Metacognition: (In)Tolerance

We’re back with our “thinking about thinking” series! If you’re interested in our previous deep thoughts, check out the Metacognition series.  Join us for some deep thoughts (and maybe the occasional not-so-deep thought) about gaming. If you find one you’d like to answer, you can either comment below or write a post and share the link so we can all read your fantastic thoughts!

What is something about the gaming community that you feel strongly about?

“Tolerance” is a word that gets thrown around quite a lot, and seems to be mentioned more nowadays, particularly in the gaming community: we must tolerate the surge of “casual gamers,” tolerate the gamers that are not like us, and tolerate more diverse casts and characters in our games. Tolerate it. Go on. Tolerance is good for you.

Except maybe it’s not.


As you know, I’m a fan of words. The right word can convey a concept much more clearly than a dozen loosely related words. And the wrong word – or the wrong word with a good intention, in this case – can be harmful.

You guessed it. Tolerance is one of those words.

But Athena, I hear you type. You’re the one always going on about representation in games all the time!

Accepting Tolerance

“Tolerance” is defined as a willingness to tolerate opinions and behaviors you don’t agree with. “Tolerate,” meanwhile, is defined as allowing the existence or occurrence or practice of something you don’t like or agree with, without interfering. This doesn’t seem so bad, does it? A tolerant person is allowing a person different from them to exist. How very kind of them to allow that person to exist.

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When taken as part of a larger whole, tolerance usually implies confining certain aspects of a person/society to certain places in that society. We tolerate a rude dinner guest, because we must only deal with him/her until she leaves for the evening. We tolerate differing political views as long as they don’t stomp on our feelings too badly.

Contrast this with acceptance, or when one recognizes the (often uncomfortable) state of things or condition, and does not attempt to change or protest it. Acceptance is a much less judgmental state of being: seeing the state of things, nodding, making peace with it, and moving on. Live and let live, acceptance says.

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Socially, “tolerating” often means that the person(s) tolerated are confined to a certain place in the society. Minorities might be “tolerated,” but not welcomed into the fold, after all. Just take a peek at the low-income housing in any affluent (read: predominantly white) neighborhood. They’re never really in the nicer, more convenient part of town, is it? But they’re tolerated. Tolerance has a certain (perhaps unintended) negative connotation to it: you tolerate the things you are not okay with.

Ideally, we should not tolerate each other. We should accept each other.

Gaming Our Systems

So where do video games fit in to all of this? As we’ve talked about before, video games can act as a mirror for ourselves, and also for our realities. With that in mind, I’m going to contrast two incidents in Chrono Trigger. Imps an humans are enemies at the beginning of the game, and upon visiting the imp city Medina, Crono and his friends find a less-than-warm welcome. They are allowed to go about their business, but the imps are very clear they wouldn’t prefer the humans to not be there. Their presence is merely tolerated; they are a short-term annoyance that is allowed to conduct their business and leave to go back to their homes.

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Meanwhile, Crono and his friends accidentally tumble into the house of a few imps, who, after being initially surprised, welcome the motley crew into their home, saying they have let bygones be bygones, and even offering Crono and his pals food.

While I imagine they must be tolerant of Crono bursting into their house (on multiple occasions), from all the information available it seems that these imps accept Crono and his friends: they see the human/imp conflict as something that happened and was resolved long ago, acknowledge the state of things now, and move on without judging or trying to change the thing that might otherwise make them uncomfortable.


To a lesser extent, we can take a game like Skyrim. I’m playing as a khajiit, which is a humanoid-cat creature who, as far as I can tell, are slightly more physically adept than the average human. Unless I’ve missed something in the lore, they are just that: bipedal cats who look sort of like humans and have the same basic needs and perform the same basic functions as anyone else.

My particular khajiit, Ra’zirr, has been accepted as the Dragonborn. It is something outside of his control, but no one questions him, no one asks him to prove he can Fus-Ro-Dah with the best of them. No one tells him to keep his shouting powers down.


However, poor Ra’zirr is only tolerated as a khajiit. He will have just returned from triumphantly battling a dragon, only to be told that he’s being watched, or to move along, and always end with him being referred to as a “cat.” It gives the game the distinct feeling that Ra’zirr’s presence is merely tolerated, as most would prefer he go back to wherever he came from and stop bothering the nice, quiet, Nord town.

Bottom Line

There are not many instances for us as player to truly have the tolerance/acceptance ideas shown to us in a way that make us the one being the tolerant vs. accepting one, so unfortunately we are only ever able to see this comparison in action, and even then, it is such a subtle difference that it’s easy to miss. But it’s an important difference. Tolerance is the bare minimum of how we should treat other people, like the imps allowing the humans to pass through unscathed. What we should strive for is acceptance.

This is something that, while not such an important detail in games, is of paramount importance in the community. Gaming is quickly becoming (or perhaps it has already become) a diversified hobby, with people of all genders, races, orientations, play styles, and tastes taking to this electronic media in their spare time.

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So the question before all of us now is, Do we tolerate the tablet gamers? the folks who play games on “easy”? the people who look or play differently than we do? Do we merely allow them to exist within our space because we are told to do so, the same way some bemoan how they are forced to tolerate diversity in a BioWare game?

Or do we look at the world around us, realize it has changed, and willingly accept all gamers into the fold?

What about you? Do you think tolerance and acceptance are different concepts? Have you played a game that contrasted the two (or only had one)? What would you say to those who merely tolerate gamers different from them? Let me know in the comments!

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  1. I think you’re right about them being separate concepts, certainly in a very literal sense. I suspect that for many though, they’ve become interchangable as words, regardless of their actual definitions. There is certainly a big difference between tolerating and accepting someone though, and the optimist in me likes to think that tolerance may be an important first step towards acceptance, at least for some.
    In a similar thing, I’m not a fan of term “to normalise’ when it’s used to reference diverse groups of people and representation thereof. I’ve seen people say they portray a person in one way or another to normalise them in the eyes of those viewing the media, and I dislike it because it feels to me like saying that means said aspect of a person isn’t normal and therefore a societal shift is in order. Or, at the very least, it feels like it’s putting an unnecessary focus on the concept that sons people really do view others as less than then for things that really should have no bearing on such things. I’d much rather people just said that they were showing characters to be just the same as everyone else, despite minor differences, without using the term normalise.
    But I digress. I can’t think of an example off the top of my head for a game that shows this. I would say though that I tend not to tolerate people with different tastes, but rather accept that they have them and look to the shares ground of us all being gamers. So what is you prefer Nintendo/JRPGs/mobile games and I prefer Sega/Fighters/retro games? At the core, we’re enjoying the same thing, just from a different angle. As long as neither of us are being intentionally inflammatory about the others tastes, there is no real need for a divide.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree that in common parlance they tend to mean the same thing, but I think as a thought experiment it’s good to really ask whether we are “tolerating” by definition, or “accepting.” Nerdy me and all that haha

      I have similar feelings toward the term “to normalize,” although I think it’s likewise used in a way that’s supposed to be positive: often minorities can be demonized or sensationalized, so “normalizing” them is – I think – trying to wash all that nonsense away. Of course actual people don’t need to be “normalized,” but unfortunately maybe the *concept* of certain people does? I’m not sure if that makes sense how I wrote it.

      But in regards to games, you’re right. We’re all here to have a good time, and at the end of the day we might be looking in from different angles, but we’re all smiling at the same thing.


  2. This is definitely a conversation I’ve had with a couple of folks in the past- and certainly in the realm of gaming.

    The example I always think of is the way the Darcsen characters are handled in the Valkyria Chronicles games. Aside from the fact that there are deliberate echoes between their treatment and the persecution of Jewish people, there are those who accept them (thankfully including the central characters) and there are those who tolerate them “because they are useful”. It strikes me as particularly poignant that those that hate the Darcsen (even if they tolerate them on the surfacr in story scenes, etc.) are so caught up in it, despite having the same goals and objectives, that they recieve penalties in gameplay if they are anywhere near them. There are plenty of parallels to be drawn there without much need for explanation, I guess.

    While it can be interesting to see characters in games interact in tolerant rather than accepting ways about these things- another example that hit home for me coming up is Dorian in Dragon Age: Inquistion and how his story unfolds in a ‘partnership’ sense- seeing it in real life is generally a little unnerving, whether it be about gender, race, orientation, or just gaming system or genre choice. It’s easier to feel safe and comofortable in a situation where you know you’re accepted rather than tolerated. Differences should definitely be celebrated and if tolerance is a step toward acceptance- that’s fantastic. A number of people tend to stop and proudly tout residence on the tolerance line without realizing that acceptance is the goal and really helps strengthen any given community.

    This was an awesome read, and thank you so much for your thoughts on this. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed the article! And thank you for sharing the example from Valkyria Chronicles. That’s… very interesting, indeed. Hm.. But I suppose the game made it’s point well, right?

      Dorian’s storyline was so well-written, and I really loved how they portrayed the dynamic with his father, considering that up until that point Thedas has fallen quite easily into the “acceptance” category. I do agree that tolerance is a step, and we shouldn’t discourage tolerance (of course!) but we should also be aware that we can’t remain complacent wherever we “land.”


  3. Great Post! And no we should not tolerate people that play games on easy! Burn them all I say!!

    No I do agree that video games were not created for one person in mind. They are made for everyone to enjoy in their own way, or ignored for something that is more to their liking.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I – oh. Well that escalated quickly…. haha

      This is true. Games are designed specifically to appeal to the widest number of people (or the largest audience), and be accessible to gamers of all types. I like what you said about they are also there to be ignored in favor of something else, either a genre or another activity. To each their own, right?


  4. Acceptance is important, but unfortunately, most people only change their thinking reactively – when some event shakes their worldview or gives them pause. On top of that, a narrow-minded view is a place of comfort for people who don’t want to make room for people and experiences they don’t relate directly to or have never met (think racism against a minority group you’ve never actually associated with).

    Change does happen, but unfortunately not as quick as we’d often like. So tolerance might be as good as we will get from a lot of people. As for me, I say, game and let game.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Good read! I am not anywhere close to being a linguist, but I am aware of the suggestive power of ascriptive labels, since I work around the concept of the nation, and its powerful ascriptive capabilities. While you are absolutely correct in regards to the distinction between tolerance – acceptance, I would also add that ‘tolerance’ has been evolving as a term, being co-opted by, mostly, positive movements of inclusion, thereby modifying its meaning. That is not to say that the origins of the label should be ignored; moving away from it, especially towards acceptance and other potential terms, is definitely a good idea.

    So often lately I find myself thinking about Charles Taylor’s work on inter-subjective meanings, and how it can be “operationalised” for lack of a better term, how it can show not that communication is futile, but that we can build new intersubjective understandings that exist within, and because of, our “reality”, in the way we communicate, especially online. This definitely requires what you’re doing here – exploring the roots of oft-used terms, seeking to change and amend them, or replace them. So, yea, that’s my roundabout way of saying that I enjoyed reading this haha!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha well thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed it and I always appreciate verbose comments! English is a living language, as you mention, and the usage of words is always changing, but while on the one hand being overly sensitive to the “history” of a word can cause problems, I do think that having at least a passing awareness of how one’s words can be interpreted (especially online, as you mention) can be very important in reducing the chances of upsetting someone or of miscommunication.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I will tolerate and accept any style of gamer. Except those filthy casuals.

    Nah, the ideas of segregating and thinking of people in terms of the boxes they fit into is disgusting to me. People are complex. Everyone is complex. And the fact that people play in a different way than I do is just a sign of how complex the medium has gotten, trying to segregate based on that just makes the hobby worse off. That’s something that really drove me from the ‘gamer’ side of the internet, to the point that I barely use the word ‘gamer’ unironically, because it reminds me so much of that judgementalism.

    So yeah, everyone’s good. Even the filthy casuals.

    Skyrim does a really, really bad job with their prejudice, though. Yeah, Khajiit are banned from most towns and spat upon, how horrible, isn’t it? Except nearly every Khajiit you meet is associated with thievery or murder or murder-thiefing in some way. I really hope they weren’t trying to bring perspective to racism there, because they just ended up justifying it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, the “gamer” title comes with a lot of baggage. I’ve tried the “game enthusiast” title, but… I think I sound pretty dopey when I say that to people, so I usually stick with “gamer” and smile politely when people express their shock that I’m a decent human being. I have to say, though, more recently that’s met with an “oh, that’s cool,” so maybe the judgments wane with age. One can only hope, right? I agree that it’s completely ridiculous to keep drawing lines where there are none, because no one exists in a box. That’s hard to grapple with sometimes, all those shades of grey, but if we all make a little effort it really makes for a much richer experience.

      Yeah, Skyrim isn’t the best option, as I haven’t met many “nice” khajiits and so I can almost understand why the people are wary, but at least the way I’m playing, it’s really interesting to see people being willing to ask for help, and then turn around and ask “What do you want, cat?” when my personal khajiit doesn’t break the law. Which is at least almost a hint at racism? Again, not portrayed the best way, but… sigh maybe an attempt.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I will tolerate that a lot of people don’t like FFXIII, but I’m not accepting those opinions… 😛 I’m kidding. Seriously, I can talk about other games.

    I’ve always been one to welcome different perspectives on things, and even seriously consider things I don’t agree with. I will accept anyone’s respectful viewpoint. For example, I don’t like playing on super-crushing-hard modes, but it’s cool that other people enjoy that and I can see the value to them! I will, however, not tolerate mindless hatred and other stupid things that run wild in most gaming communities…

    Liked by 1 person

      1. So if no one was intolerant, there would be no need for intolerance. That sentence probably doesn’t make sense but still… *mind blown* 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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