Stop the “A-word” From Spreading

How you can be vigilant for a cause while you game


Image Illustration by Elysse Acosta

There is a problem in the gaming community. A big problem. I’ve discovered the unrestricted use of the word “autistic” as an insult in some of the most popular online games, played by millions of people. Other words like the r-word are restricted pushing even more people to use unrestricted words still available.

How do I know? I know because I’ve gamed for years. I love video games and always have. With the growing popularity of games like Fortnite, the stigma that comes with being a “gamer” is leaning more and more toward actually being cool.

I’ve also done publicity for autism charities for years, learning all about the depth, richness and complexity of this incredible population. At first I didn’t pick up on the use of the word “autistic” as a slur, but when I did it bothered me enough to speak out.

Most of us know that insulting people with the R word is unacceptable. What happens when “autistic” becomes a replacement insult? How does that happen? In the PC gaming community, being “toxic” or very ill tempered by name-calling other players, on opposing teams or not, is a very common. These “ragers” or “keyboard warriors,” sit behind a computer screen and participate in a version of online bullying that most people are unaware of. The more I’ve played, the more I’ve come across autism as an insult.

Phrases like, “What are you, autistic?” or “you autistic f***!” seem to be the newest insult of choice these days. Both children and adults, are being insulted by this. When “autistic” becomes an insult, it insults actual people with actual autism, who probably already face more than their fair share of insults and bullying.

For work, I write press releases, make videos and do communications for the autism community, many times, while my coworker’s son with autism has been in behavior therapy in an adjacent room. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes it does not. Sometimes there is screaming, breaking stuff, or tears all around. Yet what I see is a child working hard, and a family who works even harder every day for their kid. Just like many families of kids of all abilities work hard to help their kids. So I know first hand that people with autism are exactly that; people.

Who does this impact? What is the scope of the problem? The gaming community has always been a hugely under-appreciated society. Within just the past few years, the online gaming world has exploded into a massive multi million institution, growing rapidly each year. According to The Best News, the video game market is expected to be worth over 90 billion U.S. dollars by 2020. League of Legends, alone, is the top grossing video game in the world, earning $1.8 billion just last year.

Online games all over the world are now being accepted as esports or electronic sports which include competitive, and professional video gaming. Some colleges even offer full-ride scholarships to some pristine colleges for joining their esports teams. High schools are even getting involved in friendly competitions with their rivaling high schools. Now is the time to stop this new insult from spreading.

Addressing this issue in the gaming community can prevent the word autistic from becoming an insult in the real world. We’ve hopefully put the R word to rest. Let’s try and cut this off now before it gets any worse.

I urge all game developers to include the word “autism” and “autistic” in their glossary of flag-worthy, restricted or reportable words, providing a means to challenge the use of the word autism as an insult in the gaming community. I urge the people of the gaming community to learn more about autism and truly understand why we need to stop this while we can.