A while ago I made a conscious choice not to address games that have yet to be released, though I never formally codified such a rule. That lacking of a formal code is what brings me here today after Infinity Ward’s latest video for Modern Warfare 2 (about which I was slightly interested after leaked footage of the terrorist mission). After a night of sleeping on the matter and reading other persons’ opinions, I wanted to record my own for both my own sake and an explanation why such a seemingly innocuous video makes me hurl angry expletives at my monitor. Mostly, I realize this is preaching to the choir, but I’ve really had enough of such a flippant attitude from the gaming community in which I’ve been involved since I was four years old.

[At this point I would ask you to stop and read my apology here. This paragraph was initially much more damaging to the overall point of what I was trying to say, and I wish to both learn from and show others what to avoid in such discussions.]

FAG is a word I’ve had to live with since middle school, when I did not display the proper masculine characteristics that were expected of me in the middle of Tennessee. Hurled at my back, it made me stay in the closet three years longer than I would have otherwise.

FAG is a term that was screamed at my back angrily as I walked down the halls of a high school in Tennessee or down the streets in any city I have lived thereafter, deciding that yes, I was genderqueer, and I was going to dress the way I felt.

FAG was written in permanent marker on my dorm room door at Wabash College when I went to visit a friend at Oberlin one weekend.

FAG came through my dorm room telephone around 2 AM nightly for a whole week and intermittently through the next four years at Wabash. This would be accompanied with harassment about seeing me at a gay club in Indianapolis, then insinuating sex acts and being very crude with me.

FAG is the sound of three men yelling from a car and deciding to jump out, punch me to the sidewalk, and kick me, leaving scars on my knee that still persist, and that comes up every time I wear something that shows them to the general public.

The point? The point is that the word incites equal parts anger and pain in me. The word used casually when not referring to a bundle of sticks (or a cigarette on certain islands) is not excusable in any form, by whoever might wish to use it, less so a rather large videogame company.

There is no attitude today different than any other that regards an insensitive demeanor in males. It has always been the excuse of persons that others, the victims of such language or their friends, are taking things too seriously. That the company using it is not the problem, the problem lies in general society; I have friends who are ‘insert word’ and they are not offended by it; ‘insert word’ is used by the community itself, so I should be able to use it!

The problem, of course, is based in a general cultural milieu, but that does not mean we can and should not call out a large company when it uses such language. It sets an example and a precedent to continue such usage.

Edit: The video has been pulled, and I have had a pleasant exchanging of words and an apology from Robert Bowling.


About Denis Farr

Writer interested in intersectionality, games, comics, nerdy stuff in general, theater, and how it all mixes. Graduate of Wabash College, with studies in Theater, English, German, and Gender Studies.
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10 Responses to FAGS

  1. Corvus says:

    Exactly my thought, Denis. If this had been a racial slur, or an open advocacy of violence against women, most people would not be so accepting of it.

    And as so many have experienced, myself included, “fag” is not some innocuous turn of phrase, but a hateful word that is deeply associated with violence.

  2. gg says:

    Culturally homogenous workplaces generate and promote culturally ignorant media.

  3. Nicely written.

    Though I’ll admit that I didn’t catch on to the “FAGS” reference the first time I saw it, either. It wasn’t until someone pointed it out to me on reddit that I felt my disappointment, so it’s still entirely possible that Robert Bowling didn’t see the same thing, either. He’d have surely known that this wouldn’t go over well with a good segment (e.g. the non-douchebag segment) of the gaming community.

  4. Daniel says:

    Thanks for pointing this out to me: I didn’t get a chance to see the clip before it was taken down, so I’ll have to take your word for it. It’s extremely disappointing as I thought that IW was one of the most reflexive and aware companies out there that made FPS. To enter into this kind of language and culture, even if it was an oversight (which I also doubt), is reprehensible at best.

  5. Redacted says:

    I’m a very big fan of your blog and I generally appreciate your perspective on gender and sexuality issues within the world of gaming, but this post has left a bad taste in my mouth.

    I definitely agree that this sort of alleged comedy reinforces the worst aspects of ‘gamer culture’ and i also agree that it’s worthy of no end of criticism and scorn. However, I find it a little disappointing that you apparently find the use of veiled hate speech more offensive than the graphic depiction of civilians being gunned down in cold-blood by a completely archetypal and crypto-racist “terrorist group”. The fact that you have reserved statement about any of this controversy until a portion of it landed squarely in your wheelhouse makes your reaction seem like an agenda-driven act rather than a legitimate criticism of what appears to be a pretty big cultural problem in the world surrounding military games. I think what we’re talking about here goes way beyond homophobia and sexism and actually lapses into a disturbing sort of dehumanization.

    “FAG” is a hateful term that shouldn’t be tossed around, I don’t disagree here whatsoever. I just think it’s a bit of a rhetorical anomaly to try to frame this as Infinity Ward’s biggest transgression at the moment. While I’m definitely concerned with promotional videos that deliver cloaked hate-speech, I’m far more concerned with gameplay videos that portray some of the most dehumanizing and ethically disturbing ‘combat’ i’ve ever seen, performed by characters who operate in broad and stereotypical strokes of ‘swarthy terrorist’. Maybe it’s because this is MY pet issue but I really have a hard time seeing how you can address this particular advertising campaign without acknowledging all the other ethical weirdness currently surrounding the game.

  6. Denis Farr says:

    Redacted, largely because, as I led with in my post, I wish to reserve this space for other uses not tied to writing about games before they release (for the most part).

    I have been holding off on writing something about the terrorist mission video because I wanted to compile a larger post with many links and viewpoints so as to be able to post it to GayGamer.net. It has been discussed on my Twitter feed quite a bit, and I’ve found the conversation to have many merits in discussing what this means for games, and people in at least two solid camps (those that believe this might be trying to bring questionable content to games in a way that pushes the medium and those that think this is just abhorrent in any fashion). There is plenty being said, and as I am not anything near what I call an expert in military games, not my interest unless something unusual is happening (read: the leaked video), I wanted to be sure I was well-read on the issue so I could write a more informed analysis for a broader audience.

    This? It was largely a way to vent my own frustration, which is why I did not wish to publish it on GayGamer.net–where I have posted in frustration before and realized that’s not what I should be doing in that space.

    So, rest assured, there is a larger piece being written on the the prior video, but it is a larger issue and deserves more care attributed to it than a visceral reaction where I point out my own personal life and how it informs my reaction to such a word being used in an off-hand matter in a PSA/viral video.

  7. Seth says:

    It was burned down fair quickly, for what that’s worth…though the Bowling tweet doesn’t seem especially punitive. Reading the comments on the joystiq article are fascinating…I’m shocked at how many people are willing to pop into the article and say “I don’t see the problem with this at all.” It seems like you’d at least recognize other people, including the person writing the article, do, and therefore take your opinions elsewhere.

    Maybe I just don’t understand how bigotry operates though.

  8. I wonder how quick it would take you to block me…heh.

    In all honesty I DO see the problem here, but my state of confusion lies in the lines drawn for people in your position. For example, after reading this, I won’t go out of my way to present the f-word in a context that will be offensive to you (or as far as I can see it to BE offensive to you).

    Flipping that around though, I am one of those people who gives credence to the ‘powered word argument’, as I don’t think it’s something to be written off entirely. The line, as I described above if often subjective to most and is only seen with any kind of degree after actually engaging with an individual, not the group they’re a part of. With that being said, I’d have to ask you personally where that line is. What you described in your post would leave me to assume that it’s rooted in personal torment, more than I’ve suffered anyway.

    For the record though, most people who have been around me know me well enough to figure out that my usage of slurs typically only serves to offer up provoking expletives to draw out a reaction for an ends. I’ve no care for how I’m seen or detested, only how my curiosity is satisfied (very rarely has my usage of it ever been just plain flippant). Context is pretty dictatorial for me, so slurs like this only have worth in my gaining some bit of knowledge on who uses them (or is offended by them).

    It’s certainly not the same, but just to give you some semblance of empathy, I’ll state that I am a Southern AA, so the term ‘nigger’ gets tossed around here a lot. I took solace in (from a fairly young age mind you) to strip the word of any power it has, so its usage (especially as hate speech) always totals out as an extremely outdated attempt to express anger (at ‘best’ ironically). I think I’m the only one in my family who genuinely finds the word hilarious when it’s used in such ways now. Then we get into arguments where I call them outdated relics of an age that doesn’t belong to them to begin with.


    Your term’s context is different, which is why I’m curious to how it affects you further (most prominently being that you’re living in the times where the word actually does still have ‘power’). As I said though, I’m curious about the individual, not their sexual/racial/ethical group — and how they’re able to separate themselves from those constructs is where I find satisfaction. It’s also one of the few things that allows me to formulate my own reality as I don’t trust the rest of the world’s, hence by disbelief in things like equality or intense moral high grounds.

  9. Hey, followed you via linkback and started checking out your blog.

    I’ve got to say that you got me twitching with the ‘If it had been the N word’ thing. It’s loathesome to me that people say that and ignore all the times people of African Descent are mistreated, slandered, physically assaulted or violated and quite often with that word being used.

    It isn’t as, pardon the unintentional pun, black and white as many people seem to want to make it; as if those days of ‘that’ kind of racism are all gone.

    That said, F*g and F*gg*t are are in the same family of words as stones as dyke, k*ke, n*gger, p*ssy and all the other words that identify someone as not white, het, cis, tab, male. They’re tools of the kyriarchy.

  10. Brian Seiler says:

    First off, I’d like to extend to you sympathies for what you had to go through in your youth – I cannot imagine how awful that was.

    I think, however, that you are going just a little bit overboard in your attempts to characterize this idiotic advertisement as “hate speech.” Hate speech is not a term that you should throw around lightly – particularly not when the very act you are criticizing is the throwing around of words without consideration for their impact. In order for a string of words to be hate speech, they must first be hateful in nature, which I do not believe anybody would suggest was ever the intent here.

    In any act of communication, it is the responsibility of both parties to try and understand the idea that the other is attempting to communicate. By seizing on the semantics of this terrible anagram and then re-contextualizing the entire discussion to the subject of bigotry against homosexuals, you are abdicating that responsibility. Words have no inherent context, as you clearly note in your own writing when you conveniently excuse the British for using hate speech to refer to their cigarettes.

    I’m all for criticizing Infinity Ward for completely fumbling this effort, but their failure here was not one motivated by hate or bigotry. Their mistake was one of marketing – they failed to realize that some people would consider their humorous attempt to be in poor taste. As marketers, it behooves them not to stir the sorts of unpleasant feelings that this word was bound to stir, and for that they deserve to be chided. If your intention is to paint every person who has ever used the word in conversation with the tint of bigotry, however, I cannot disagree strenuously enough.

    We cannot lock language in a box and pretend that it never changes. Over time, words will transform to mean things that we wouldn’t have imagined – a fact which my futile crusade to revive the grammatically proper use of “he” as the singular neuter personal pronoun has driven home to me. As responsible communicators, it behooves us all to try and understand the thoughts behind the words, and not simply latch onto the language in isolation. If you are going to criticize Infinity Ward for this act, or 5th Cell for their accidental and unfortunate handling of the word “sambo,” or even Capcom for the imagery in Resident Evil, please do criticize them for what they’re trying to say, instead of how you personally interpret the words and images that you perceive. If the language of this campaign makes you uncomfortable because of the history around the word, it’s good to share that, and I’m certain that anybody who could be made to understand how the word affects you would not use it around you. Labeling this an act of bigotry or hatred, however – that is too far, and declines to accept all of our shared responsibilities in communicating with one another.

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