Video Games

Video games: ‘Degrassi’ TV episode gets gamer culture right

In the #NotAllMen episode of “Degrassi: Next Class,” a gaming team plays a semi-violent faux game in the high school’s gym.
In the #NotAllMen episode of “Degrassi: Next Class,” a gaming team plays a semi-violent faux game in the high school’s gym. Netflix

A 37-year-old Canadian teen drama series rebooted by Netflix delivered the most spot-on depiction of young gamers I’ve ever seen on mainstream TV.

I’m shocked to say this, but the #NotAllMen episode of “Degrassi: Next Class” – which released a full season on the streaming service a few weeks ago – avoids the common misconceptions prevalent in virtually all series’ attempts to take on gaming. It even shed some light on something I hadn’t thought of – the issues facing high school administrators on whether to allow competitive gaming clubs or teams.

Subsequent episodes dived headfirst into the many stereotypes I am used to seeing on TV, but I am willing to count this as a win.

In the episode, sophomore Hunter and his three friends play a semiviolent faux game on a makeshift stage in the high school’s gym. They shout off some super-forced dialogue laden with words from the gaming lexicon – lag, gank, etc. – before winning the match, which qualifies them for a regional tournament.

They put together a cool commercial to ask for crowdfunding money to buy new computers to beat the lag, but news hits that the feminist club is asking the student council to disband the gaming group. The game they play is sexist, as the women are partially clothed and objects of violence.

Hunter does a great job defending his club. The characters aren’t people, he says, they’re robots and monsters. He didn’t develop the game. The club has a female member. He’d love to play a different game, but that’s the one with a popular competitive scene.

Then he makes a few very common missteps. He says that boys are better than girls at video games, which obviously comes off as sexist. But he explains it pretty well – boys learn from a very early age, and parents are more forgiving to young boys who want to stay inside all day and play games.

He is not wrong. The overwhelming majority – probably 99 percent – of pro gamers in the world are men. The “League of Legends” North American professional league doesn’t have a single woman competitor, and I don’t believe it ever has in its five-year history. Women aren’t banned from competing. Maybe teams don’t give them a fair shot, but I doubt a team would intentionally exclude a skilled female player when they stand to make millions if they win.

It’s a generational thing. A lot of women in my generation like games. A lot of them play games – alone, not necessarily because a boyfriend is making them. However, I don’t know many who play 20 or 30 hours a week – a very common figure among my adult male friends. Maybe their parents discouraged it, maybe not. But I think our children will likely be the first to equalize the competitive gaming gender ratios – not us.

Hunter ruins it by making an off-color racist remark to feminist club president Goldi, who wears a hijab. All of his points are nullified by this outburst, and they lose their club.

The stereotypes come later when Hunter and his friends begin harassing women online and swat, or report a fake emergency on, one of the feminist club members. The harassment is an issue, but the vast majority of gamers don’t actively seek women out on Twitter to bother. And swatting is far more rare.

The most interesting part of the episode was the school’s response. It outlaws gaming partly because of the gamers’ actions, but also because of the game itself. It is violent and sexist. Exposing the students watching in the gym to things like that is wrong.

It is a dilemma that probably every school in America is facing, or will soon face. The vast majority of young people game in some way. Many play violent games at home. Is it really such a big deal to allow them to play something like “Call of Duty” as part of a school club, given that many will just go home and play it for six hours anyway?

The rise of competitive gaming complicates the issue further.

Legitimate professional gaming is here. Thousands of Americans make a living playing a game or many games, either in leagues or for entertainment purposes on Twitch or YouTube.

College gaming is growing. A few schools offer scholarships. More will follow.

Are the moral issues enough to offset the potential gains of allowing young students to compete for their school? Some leagues give away scholarship money. The vast majority of professional players are under 25.

I hope to have children some day. Those who start younger will probably have an edge. Will I let my 10-year-old spend his whole day killing things in a game, knowing that he or she enjoys it and could potentially get a free education and a lucrative career out of it?

I don’t really know. My hardest decision is usually deciding what’s for dinner. I’ll have to build up to that one.