We’ve got riots in France, synagogues being burned to the ground in broad daylight. We’ve got people yelling “Burn the Jews” and “Hitler was right” in Europe. Not to mention the escalating body count in Israel and Gaza, as both sides continue to destroy civilians as well as themselves. Luckily I’m somewhat insulated, in part by one of America’s defining victories on the world stage being the prevention of Jews being exterminated.
I can’t speak on the global politics of this current conflict. I’m neither a history scholar nor an activist in any form. My Jewish upbringing and general education have afforded me a certain window into this conflict, but I’m by no means sitting at the negotiation table.
What I can speak on, however, is my personal history with anti-Semitism and upsetting fact that I’ve directly experienced it during online gaming sessions. I was born in New Jersey and grew up in a very Jewish neighborhood, never really dealing with anti-Semitism. I was lucky, though I wasn’t ignorant to the plight of my fellow Jews. Upon entering college, I experienced my first taste of hatred towards Jews, but it wasn’t on campus or at a party. I was playing Diablo II, online multiplayer.
I remember I was playing as a sorceress, at the time I was level 89 (I know, right?). This was before voice chat, so everyone was typing at a feverish pace. “Watch out for that King Cow,” one would say. “Shut up Jew,” another retorted. Did I read that right? I tried to scroll up to re-read the text, but that would have resulted in my character being killed. The sheer shock of what it might have said caused me to retreat into complacency and I forgot about it as best I could.
Then it happened again, this time during Counter-Strike. Again, someone would be talking, and then be silenced by a “He’s only saying that because he’s a Jew. Shut up Jew.” I felt horror, not only that it was said but that no one batted an eye. I knew it wasn’t a group of friends sharing an in-joke because the clan names were different, yet here it was again. These were sentiments presented to me I thought long extinct, or at least publicly shamed.
I’ll spare you my entire life story, but suffice to say eventually I became the unlucky target. This time it was Halo multiplayer, though I don’t remember the version. It seems trivial now, given that I stopped playing after this encounter. I once again observed someone being called Jew in a derogatory fashion due to their poor skills, and I decided I’d had enough. “I’m a Jew,” I called out over the headset, though I’m not quite sure why I thought that would stop them. What followed was a flurry of slurs and insults, ranging from suggesting they should give me a shower (you know, the kind without water), to calling me greedy and big nosed… all the greatest hits.
I don’t blame Halo and I don’t think it’s really the game’s fault that people are idiots while using their products. It can happen outside of gaming as well, in chat rooms, emails, and really anything online. Do video games cause violence and racism? Of course not, but the anonymity that online gaming offers present an opportunity for hatred to be disseminated without fear of reprisal. Now I ask you to consider this: if the current Middle East conflict is causing such violence and hatred to infect the real world, can you imagine what the gaming landscape is experiencing?
We as gamers need to seriously realize the power we have. You can join any online game and speak instantly with representatives from every developed country on Earth. And if anti-Semitic language and sentiments are tolerated on that stage, it will bleed over to the real world. There are those who are legitimately concerned that the world might turn against Jews if Israel’s attack on the Gaza strip gains too much negative press. “That would never happen; there are too many Jews in powerful positions for that to happen,” is what you might say, yet the same thing was said before the Holocaust. And they didn’t have the internet back then, spreading hate at the speed of light.
And I worry, I truly do. With younger generations being further removed from WWII while playing Wolfenstein and fighting Nazis, they start associating that level of evil exclusively with fiction. I worry that when we are yelling taunts and tea-bagging each other in Halo, and someone makes an anti-Jewish remark and everyone laughs, people might consider it OK to do that, in game and in real life. It can’t be “Middle East conflict over there but I’m over here safely removed,” because those of the Internet culture are everywhere at once.
So when I see on Facebook “Save Palestine, kill the Jews,” there is so much wrong with that sentence it’s reminiscent of Biff Tannen from Back to the Future, when he would say “Make like a tree and get outta here.” Here’s a short list of reasons why it sounds so dumb:
- Not all Palestinians are Hamas
- Not all Hamas are Palestinian
- Not all Israelis are Jewish
- Not all Jews are Israeli
- Not all Israelis are happy with the attacks, or are even participating in them
Hatred and prejudice has always existed, but when something like this Gaza war happens, it’s like whacking a hornet’s nest. The impact doesn’t create the hornets, but it sure made them want to hurt people. I can’t presume to stop other countries from doing whatever they will, but we as “hornets” can stop freaking the heck out. Please, do not let a land dispute/terrorist war in one part of the world lead to widespread hatred for the peoples involved – especially in gaming, something that’s supposed to be fun and bring us together.
Should Israel put more effort into not killing indiscriminately while targeting Hamas? Sure. Should Palestinians not complacently allow Hamas to root themselves in Gaza? Couldn’t hurt. Should anti-Semitism be shunned from the gaming community, both in jest and in earnest? Absolutely, and that’s something that we can control. You may not be Israeli or Palestinian, but if you’re smart enough to know how to use the internet, you’re already part of the solution.