An argument to reconsider words is not “thought policing”

How many people would use the k-word slur or a non-human animal species to describe persons of colour? Would any of you call me “camel-fucker”? Would you use “faggot” to describe a gay person? I imagine the answer to these is no – and it’s a “no” driven not by fear of police or lawyers, but some sense of morality.

Can you imagine anyone having to write an article today asking people not to use the k-word to describe black people? It seems ridiculous, because you probably don’t need to be convinced of that. If I had to blog about why you should not describe me as a “camel fucker” or “raghead” or “Paki”, I’d imagine you’d ask: Who the hell is this for? 

But let’s say there was someone, a white man,  who had never encountered these terms used in a bad way or himself used it as a term of endearment in an “ironic” way. Presumably such a person, who had never fully considered the impact on those it actually affects, would read my piece and reconsider his terms.

Whatever his conclusion, no one other than himself is preventing him from using those terms. I am not leaping out my blog to silence people who use “Paki”, I simply block them and conclude such people are not worth talking to. The entire Internet is available for Paki-bashers of the world to unite and use the term “ironically”.

That’s the end of it, really: Words on the internet ask you to reconsider using a term. Agree? Disagree? No one’s stopping you. Seems easy, no?

Well, judging from the way gamers responded to a similar suggestion about the term “Master Race”, maybe not.

There was a big stink up at PC Gamer, after an op-ed went, according to very angry gamers, all “Would you kindly” on them about using the term “Master Race”. The argument’s title in Tyler Wilde’s piece is self-explanatory: Let’s stop calling ourselves the “PC Master Race”.

Wilde doesn’t exactly need a peer-reviewed researched paper to make a sound case. Nonetheless, and to his immense credit, he tries.

That was seven years ago, but the phrase is still everywhere, said without any consideration (or perhaps understanding) of the historical context, without any consideration of the original context, and without any of the original self-mockery. It worked as a hyperbolic joke when it was first said as a hyperbolic joke, and I did think it was a little funny to embrace the criticism ironically—for a moment. Now it’s just moldy cardboard that a lot of PC gamers hold up as their identity, and it’s getting uncomfortable.

I won’t get into the weirdness of making a hobby your identity.

The subreddit for PC gaming is called “PC Master Race”. It contains this rule because, you know, that’s a totally normal rule to have in a gaming community and not at all indicating maybe you should disassociate yourself from fascist ideological concepts?

  • Rule #7 Linking the PC Master Race with racial supremacy or any kind of fascist ideologies is not acceptable in the slightest. Age, nationality, race, gender, sexuality, and religion are all irrelevant here. All are welcome in the PC Master Race.

Wilde agrees with me.

if you have to explain that your community isn’t about racial supremacy (rule #7 on the sidebar of the PC Master Race subreddit), then maybe you’ve chosen a poor name for your community.

But I think this next paragraph encapsulates the divergent threads in this not at all morally ambiguous case of choosing another name for your identity (ugh), other than a name that’s two degrees away from racist regimes.

I obviously realize that no one is actually saying that PC gamers are the preferred people of Hitler. That’s absurd, and it’s supposed to be absurd. It’s a joke. It just isn’t a joke worth keeping around at the expense of making people uncomfortable about the hobby we’re supposed to be promoting—and, selfishly, I’d rather not look like a tasteless jackass. I’d be mortified if my friends and family thought I were part of something called the “PC Master Race.” They don’t get the context, and even if I explained it to them, a half-forgotten seven-year-old internet joke doesn’t expunge the historical meaning from the phrase, which refers to the Aryan race, which is a term still used by people with swastika tattoos. I think I’ll go ahead and distance myself from the Aryan Brotherhood, if you don’t mind.

Let me just repeat this to emphasise how absurd this is: There are people who need to be convinced that using Master Race is maybe not a good way to promote your hobby; that other people who engage in this same hobby feel the use of the term is unwelcoming, because they or their parents were brutally oppressed by monsters using such a phrase proudly, in their policies to harm and kill.

OK, I’m going to say it again: There are gamers who think a concept, which outlined a special race of people based on their ethnicity/race and which let them view anyone else as less-than-human, is a label worth defending because video games, because free speech.

Again: No one here is preventing them using it. You’ll see I’ve not asked for the subreddit to be “shut down”, for people to be silenced. I’m asking people to voluntarily decide to not use that term because it’s horrible. Wilde continues:

This isn’t a plea for political correctness—not associating oneself with Nazi pastiches is just good living. It’s fun to treat our hobby like a club and build camaraderie, but I don’t think a reference to white supremacy is going to encourage club membership.

Let me emphasise, because I’m still trying to understand: the term Master Race, indicative of regimes that targeted persons of colour, is being used by gamers proudly and some are asking them simply to find a new term. OK?


Apparently not. Ignore the baby whining of Gamergate. Ben Croshaw, an extremely thoughtful and eloquent critic, leading video game celeb and columnist, isn’t moved.

The title alone is inspiring: “On the PC Master Race and the Language Police”.

People who call those who make internet arguments “police” have, by definition, admitted they have no argument – only resistance. You can describe people/their arguments as annoying; you can describe them as reactionary. But to claim to be police is a rather exaggerated perspective, when they have no law to enforce. All we have are arguments – which, if you don’t like them can be refuted with better arguments or ignored. Even if you want to call them policing, you’re still not refuting the arguments – only describing your view of them.

He writes:

And let me be frank: while this is a very important conversation to have, it seems to be futile to attempt to have it on the internet, where it will inevitably turn into a dual siege between two heavily-entrenched echo chambers of vocal minorities, separated by a vast landscape of howler monkeys flinging shit. I’ve survived this long as a public figure online by not letting myself get dragged into this stupid call-out culture that online discussion so often descends into. Let the busybodies scream that neutrality is a tacit endorsement of the enemy; as long as both sides are saying that then I couldn’t give a toss.

I always find it surprising when internet commenters with a massive audience view the Internet as some special place where things aren’t real or, in this case, can’t be done properly. The assumption is that, maybe, meeting face-to-face would be better? In some cases, of course this is true – but some of us are better at writing than speaking; some of us like to outline our work with references to back up our claims, or whatever. And further, considering how Internet conversations harm and help, I fail to see what automatically means the internet isn’t a viable place for discussion. But it doesn’t matter, because he “couldn’t give a toss” anyway.

I started writing something about the GG-word, and then stopped myself a few sentences in when I realized what I was doing. I was falling into the same trap that arguably started the whole mess in the first place: I was letting games journalism become about games journalism, and about things like moral imperatives and other bullshit, when it should be about games.

What started the whole mess was slut-shaming and a toxic gaming environment that hates women – not gaming journalism. But, OK.

Regardless: Journalism should reflect – that it hasn’t been reflecting on how games media operates is part of a huge ethics problem many of us have long complained about. A problem few actually want to talk about on adult ways, with people like Croshaw. But, nevermind.

“Should be about games”… Oh dear. I’d love to meet a person of colour who enjoys making an issue out of a lack diversity; I’d love to meet a woman who welcomes the harassment and threats from gamers because she gave an opinion about a game. No one wants gaming culture to be “about” games more than the people being harassed and targeted and excluded.

It’s a huge privilege, a huge declaration of privilege, to be able to shrug your “it should be about games” shoulders while existing in gaming culture. One day maybe the rest of us can join straight white men who can do this everyday.

“Moral imperatives and other bullshit?” Well, considering the entire argument for not using “master race” is a moral one, I guess Croshaw has removed himself from the conversation.

About why they’re good and fun and their place in the world of art. I’ve never been interested in hype or the drama behind game development, only in the finished products, and so far I’ve seen nothing to indicate that games are being negatively affected by either misogyny or hysterical misplaced moralizing.

How can you talk about games being art and not care how they’re made? Where does he think the finished products come from? They emerge from an environment that treats women poorly and has a severe problem with racial diversity. But, we should listen to him because… well, because he says so I guess. He hasn’t seen it, so it must be true?

If you’re wondering why he, specifically is commenting, it’s due to his creation of the then ironic pic of a “glorious PC Master Race” (seen in the feature image of the PC Gamer article). He responds as such.

Firstly, any call asking for widely-used words and phrases to change is automatically futile.

No, it’s not: Speaking only for myself, I’ve stopped using words and phrases, I’ve convinced students to do same, and done so for readers for years. Whether it’s “faggot”, “a gay”, “slut”, “transgendered“, we listen to those who know better and take three seconds out of our life to change a behaviour that affects others more than us. Because, you know… we care.

Language is far too vast and nebulous a thing to be influenced by the complaints of individual voices.

No one is asking you to change all of language. It’s asking you to to not use three words and find alternatives to a hobby about a mouse and keyboard.

It’s like trying to turn the tide back with a bucket and spade. Only large, immeasurable, unpredictable trends will decide what will and will not enter common parlance, very rarely can it be done as a conscious decision on the part of individual linguists.

I’m not sure why we’re talking about language on a such a macro level, since it’s a rather complicated thing.

All that’s being asked, let me stress again, is for grown adults to voluntarily reconsider using three words because these add to a culture of exclusion that affects, for example, people who aren’t white. I don’t know who’s talking about removing words from the language or whatever.

Again: yes, we’re still talking about the fact we need to have long arguments about why using Master Race isn’t so hip.

Then, this paragraph. I’ll break it down after.

And yes, I suppose I’m iffy about the call to change the term because it’s a Nazi Germany reference and ‘someone might be offended’. That old altar, upon which the language police would sacrifice so much. Obviously this I do have strong opinions on because I’m a comedy writer, and comedy is arguably dependent on breaking taboos. I’ve always read ‘inoffensive’ as a synonym for ‘mediocre’. If you asked me whether I’d prefer to tell a joke that two people found mildly amusing, or a joke that one found hilarious and the other found offensive, then I’d say the latter. Someone has to be pushing at the boundaries because otherwise the boundaries will shrink, and the area that’s considered ‘acceptable’ will get smaller and smaller. Language control is thought control. Orwell knew that.

So, to break it down.

And yes, I suppose I’m iffy about the call to change the term because it’s a Nazi Germany reference and ‘someone might be offended’.

I dealt with people who bracket all “offense” under “offense isn’t an argument” already. It’s a crass way to view the world and too often it’s wielded by privileged people to dismiss marginalized people. Certainly being offended isn’t an argument and we should be legally allowed to say basically whatever we like. Indeed, I don’t want to live in a society that would ban the phrase “PC Master Race”.

But if, in the same breath, you can mention the impact of Nazi Germany with the trivializing statement in scare-quotes “someone might be offended”, you might not have the best thinking on this.

That old altar, upon which the language police would sacrifice so much.

Again: no one is asking for the words to be banned or “sacrificed”. They’re asking for you to hold on to them, closely, with passion and decide, voluntarily, because you care about the impact on others, not to use them. No one is stopping you from using them. I will fight tooth and nail against people who call for that phrase to be a criminal offence. But that’s not the issue and an absurd hyperbole.

If you asked me whether I’d prefer to tell a joke that two people found mildly amusing, or a joke that one found hilarious and the other found offensive, then I’d say the latter.

See what I mean by use of offensive? All offence is bracketed – everything from mocking religious figures to slurs my family faced when living under a white regime, slurs and threats I face from people declaring themselves literally part of the Master Race.

Would Croshaw tell a joke that a made a racist laugh and a person of colour feel unwelcome: well, according to his outline, yes. Though I’m sure, in reality, he would not. And he would not because of moral reasons, not because he’s afraid of the language police in their space cars made of wagging fingers.

Someone has to be pushing at the boundaries because otherwise the boundaries will shrink, and the area that’s considered ‘acceptable’ will get smaller and smaller. Language control is thought control. Orwell knew that.

Poor Orwell, getting dragged out in “debates” about not using terms that exclude marginalized people.

What boundaries are being pushed? So far, he’s conveyed there’s nothing wrong with games (“I’ve seen nothing to indicate that games are being negatively affected by either misogyny or hysterical misplaced moralizing.”); and he’s asserted a term that’s long been in use should not be censored by the evil thought police. That’s not pushing boundaries, that’s cementing existing ones firmly that are already in place. That’s not edgy or taboo breaking, it’s what every one does already and marginalized people are finally conveying they’ve had enough and will no longer stand for being excluded from a hobby and culture they’re part of.

I think the article misses the point that words and phrases that carry tension only gain more tension and more power when their usage is policed; it’s only when they are used casually and mockingly that that power is taken away.

The whole point is that Master Race is used so casually. The whole point is that just because gamerbros don’t care about using it, while those affected by racial issues are, doesn’t mean we ignore those who it affects. That makes no sense. They have power – you don’t get to handwave it away because it doesn’t have a power of you. Words have meaning – ask any number of ethics students who come out better people from universities with their views changed; ask any number of us Ex-Muslims who read atheist books.

It’s always someone’s position when we talk about power and impact; and someone who doesn’t seem affected by racial or gendered slurs is probably not the anchor from which we should be steering our responses. After all, he’s provided no reasons beyond “I’ve never seen it” and “Stop trying to change language”.

We mock to show that we are unafraid, gallows humor and all that, it’s a very human thing.

And it helps to be morally congnisant of what you’re mocking. I imagine the police officer using a racial slur to mock a cab driver he assaulted wanted to show he was unafraid. Mockery doesn’t get an automatic moral pass just because it’s humour. Humour is a way of communicating which means it carries a moral dimension.

Slurs are routinely reclaimed by the people targeted by the slurs, just as PC gamers reclaimed my ironic insult.


Wilde makes the point that they may not be fully appreciating the context behind the term. But even that, in it’s own way, could be a positive thing. Because the Nazis were dicks, and they don’t deserve to have power over our language anymore.

So your response to people who feel excluded by racist regime concepts is that we should keep using the phrase because racist regimes are bad and don’t deserve to control that concept anymore. Well, that would be fine but there are some reasons to be concerned: bigotry like racism is still an issue – but, let’s remember, it isn’t issue for Croshaw in games, so I guess it fits.

I guess all of us persons of colour who frequently talk about diversity in games, the myriad complex ways we are targeted,  excluded and so on, are… I guess, making shit up? Notice, too, Croshaw’s argument can be used for any slur – including the k-word.

Translation: We aren’t ignoring people of colour who feel excluded! We’re empowering them by still using a term they’ve told us they don’t like!

But Croshaw misses the biggest point when trying to equate this to targets reclaiming a slur: The targets of the slur are the ones that decide to turn it around. It was gay people, not homophobes who got the term to be used by gay people. In this case, the targets of racist regimes and ideologies, like myself, are asking you to please stop using the phrase. We don’t want to embrace it. We think it’s gross and childish and we think, in this beautiful langauge of ours, we can do better.

I’d be interested to see how Croshaw explains to my parents and grandparents who grew up in apartheid South Africa, forced to live under people who proclaimed themselves “the Master Race”, why it’s OK for video gamers to use it to describe their hobby.

If some millennial can honestly use the term ‘PC Master Race’ for years without even knowing that it’s a Nazi reference, then I’d chalk that up as a win.

For who?

That’s how badly you lost, Mr. Hitler – your armies were destroyed, your nasty ideals have been condemned, and now we’ve taken all your favorite words away. Suck it, Dolfy.

Nothing like addressing a dead dictator and not a single person of colour’s concern, eh?

If anything encapsulates gamer culture for me, it’s when a popular video game commenter mockingly responded to Hitler and nowhere dealt with people of colour dealing with exclusion.

As I’ve indicated, I think Mr Croshaw is extremely talented. I have no ill will to Mr Croshaw and have always hoped to meet him. But, this kind of attitude is exactly what I’ve long been making noises about. And it helps no one, except those who see no cultural or societal issues in games – as Mr Croshaw admits and many others don’t. No boundaries are pushed – in fact any boundaries that were pushed are being pushed back, when a major player in gamer culture like Croshaw offers no arguments, only his limited – and he even admits it’s limited due to not wanting to get involved – perspective.

And again: this isn’t policing. It’s a request to fellow adult humans to take a moral stance, to care about others to a small degree; to voluntarily decide to not use three words – only three – to describe their hobby, which persons of colour participate in, too.


  1. Bakunin says

    Wow, Yahtzee is terrible. Is there just something about keyboards, controllers, and video games that makes people awful?

    • says

      Given that Tauriq is a videogame player himself, I’m inclined to say no, there’s not. It’s the person behind the keyboard/controller/VG that’s to blame, not those things themselves.

      • Tauriq Moosa says

        Judging by the fact that I don’t mention Croshaw’s nickname, I’m guessing Bakunin is themselves a game player 😛

  2. says

    So, Ben Croshaw refuses to pick sides by, ehm, picking sides?
    Sometimes I think that part of the problem is that straight white men simply have no frame of reference for slurs. They have no idea what those words mean for the marginalized group, the impact they have. They simply have no idea that those words are often the last thing you hear before somebody violently attacks you.
    “Dick” doesn’t cut it.

    As for the “but comedy has to push taboooooooos” argument, whenever I hear that, I hear “lazy”, “cowardly” and “unoriginal”. Because instead of thinking about some new content that treads on the toes of people who can quite frankly kick back, you use the same old shit thousands of others have used before and then act as if you’re all edgy and courageously pushing boundaries because now the people you’re punching in the face get to say “Ouch!”

    No, Ben Croshaw, you’re not taking away power from Hitler. You’re making Hitler look like not that bad a guy.
    But yes, language can actually change. There’s quite a lot of words I remember that don’t get used anymore. Funny enough, my language is still rich and communicative. Saunauntensitzer.*
    It’S always funny how people use hundreds of words trying to convince others that words actually don’t have any power.

    *Person who sits in the bottom row of the sauna because it’s not that hot there.

    • Tauriq Moosa says

      You might have to explain this part a bit more: “No, Ben Croshaw, you’re not taking away power from Hitler. You’re making Hitler look like not that bad a guy.”

      Otherwise, your comment is, as usual, better than my long post above.

      • says

        Uhm, thanks
        As for an explenation, people who think that “Let’s just throw Nazi references around for fun, that’ll show Hitler!” are wrong.
        Because it desensitises people.
        Those words should convey the horror of fascism to anybody who hears them. Because, as you rightly note, they absolutely do for those who used to be the targets of those groups*.
        Because there are still people who use those words in their original meaning. Now come in gamers to muddy the water. Oh come on, you cannot just judge somebody for using the word “Master Race”, they could just be a gamer. It takes away the “red flag” function of these terms, giving actual Nazis cover. If you think that talking about a “Master Race” is not a horrible thing that doesn’t mean that fascism has been finally defeated, but that fascism is making its way back.
        I don’t know if you followed this, but there’s currently this group in Germany called “Pegida”. They’re using quite a lot of Nazi terminology and they’re trying to get that into the realm of acceptable. And yep, that makes me scared as hell.

        *For a very vagues sense of “used to”

    • says

      Well, taking power away from Hitler is connected with making him look not so bad. Because without power, he’s just some crank yelling (horrible) things into the void. That’s what I assume you meant, but if not I welcome correction.

      But I wanted to respond to/expand upon this:

      Sometimes I think that part of the problem is that straight white men simply have no frame of reference for slurs.

      This is precisely the problem (or one of them). It’s related to a problem that comes up in anti-rape efforts. People think of the worst behavior they can envision themselves engaging in. I would never use the n-word, so I apply condemnation of certain types of language to words I would use (not to mention I assume anything I would say is innocuous, because otherwise I wouldn’t say it).

  3. culuriel says

    Is Croshaw really arguing that he’s sticking with the current status quo, based on long-discredited racist ideas, because that’s edgy? Didn’t humanity just live through, literally, centuries of racist stereotypes? He’s doing nothing new. He’s not pushing a single boundary. I’d say he’s retreating to the old boundaries, but he sounds more like some old imperialist who wants to keep arguing that he’s entitled to territory he had to surrender at truce talks.

  4. blaktron says

    Some people are so ignorant. No one is saying this guy can’t make jokes using the term PC Master Race, or that it can’t be used as an off colour joke (saying it isn’t thaaaat offensive).

    However, making your identity hinge on the fact that you are the PC Master Race is pretty Hitlerish, and that’s not Godwin’s law. It was a term used to describe how PC trolls would argue that PC Gamers were inherently better than console gamers and there should be no console gamers or games because that took resources away from the mighty PC gamers. It’s crass to compare one of the great human tragedies with the war between which nerds are better, but the attitudes were strikingly similar, if obviously different in severity and outcome.

    So knock it off making PC Master Race your identity, go back to using the term to shame assholes who think their hobby requires the destruction of someone else’s (almost indistinguishable) hobby. And stop bitching when people tell you you’re being rude and think for a second that maybe you are, and that being rude is your red-blooded right; but it’s still wrong. Most of the time. Goat fuckers.

    Hardcore PC Gamer since before your parents met.

  5. tvoyumat says

    I had a “friend”, Mr. Blue Dog Democrat, that thought it was “edgy” to say things like “Fancy People” and “fa–ot”, even after I came out Bi. Yes, he’s Straight, White, Christian.

    We aren’t friends anymore. None of those guys, my old group of “friends”, know that I’m Trans* One of my dearest friends begged me not to come out to them, her opinion is that if they treat me like that for coming out Bi after knowing me for 15 years, then my physical safety may well be at risk if they learn I’m Trans*.

    Anyhoo, that’s my 2 cents on people that are “edgy”.

  6. Bakunin says

    I was a gamer until a few years ago. I enjoyed a few of Croshaw’s videos for the humor even when I had no interest in subject of the video.
    And you’re right, there’s nothing unique about gaming culture. It’s just a reflection of society as a whole; the issues in it are in the spotlight right now. I apologize for the generalization.
    Back to the Hitler-trivializing, those beliefs and actions should not be coopted. Real people died real deaths because of them; repurposing the slogans into a joke isn’t thumbing your nose at awful ideology, it’s mainstreaming it.

  7. samgardner says

    This post is very confusing to me…

    I don’t know what the k-word is. However, if it’s offensive to some racial group I simply wouldn’t use it.

    “PC Master Race” does sound like a poor choice of name for a group that isn’t based on racism. I don’t really find it offensive per se, but it just doesn’t seem funny to me either. I suppose you could make an argument that it’s like the “Soup Nazi” of Seinfeld fame (at least in terms of using a reference to that era, though there are some obvious differences).