand that gay means bad. It might not be homophobia to say it, but if everyone used the word that way I think it would be hurtful towards gay people.

        Imagine if it was your name that everyone used in a negative context? If everyone used my name to mean something was bad I would probably start to take offense at it.

    I've often thought a great deal about this.

    I often find myself saying this and other more derogatory terms as an expletive, and while I don't mean to insult gay people the thought crosses my mind that it is far from the choice of words I should be using.

    It sort of reminds me of the south park episode where they have the word definition replaced to mean motorbike riders - even though the plot was humorous the message was quite clear that many people who use the word in anger do not mean to insult gay people when they do so.

    At the end of the day I don't use the word when I'm with other people - it tends to be something I mutter under my breath in the comfort of my own home (or yell it in my car when someone cuts me off).

    It's definitely a topic of discussion that can swing either way (no pun intended... for once!)

    Reminds me of the "fag" episode on south park. I completely diagree with Sanya. Frankly, many words have multiple meanings, and the meanings of words changes over time anyway. And gay has always been an insult, even when describing homosexual people, somewhere along the line the sense of insult has been lost.

    That is so gay.

    But seriously, I have the same problem too. Maybe it's just the age we've grown up in? My group of mates had a gay guy we were friends with and whenever he was around and I accidentally dropped the "faggot" bomb or gay, I always felt pretty bad, even though he never took offense to it. It's one of the only things I'm conflicted about. I know that it's offensive to some people, but at the same time, I honestly feel that in this day and age the words meanings have shifted from being a derogatory term for homosexuals, and more towards just about anything that sucks.

    I don't know, I'll probably cop a bit of flak for that, but it seems like it's even more like that in my younger brothers age group (16-17). Everyone on his Facebook drops "gay" and "faggot" like it's going out of fashion.

    Oh and my little cousin (17-18) has photos of her gay friends and tags them as "fags" in it, and she says it's because they're taking the word back?

    I know I'm rambling but I literally just woke up, time for a coffee..

      I don't think it's really enough to say that 'the meaning of the word has changed to mean bad, so people can use it freely' - but at the same time, it's obvious that people aren't using it to be offensive.

      A double meaning still persists. People wouldn't use the word 'gay' or 'fag' to describe something as stupid/bad/whatever if that link didn't already exist. Even if they don't mean to make that implication, it's a cultural thing.

    as much as I hate linking to a Dane Cook video, this kinda sums it all up pretty well:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJjdFV5ZS7s

      noooooooooo you have defiled kotaku! I need to scrub myself now! *scrub scrub scrub

      but deep down I know no matter how much I scrub I will never be clean again... *scrub scrub scrub

    I can't remember the name for it, but there is a phenomena where once one word becomes unacceptable, something else simply takes that word's place. The example I saw about it related to the mentally retarded.

    Specifically the word "retarded". It was once the acceptable term (and linguistically justified before it was adopted as a negative term) because the previously accepted term had been adopted as an insult. Once retarded became unacceptable, another term took it's place and has adopted as an insult.

    Similarly, the word "dumb" used to mean a mute.

    It isn't the word itself that is the issue but the intent behind it.

    South Park, of all places, tackled this issue with an episode about bikers and the word "fag", showing how the use of that particular word has changed over time whilst not staying specific to any group.

    It's a complex issue, which is why I try to avoid it by tailoring my insults to the person involved.

    Or calling them a twatwaffle, which is simply too fun to say.

      heehee, twatwaffle.

      I think I shall steal that for my own nefarious purposes.

    this annoys me

    just because i say things are gay, that makes me homophobic?

    look honey, this is the internet, way worse stuff than people saying "gay" happens, you cannot control the internet.

    when people use "gay" they don't mean it in any way disrespectful to homosexual's, why focus on something which people mean no harm in using, and try stop racism or sexism on the internet?

    but you can never change a thing, because for as long as the internet is anonymous, there will always be some racist of sexist or homophobic guy who will just flame people...

    okay, so basicly, i see your point, but there is no way you can change anything.

      Thats rubbish.

      There is a way that you can change it. If everyone on Kotaku or even just Mark says that certain sexist racist or homophobic remarks are unacceptable, then those comments will not be posted. If people then think about why those comments are inappropriate then they might consider not using it in other situations like on xbox live or psn.

      It is a cop-out to say you can't change things.

        my point is that people are dickheads, and they will always be dickheads, and when people tell them to not be dickheads, they'll be even bigger dickheads, and the internet is a place for them to be dickheads and not have to face any conseqeunces of just how much of a dickhead they are

          http://www.ponychan.net/chan/arch/src/130516193552.gif

          Well said.

          Like I said - It is a cop-out to say you can’t change things.

          The very publishing and commenting on this article is an attempt to change things.

          Your answer is apathy. The two things you can do about it are

          1. Don't be a dickhead.
          2. Don't accept or encourage others to be Dickheads.

          Or you could do nothing.

    Won't somebody think of the (gay) children!

    The very first sentence of this article is the most important. Words do evolve, not always in their structure, but constantly in regards to their meaning.

    It's this evolution of words and language that, in my opinion, invalidates the arguements that Sanya is trying to make.

    Through the decades, words are going to mean different things. Fifty years ago, "gay" meant to be happy and carefree. Twenty years ago, "gay" turned into a homosexual slur.
    What does it mean today, in respect to the context that gamers use it in?
    In my opinion, it's just a generic word or insult. It's not a homophobic term in that context, it's more just an bland insult with no real meaning behind it - or it has a variety of meanings, none of which directly correlate to a slur against ones sexual preference or to the individual being happy or carefree.

    Gamers could give the word "gay" a new meaning. Or they could stop using it, and better articulate their language.

    I don't know about anyone else, but I'd rather get called "gay" and shrug it off than have some truly horrific insults thrown my way.

      I completely agree, except that in this case the words have multiple meanings, within and outside the groups that use it.

      Gamers - for the most part - don't, I think, mean any offense to gay people when they use 'gay' as a generic insult. But in wider society this link definitely exists, even if it's unconscious. There's an assumed implication, acknowledged or not, that 'gay' is 'a bad thing'. So long as the dual meaning exists this link is going to be made, and there are far better words out there to use.

        Yes, the dual meaning does exist. But for how long will it exist?

        If Gamer's stop using the word "gay", you could argue that it's letting the homophobic crowd win. It's almost like an acknowledgement that the word "gay" is a bad word, and shouldn't be used.

        Is that the message that gamers as a community want to help perpetuate?

        From what I see, in gamers using this word, they are contributing to an effort to evolve the word even further.
        Who knows? In another few decades years, we could be reflecting back on how the word has changed as such...

        - Happy Or Carefree
        - Slur towards homosexuals
        - Generic word for undesireable person/situation
        - An acknowledgement of someones superior position or skill
        - A small object of indeterminate nature.
        - A sickly Shetland Pony.

        Who knows? No one. But I can put forward the proposition that if gamers stop using the word "gay", then we may be stunting its eventual evolution in meaning.

          The point is, though, that it's not 'evolving'. The word hasn't morphed from meaning 'homosexual' to meaning 'bad'.

          It means both, simultaneously, but in different contexts, because they're linked in meaning.

          'Gay' wouldn't be used in gaming slang if it didn't already have another meaning as 'homosexual'. The newest meaning of the word doesn't replace the old, it draws from it.

          I don't think anyone is suggesting 'gay as homosexual' is a negative use of the word. It's a commonly accepted noun. But when gamers use it to mean bad or stupid, they're linking - intentionally or otherwise - the two meanings. It's an implicit inference that '[X] is gay, gay is bad, therefore [X] is bad.'

    In my opinion its use has diminished over time. Probably a natural evolution as the average age of gamers increases.

    Same with how popular insults during the days of CS beta and Warcraft 2 like "nerd virgin' or 'Im not 1337 because I have a girlfriend' etc have pretty much become irrelevant.

    Not this crap again.

      Agreed. HTFU guys. It's just words.

    Or fag, that's pretty insulting. In a community where terms like 'eat a bag of dicks, motherfucker' are common, i think we can tolerate this behaviour.
    Just my opinion..

    Using "gay" might be innocent enough, (after all it's the intention behind words that's the offensive thing, not the words themselves) but it's validating a very harmful attitude - that being gay is a bad thing. The general attitude is "NO NO NO I'M NOT GAY!!!…not that there's anything wrong with that." You see it on TV all the time. Every time you freak out about someone potentially thinking you're gay, you're essentially saying there IS something wrong with it. And using the word gay as an insult is just contributing to the problem. So, despite your intentions, is it worth using the word? No. Just pick a different insult, there are plenty of better ones to choose from.

    In saying that, it also springs to mind that South Park episode when they call the Harley riders "fags"
    Everyone thinks they are being mean to homosexuals, but they don't see the word as that. So is it really an insult to homosexuals? Should they themselves feel like people are offending them?

    Words are simply that: words. Context is everything. Typical moron here standing on her soapbox and complaining about the status quo. Yawn. It's not going to change, so why do people bother getting worked up about it when they are powerless to re-engineer the communication of an entire demographic? That's just gay. Sanya is an absolute loser, and to offset her censorship of the word "gay", I will use it twice as much in my daily communication.

      Truly a paragon of maturity.

    Use the word lame instead of gay. You'll find that used in the same context, it produces the same results, without the negative homophobic stigma.

      But isn't "lame" insulting to people who have pain when they move? i.e. the original definition? ;)

      lame
      –adjective
      1. crippled or physically disabled, especially in the foot or leg so as to limp or walk with difficulty.

      So you're attacking disabled people now?! Oh the horror! I'm never coming back to Kotaku again!

      :P

    Word meanings change. It wasn't that long ago that gay meant happy and carefree. South park had a great episode on this issue a while ago.

      I'm with you on this. Language is fluid. The word wasn't always used to describe homosexual, so why can't it change again?

      However

        Gah! Didn't finish my comment.

        My point is that just because *I* don't make the association between homosexuals and the thing I'm calling bad or crap, it doesn't mean that it won't be inferred as a derogatory slur.

        And personally I'm not so stubborn that I'm going to keep using it and telling LGBT people to 'get over it'

    Jim: What did you just call me?
    'Core' Gamer Griffin: I thought that was your name.
    Jim: That is our word. You have no right to use it.
    'Core' Gamer Griffin: Hey hey hey, Im cool, Im cool, no problem!
    [pause]
    'Core' Gamer Griffin: So, could you pass me the oar, g-word Jim?
    Jim: Thank you.

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