Every so often, I have the urge to write about things that really make me upset in the video game industry. This week, I want to talk about the way that so many people insist on bringing other people down in online multiplayer games. In every online multiplayer community, there are codes of conduct that attempt to weed out negative behavior, but often times these rules aren't 100% effective.
Be A Gaming Samaritan
I understand that, by their very nature, multiplayer games are competitive. Players are either competing against each other of versus the game itself. Competition, as numerous game studies have pointed out, can lead to aggressive feelings, which is perfectly normal. It’s when that aggression turns into verbal abuse toward other human beings that being aggressive turns into something ugly.
Imagine for a second that a heated online multiplayer match is just a bunch of people walking down the street. None of the people on the street know each other, or have even seen one another before. All of a sudden, one person accidentally bumps into someone else. The person bumped immediately cries: “You ****ing **** **** **********. You aren’t smart enough to find your own toilet to **** ***** ******! Now eat a ***** and go ****** to your ******* lover.” The two people then continue on their way. The aggressor feels better at the expense of the bumper, who feels a sense of worthlessness that he/she tries to hide for the rest of the day.
What so many people fail to understand is that words are powerful. Sure, words might never throw a punch or break a bone, but words can do more than that; words can plant ideas and beliefs. A single sentence can change a life forever, for better or worse. I can
tell you from personal experience that being bullied and harassed throughout much of my early childhood gave me a very warped perception of myself that will never fully go away. Getting death threats from other kids and being relatively friendless until my mid-late teens, I know what being on the receiving end of worded alienation feels like. When we say things to other people in online games telling them that they are fat, ugly, friendless, worthless, terrible, hateful, or unlovable, we are sending a message. Most of the time, I am sure we don’t mean it; if we met the person we were disrespecting online in real life, they would be relatively normal people with hopes, fears, loves, and insecurities just like anybody else. But even if we don’t mean it, we are still saying it. People on the receiving end of our words can be hurt. It has been said that if you hear something enough, then you start to believe it. All too often, what I hear when I play online games are slurs, accusations, racism, sexism, bigotry, elitism, etc. that all basically boils down to: “You are worthless, I am better than you.” And we hear this underlying statement repeated all of the time.
I can hear people now, saying something along the lines of, “Stop taking things said over the internet so seriously,” or, “Grow some thicker skin.” I’m just going to say this once: Tearing someone else down so that you feel better about yourself is wrong. Hurting someone just for the “lolz” isn’t right. And if someone is intentionally trying to make people feel bad, that is something deplorable and incredibly sad. It isn’t that I am offended, I am incensed that something so rotten is deemed standard practice.
When did this kind of behavior become acceptable? You wouldn’t say things like that to strangers on the street, or even to someone after an intense game of football, soccer, or baseball. If we wouldn’t say it to people in real-world, why do we say such terrible things when we play video games? I think it is because in-game, we don’t view people as people. We view them as part of the game, they aren’t real. There aren’t even repercussions for being a tool online. No one can physically threaten via the web, while anonymity and the tacit compliance with this sort of behavior in the community means there is little to no social stigma for an abuser to be worried about.
Like I said earlier, words have power. Real damage can be done with words, pain given that doesn’t go away. However, words also offer a means of building people up. Something as simple as telling someone that they did a good job can improve someone’s day immensely.
Imagine again that an online multiplayer match is a street full of strangers. Everyone is going about their business and suddenly a young woman stops a young man simply to tell him: “Sir, you look handsome today.” Then the two people continue on their way, the young man having a much better day than he was expecting and feeling better about himself at the cost of about two seconds of the young woman’s time and effort.
Instead of replying with angry vitriol to someone who spews out hate online, respond with kindness. You don’t know that person, you don’t know why they are acting the way they are, but chances are that telling them to go screw themselves isn’t going to help them or you. If you see someone struggling or playing poorly, don’t mock them or get frustrated. Take a break and try to help or ask them what’s up. Next time you are about to mouth off to someone online, take a moment to remember that there are actual human beings behind avatars. There is probably a reason they are being a jerk or not performing well. Maybe they had a recent death in the family, a messy break-up, or maybe they just had a really terrible day. Call them out on their behavior by using kindness and compassion. In a community overrun by negativity and cynicism, be a good Samaritan by being nice and caring about someone online enough to treat them like a person.
Try being a gaming Samaritan and treat others how you would want to be treated because, frankly, we need more people like that at work in our gaming communities and culture.