Peek is a series of brief interviews of Magic personalities who support Planeswalkers for Diversity. Sam Killermann is co-founder of Gamers Against Bigotry, an organization that Planeswalkers for Diversity fully endorses. We share a similar mission, theirs with a broader mandate aimed largely at video gaming audience.
p4d: What is your Magic: The Gathering origin story?
sK: When I started, it was an extension of my love of playing Pokémon. I enjoyed the gameplay, but more than that I appreciated all the time I spent strategizing with friends about deck building. I enjoyed that a huge percentage of the game took place before it even started. Pokémon was an easy entry into Collectible Card Games (CCGs) because (when I played it) of the limited number of cards and deck possibilities. Magic took those possibilities and ran with them. I loved it. I don’t play CCGs or tabletop games much anymore though; most of my multiplayer gaming these days is Minecraft, CS:GO, or LoL.
p4d: How did Gamers Against Bigotry get started?
sK: It started because of an article I wrote that was a guide to responding to bigoted language. Someone asked me what advice I had for responding to bigoted language in games. I told him I didn’t recommend responding in-game, because that generally just adds fuel to the fire, and leads to uncomfortable or emotionally harmful situations. I said (quite dismissively) someone with a lot of influence, like Mike and Jerry at PA, would need to create something that exists outside of the game itself in order to start that conversation in a way that might lead to some positive change.
A few hours after posting that reply I thought, “Wow, that was incredibly lazy of me. ‘Someone’ needs to do it? Maybe I should at least give it a shot.” I brainstormed for a while, GAB was the result, and I launched the site shortly thereafter. It’s been a rollercoaster since then.
One, it serves as a means of personal accountability. A reminder to folks that they are responsible for their behavior with others, and a push to make those interactions positive, or, at least, non-stigmatizing, when they are playing games with other human beings. This goal is based on the research published about honor codes and their effects on individual ethics. In other words, if you remind someone of what is considered to be “ethical” or “positive” behavior, they are more likely to live up to that standard, even if there aren’t any foreseeable repercussions for not doing so.
Two, the pledge is a barometer of sorts for how the gaming community feels about inclusivity in games. A lot of people think the majority of people playing online games are trolls or bigots or jerks or other negative things. We don’t believe this. We think that the vast majority of gamers really want gaming to be a place where everyone feels welcome, and that there is just an extremely vocal minority making it unwelcoming. As the pledge count increases, we can bring that number to developers and industry reps and say, “See: this is important to gamers. Now let’s work together to make things better.”
p4d: How can gamers make their community better?
sK: The biggest impact gamers can make with the least amount of effort is through active advocacy in their individual spaces.
If you host a weekly MTG game, establish guidelines for what type of behavior is/isn’t acceptable. The same goes for any clan you play with, or even just a random party you end up with in a game, whether it’s online or in-person. Stand up for basic respect of other human beings, and If someone says something bigoted, then say something.
If you want your game to be welcoming to gamers of all identities, a simple request is that gamers don’t use any bigoted language or casual slurs during games. A grander approach could be intentional language in your publicity that makes it clear to all gamers that they are welcome. Being a GAB partner is an easy way to accomplish this. And you can keep going. There are innumerable ways you can go about creating intentionally inclusive gaming spaces.
One thing I know about gamers is they have amazing imaginations and critical thinking skills. Put your heads together and you can come up with some amazing ways to improve the community. Do or do not. There is no try.
p4d: Where can folks find you online?
sK: GAB is on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Steam, and of course at gamersagainstbitgotry.org. I’m personally active in all the same places (but mostly just the Facebook and Twitter parts). I play a lot on Steam under the official GAB account (my personal account has pretty much been completely abandoned in the past year as a result of it), where you can play some CS:GO with me if you’re up for it. Just send a friend request and let me know who you are, or join the GAB Steam Group.
Oh, and if anyone wants to set up a GAB-friendly Minecraft server, I would love to hang out there.