Do video games promote racism? A look at “World of Tanks”

"World of Tanks" provides interesting insights into how players of online games bring their racist assumptions with them into the virtual world.

Elaine Rita Mendus | March 28, 2013 | 12:30 am

Games are notorious for breeding racism. Not so much through in-game content, but through the charming player base. This is commonly looked down upon by computer players as a console player phenomena, but it is equally as common on computer games. A big part of it are national attitudes on race, given that game users can customize appearances in the games.

Even if you don’t play video games much, the phenomenon of vicious gamers isn’t hard to get. Plenty of YouTube videos document it — the face of it often being a high-pitched, usually underage voice screaming homophobic slurs, or insulting your mother. Of course, race is another thing that is commonly used to attack people — I’ve experienced this first hand.

The race dynamic evolves much more, though, when you throw in foreign languages.

Games with much more diverse player bases, such as WarGaming’s breakaway hit “World of Tanks,” allow players from several regions to interact and engage in the delightful pastime of blowing each other to bits while driving armored vehicles owned by a variety of nations.

To connect, players download a version of the game to their computer called the “client.” They then create an account and log on to the main game server, a hub in a centralized area of one of the regions. From here, the players can pick a vehicle and enter battle with other players. Up to 29 players will be placed into a game that is played on the server. All connections from the players run here. All of the game data that players send and recieve goes through here. A player tank fires its cannon? The information is sent across the net from the client, to the server, and then from there, out to the other 29 players on the server. Chat messages, vehicle fires, battle records, and even damage done to the battlefield are all processed here.

As mentioned before, the game has regions and different servers serve different regions. Since data takes time to move, it would prevent players from being on a level playing field. For instance, if the main server were only in Russia, American and European players would be at a significant disadvantage. This can actually be seen when WarGaming is testing new releases — the test is hosted on the Russian server, and not all of the players get along well, for example. Normally, the major servers are broken up into three large regions, North America, Europe, and Russia.

There are much smaller communities for places like South Korea, Southeast Asia, and China. The first three server communities include multiple nations with various dynamics. North America including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and other areas of Latin America. Europe encompasses the European Union, and Russia encompasses the former Soviet Union’s players.

Within the first two servers, there are a variety of language communities and barriers. However, two player bases are generally abhorred by players. North American servers simmer with hatred toward Brazilians, the Europeans decry the Polish player base — both bases are stereotyped the same and viewed the same: stupid, ignorant, and terrible at the game. They also both are eager to find people of their own nationality playing the game. Often, Brazilian and Polish players will ask during the start of a game (in their native language, nonetheless) if anybody is of their heritage — PL? BR? This often draws hostile remarks from other players. (Since I commonly play on the North American server, I can only speak in-depth on this phenomena in the Americas.)

The offending Brazilians are usually shot down and screamed at by the others to shut up, or “Speak English,” something that often happens to Spanish speakers as well. These players’ argument boils down to this: everyone should simply speak English. However, the game does not force one to use English. Any argument that using a foreign language allows people to use strategy is absurd; there is very little time given before a random battle begins to plan a strategy out — and even then, you’re often teamed with people you’ve never played with before. Most of the strategy and planning is restricted to clans.

Interestingly enough, though, despite the hostility, non-English players on the North American server persevere. They’re pretty proud of it, too. With the addition of decals for virtual vehicles, people were able to add national flags to their in-game vehicles. It’s not uncommon to see Brazilian or Mexican players with their national flags slapped proudly on their game vehicles. Flags aren’t limited by nation of origin for vehicles, so seeing a Soviet tank with an American flag plastered on the side isn’t too strange. A weird slathering of nationalism runs through “World of Tanks.” Before the Korean server opened up, plenty of Korean players battled it out on the North American server, with Korean flags painted on their vehicles and romanized Korean names. These players didn’t receive much of a hostile reaction, though, as they didn’t last long, and typing in Korean resulted in boxes coming up. Arguably, the game’s inability to process Korean characters kept the Korean players from the same hostility that Portuguese and Spanish speaking players receive.

As for the European Union players, the “dumb Polish” stereotype has ascended into a meme among non-Polish players. “Siema, PL?” becoming a sarcastic response to pictures of losing teams, poor tactics, and other memes about bad players in the game. As the Brazilian playerbase grows, this is likely to occur here. Both ethnic groups are stereotyped among gamers for “ruining” games, so the hatred will likely grow alongside the Brazilian player base. It remains to be seen if “WarGaming” will split Latin America off into it’s own server, though.

One last note of interest comes up from the test server. As I noted earlier, occasionally, “WarGaming” will do test servers to see how players respond to new features for upcoming releases. New releases can add new vehicles, maps, balance changes and occasionally new game modes. Here, they place it one server, the Russian one, and allow anybody to connect. The culture here is equally abrasive, thus, a sort of culture shock occurs among players. The developers have noticed that Russian and North American players play the game differently, and that tends to shock those unfamiliar to how the other region plays the game. Also, all players are marked by which server they use; so, if I were to be on the test server, I’d have [NA] behind my name. This allows for another outlet for outbursts, where non-Russian players have begun to pick up on Russian insults thrown at them.

There is also a level of contempt felt by non-Russian server players, and a perceived Russian bias by many players. Many argue and conspire that the developers have a pro-Soviet bias, being that they are from Belarus, a part of the U.S.S.R., and are particularly harsh on German vehicles. The conspiracy is grounded in some reason — World War II was devastating to the Soviet Union, and the game spans that era — but there is no solid proof. They also feel that Russian players are treated better, as they have access to more “premium” tanks. These are vehicles a player can buy with real-world money and give bonuses to players in-game. The developers have yet to give a reason for why they withhold all of these vehicles from European or North American regions, which only seems to irritate the players further.

Overall, “World of Tanks” offers several interesting perspectives. It provides a unique gaming experience which has helped propel a small Belarussian company to financial success overnight, and it provides unique examples of racism and nationalism, be they percieved or real. The loathing of specific racial groups who play the game, ways to show and flaunt nationalism, and perceptions of a Russian-biased conspiracy are just a few examples of how this game becomes an interesting peek at international relations on a different scale.

About Elaine Rita Mendus (50 Posts)

Elaine Rita Mendus is a undergraduate student working on graduating college (someday soon). Her career interests include geopolitics, the Hispanic community, and urban planning. She really wouldn't mind ending up a scriptwriter though...

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    Posted April 7, 2013 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    Speaking from personal experience on the NA server, and from hearing things from guys who play on the EU server, I think that the Polish guys on the EU server get hated on a lot more than the Brazilian guys on the NA server. ROTA is a pretty well established Brazilian clan, and I think it’s pretty well respected among the more skilled NA clans.

  2. Tsubodai_br
    Posted May 20, 2013 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Play this game in about 2 years, and I say that I suffer very little racism, got the nick Tsubodai_BR which could attract to it. I think there are many children in the game, and they tend to want to draw attention, and it occurs everywhere, even among the Brazilians. Other than that, this is not the type of game where “trolls” proliferate, so who really like to play, have an intellectual level best.

    About the Russians, interesting to know, I always thought that the American and Russian tanks have an advantage in this game, although I prefer the Germans 😉


  3. world of tanks player
    Posted July 26, 2013 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    the author was too much diplomatic on her statements, the latin american countries really should have received a server for them much ago, the internet speed, lattency etc in these countries r much lower in quality than in the usa n canada, just like the average capacities of the computer sets of the latin-americans compared to the ones of usa n canada players.
    These tow facts alone make the same player perform quite worse if changes his desktop in the U.S. for a borrowed one in latin america. wargaming doesnt have to give better latency values to latin america to balance the unbalances about the average power of the computers in the 2 regions of americas.

    is enough quit increasing even more the disadvantage, finally doing what happens on the rest of the world in far east there servers in south korea, singapur n vietnam for china. is a shame not even announced plans for a south american one.

  4. world of tanks player
    Posted July 26, 2013 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    the russian bias n anti-german bias

    these worldwide conquered reputations r the result of millons of players experience, they r more than perceptions, they r emprical observation of the facts.

    we know that the owners n creators of the game r from Belarus, former part of soviet union n russian empire, related to russia on the Orthodox religion heritage, its Cyrillic alphabet, a very similar slavonic language n the closest ally of nowadays russia. n just like other parts of European part of Soviet Union, those countries have a huge emphasis in their history about the devastation made by the nazi-german invasion.

    that official history is so accurate n objective neutral about the facts just like all other histories n stories told by the winners or survivors of a lethal fight. you can ask the amerindians if they agree with the way the old hollywood cowboy movies portray them. but the accuracy of history is not the point here.

    the point is the effect that official history seems to have, it seems to be one of the main reasons of some facts: the russian bias n anti-german bias.

    the official history on belarus portay the ww2 in that country as the agressive invasion of evil nazi-germans that committed from the start till the end the most cruel n coward war crimes to the jews n non jewish of belarus, n that regardless the charachter of stalin goverment, the people of belarus n other parts of soviet union won a patriotic war to save themselves for such horrors. and is a lie of the enemies of former soviet union nations that that victory was not achieved solely by the qualities of those people (for example: the winter, the help of the western superpowers, greatest numbers of manpower and raw rescources etc.).

    one of the main reason presented is the superior quality of russian tank industry, in a war theater were the tank warfare was the most decisive factor.

    this maybe is present in the inherited mindset of the creators of world of tanks,

    making they to let their passions, preferences and dislikes affect the way the game portrays in non accurated version the real quality of the russian tanks n the german´s .

    some games change the real accuracy with the intention to equalize the options,
    so is very rare, n odd how a game like world of tanks, not only altered the real accuracy about the tanks, but also did that for that completely different reason.

    the result is that russian tanks perform better than they did in reality when compared with all the others: americans, french, germans etc. and the germans perform worse than they did in real history in a way that the american n french tanks were not affected.

    giving examples that the players of the world of tanks would understand: the ricochets that were included in the possible results of the shots on the tanks, benefit the soviet tanks more than any others. unnecessary to argue than the frequency of the ricochets on soviet tanks in the game r unrealistically much higher than in real world, enough to notice that to include the feature of the the ricochet in the game is one of the best ways to bennefit the soviet tanks.
    just like to exclude the quality of the steel armors made on the final years of the ww2 would harm the american tanks more than the others, n the exclude the quality of the optical systems harm the german tanks more than the others.

    there many other points that people that know the mechanics of ww2 tanks or the non-partisan history texts about them know well.

    although, is enough to play the world of tanks for a certain number of battles to observe emprically that the russian bias n anti-german bias r simply facts.

  5. mudslinger777
    Posted July 9, 2014 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    Much ago? WTF does “much ago” mean?

  6. I play wot.
    Posted December 7, 2014 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    I have never encountered this, and I have been playing on NA server for more than a year. Also, author, you typed”Wargaming” wrong. Gaming is not capitalized…

  7. Vincent Forrest Tippens
    Posted January 19, 2015 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    The problem isn’t “racism” – it’s nationalism. I’ve seen it in dozens of communities so far – BR players catch wind of a new game that looks cool, and the developer fails to open up the market to them (no servers in South America, etc), resulting in a massive surge of Brazilian players in the North American servers. The problem in cross-culture and cross-language interaction between players is that giving advice and talking tactics, etc. are all very difficult. One cannot tell a player to move out of the way, or to run, or to check the minimap because they do not understand the language being spoken. In games that aren’t World of Tanks, the problem is worse – notably, first person shooters, where a 400 ping will sometimes cause problems for the entire match.

    Posted March 7, 2015 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    WoT is a horrible game in itself. They spread antisemitism by discriminating against Countries and it is offensive.

    The makers of the game are from Belo-Russia and represent what everyone in the computer world expects from someone in that region. Hateful and ignorant people.

    They intentionally make the tanks from Mother Russia OP(over powered) by making other tanks kinda twitchy.

    Look at the French Tanks for an really good example. French have long been considered cowards on the battlefield because of infamous battle where they tucked tails and ran. So in WoT there tanks go faster in reverse than they do forward.

    I am not making that up, it is entirely true and every one in the game knows this.

    Look at the American Line of tanks.. They get ammo racked real easy, and I mean super easy. Every time you get hit your ammo gets damaged. I play ALOT of American tanks and have unlocked every single tank in that line and have experienced this first hand.

    I could go on and on about each individual country but will leave it at Russian tanks being the most well rounded ones in the game as well as having the largest DERP guns in the game.

    So if anyone is discriminating here it is the developers, Russians have long been considered a “Proud People”. So it comes as no surprise they represent it in a game they developed. or this I say. “They are proud to a fault”..

    The person who scribbled this article together should really do more research before publishing. Most games require teamwork and co-operation from other players with built in game chat. Latin America will join North American servers and start speaking in Spanish. Their society offers such a little demographic to the gaming world that no developers even consider setting up a server for them to play on and force English speaking people to tolerate them.

    They are never good players nor will they ever be. How can they? Their ping is through the roof. So, unless you are playing a Turn-Base game I would pray to God you do not end up on these “Morning Mexican” teams.

    So yes, we say and do anything to intimidate, bully, or just flat out harass them off the North American servers. We game for enjoyment and victories are a big part of that.

    In closing, we do not discriminate out of Hate. We intimidate out of agitation. Compare it to paying for a movie just for some jerk to talk on the phone during the movie..

  9. Son Lyme
    Posted May 10, 2015 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    This may seem counter intuitive, but my feeling is that WG needs to create server channels based on language. So players can communicate. WoT is a team game and throwing everybody in together leads to chaos, as communication is vital to team games.

    If players could choose server by language then this issue would be overcome. It would not be about nationality or race, merely language. Much of the xenophobia in the game comes from the inability of players to respond to the urgent appeals of their team mates. If you are getting creamed and calling for your team to redeploy to help you, it doesn’t improve the mood when they just sit there silently.

    Communication is at the heart of understanding other cultures and building respect. As it stands, WoT relies on a simple command interface that most ignore because it is overused. Servers by language would counteract that, and while they don’t promise to rid the world of racism or anger, they would go part of the way toward making the game a more satisfying and harmonious experience.

  10. Jon
    Posted May 29, 2015 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    “So in WoT there (sic) tanks go faster in reverse than they do forward”

    Uhhhh…the only tanks that do that are the Crusader SP and the Archer (British vehicles)

    Here are some example French tanks with max forward/reverse speeds:

    BDR G1 B – 30/10

    AMX 50 100 – 51/20

    AMX 50B – 65/20

    AMX 13 90 – 64/23

    AMX 30B – 65/23

    B1 – 30/10

    And going fast in reverse is a very, very good quality to have, anyway.

    Just got off a session at 8 am EST. There tend to be a lot of Brazilians on at this time of day, relative to other times (based on clans, more prevalence of Portuguese, brazilian flag emblems). The average level of play is also much, much lower. Whether that’s a Brazilians are bad thing, or whether the good players have better shit to be doing at 8 am, would require a lot more data than I have.

  11. Mash Room
    Posted June 23, 2015 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    I can assure you mate that there are more respected worldwide-known Polish clans than Brazilian ones.

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