Those of you who read my blog know that I like to talk about video games a lot. It’s kind of a thing. It’s a significant part of my life and what I do in my off time when I’m not working or writing. But there happens to be a major issue as I see with the gaming community in general, and I feel it’s a subject that is worth mentioning on here.
A long time ago, when I first started playing games online, I was not a super outgoing person. I’m still not, in a lot of ways. I’m quiet, usually choosing not to say much unless I feel like I have something of substance to add to a conversation. But when I started playing online, I barely talked to people. And today, I still hardly talk to people online. So what changed? Well, I started not chatting with people in games more not because I was shy, but because a vast majority of gamers, regardless of what gaming system you’re playing on, are generally not nice people.
The amount of hatred and anger I’ve run into while playing games online is just absolutely astounding. I’m not saying that all online gamers are like that, but a fair number of them are. The misogyny and racism present in the communities of games like Call of Duty and Halo is just insane. I cannot believe how often I’ve heard racial slurs used online. Sadly enough, I’ve probably learned most of them from playing games online. But why are so many people like that in games? What makes them act out that way? Part of the problem has to do with the nature of the internet as a whole.
The Anonymity Factor
When you’re playing a game online, you craft an online persona for yourself. Whether you play on Xbox Live, Steam, or some other service, you have to come up with a name for yourself. Some places (like Steam) have entire profile pages for you to customize. But there’s no incentive for putting your real life face out there, so very few people did. If people’s names were actually like their online personas, we’d have a lot of people named along the “xXSWAGYOLOXx” category.
In the end, what this means is that there is no punishment for being mean. People can do whatever and say whatever they want, and the biggest consequence they get is having their profile banned for X amount of time, sometimes indefinitely if their offenses become too frequent. But even that’s not a great deterrent, because most people will just create another account to use. Barring a straight ban of their IP address (basically the address for your specific internet connection), I don’t see a way of stopping that. There’s virtually no accountability in the internet world, and that is one of its greatest assets and biggest flaws.
Scroll down the page on a Youtube video, and you’ll likely find some amount of hateful speech somewhere. I remember a music video for a parody song on Youtube where the comment section somehow became a breeding ground for white supremacists to spread their ignorant crap. How that happened I have no idea, considering the song had absolutely NOTHING to do with race in any way. But it shows just how often this stuff can crop up on the internet.
Imagine if an alien race came to Earth, and for some completely illogical reason, were only able to tap into the internet and judged us solely on the way we carry ourselves online. You know what would happen? Humanity would be obliterated faster than you can say “take me to your leader”.
It’s absolutely jaw-dropping how much hatred gamers can spew at each other online, and frankly I find it easier just to mute people so I don’t have to listen to them rather than try to reason with them. I’m just lucky I’m a man rather than a woman. The amount of misogyny present within the gaming community is absurd (NPR has an online story about that, which you can read here). It’s a shame that it takes a man talking about it before someone will actually listen. But the bigotry is only one half of the story.
What We Deserve
What surprises me even more is just how entitled we gamers tend to think we are. Once a few years back someone sent me a link to an online forum where someone was complaining about the game Alan Wake. He had a picture taken from the game, and he had zoomed in super far to examine the pixels (what every picture is fundamentally made up of). Apparently, he was upset because the game’s resolution wasn’t exactly what it was supposed to be, not that you ever would have noticed without the super-close up he did. But anyways, he goes off on some rant, calling the game trash and the developers hacks, so on and so forth. Never mind the engaging tale of a writer searching for his missing wife because THE PIXELS AREN’T PIXELY ENOUGH! STOP THE PRESSES, THIS IS IMPORTANT NEWS!!
We tend to think we deserve more than we do. We treat the people who create our games like absolute trash, and we don’t treat each other any better. We think that we’ve somehow earned the right to steal games from developers, and then complain when they did something we didn’t like (which I’ve actually seen happen once when a person posted a video on Youtube featuring footage from a game that wasn’t out yet). We think we’ve earned the right to carry ourselves in whatever way we want without consequence.
And then we wonder why it’s hard to get new people to play the games we like to play.
This is a problem that doesn’t have an easy fix. In fact, it may not even have a fix. People are going to continue to say what they want to say, and think what they want to think, regardless of what happens. And I must admit, I’ve grown rather nihilistic about the whole situation, choosing to play only with close friends most of the time. I have enough stress in my life without having to go online and hear all the nasty things people sling around at each other, all over something that’s meant to entertain.
Video games are just an outlet. They do not define the person that plays them. In much the same way that video games do not cause violence (a viewpoint I will defend to the last), games and the internet do not intrinsically cause people to become sexist, racist, and self-centered jerks. They only allow a place where people can go to mouth off about whatever they want without any repercussions. The real issue lies in the people themselves. In order to make a more friendly environment for us to game in, we have to acknowledge our faults and our inner demons.
This is the only way to stop people from acting out like that. We can place stiffer punishments on people who pirate games. We can verbally browbeat people who complain profusely about minor and insignificant things (like PIXELS, FREAKING PIXELS). We can create mechanisms in games to prevent racist and misogynistic talk. But until we fix the social issues of our time, we’d only be treating a symptom of a larger problem.
An issue of this magnitude requires the participation of much more than just one person or a group of people. We all have to set an example for others to follow. We all have to live a life free from hatred and bigotry, not just for our sake but for the sake of future generations. We have to stop assuming that we’re entitled to everything. Only then will the issue be truly solved. But to get from here to there? That’s an answer I don’t have, but I will do my part to find it, not just as a fellow video gamer but as a fellow human being.
And that’s all I have for this week. Next week’s post will have two hundred percent more pixels. Until then, have a great week everybody.
Author’s Note: All game pictures were taken from their respective Steam store pages.