Firewatch Creator Takes a Stand Against Casual Racism After PewDiePie Streamed a Racial Slur

Because you can't stay neutral in the face of racism.
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Content warning: racist language.

Over the weekend, YouTube megastar Felix Kjellberg, aka PewDiePie, posted a video that shows him using hateful, racist language. Yes, again. In a live stream of the game Battlegrounds, Kjellberg becomes irritated with another player, and casually calls him “a fucking n—.” He follows that up by saying “Sorry, but what the fuck. What a fucking asshole,” as if “asshole” and the n-word are interchangeable insults.

Game developer Sean Vanaman announced on Twitter yesterday that he’ll be filing a copyright claim to remove Kjellberg’s livestream video of Vanaman’s indie hit Firewatch.

Vanaman and his team at Camp Santo are big supporters of streamers. But there’s a difference between supporting streamers and holding a man with an audience of millions accountable for propagating and normalizing bigoted language. Vanaman laid out his reasoning on Twitter.

There are plenty of people online debating the validity of a copyright claim, especially since Campo Santo gives permission for streaming on their website. As of this morning, the of Kjellberg’s Firewatch stream has been removed. Whether or not it stays down, this is an important message–one that other game developers who don’t want to show tacit approval of racism by lettingKjellberg profit off of their work will hopefully join in sending.

The most disturbing and prevalent response to Vanaman’s tweets and the conversation surrounding Kjellberg’s use of the racist slur is the number of people insisting anyone upset is overreacting. His fans are–as they have in the past when slurs slip out of his mouth and into the ears of his millions of followers–committed to the idea that he’s not really racist, he just uses racist words, like, for fun.

That’s basically the definition of normalization. The argument that Kjellberg’s slur a big deal because he just says these things “to be funny” or that he “doesn’t really mean it” is itself pure racism. Every time language like this is used, it causes pain for some viewers, and instills a normalized sense of supremacy in others–telling them that their desire to use racist language is more important than acknowledging the actual realities of racism.

The only excuse Kjellberg could think to give was “sometimes I forget I’m live streaming.” (As if that makes it better?) He said in the same video, “I know that no one watching gives a shit.” While a good number of his fans are eager to dismiss his racist language as unimportant, there are plenty of fans who do give a shit, and not just out of anger. A lot of people do care, and do notice when he says racist things.

(image: YouTube via Venture Beat)

If you’re not familiar, “/our guy/” and “88” are both coded references to white supremacy and antisemitism. Kjellberg may think his “true” fans don’t care if he casually throws around bigoted language, but many do. A lot of people care that he’s using hate speech because they disapprove, and a lot care because they support it. Those who dismiss the anger as frivolous, as well as those who stay silent (and silently profit) aren’t neutral. There’s no such thing as “neutral” when it comes to racism. They’re bolstering those who depend on fear and indifference to remain unchecked in their hate.

Both viewers of PewDiePie’s work and the creators of the games he streams have the ability to send a message by refusing to participate in his work. Some, of course, are crying “freedom of speech” violations, because there will always be people who don’t understand what that means. Sure, he and others like him, with millions of dollars and millions of followers, are free to say whatever they want in their work. And the rest of us are free to not to support it.

(image: Campo Santo)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.