With the much anticipated release of 2K Games Borderlands 2 this week (and its pretty awesome multiplayer mode) it seems like the perfect time to talk about online gaming and how gamers conduct themselves.
We could go into why people behave like absolute grammatically-challenged gremlins online, but why bother continuing to rationalize their bad behavior? Jerk are JERKS. The question is, what can be done about it? Let’s start with Wheaton’s law.
It’s easy really: don’t be a dick.
Coined during his keynote speech at PAX Prime in 2007, Wil Wheaton talked about a very simple principle for online gaming sportsmanship. This idea has been meme’d, made into teeshirts and referred to on forums and during online games, usually as simply “Wheaton’s Law”.
Recently at PAX Prime, Stephen Toulouse held the panel “Beyond Wheaton’s Law: Being Excellent to Each Other.” Toulouse was formerly the Director of Policy and Enforcement for the Xbox LIVE service, and worked for Microsoft in a communications capacity longer than I have been legally able to drive a car. At the panel, he shared the idea of going beyond Wheaton’s Law to build a better online community. And with all his experience he is a veteran of dealing with trolls, and I am not talking about the kind in Skyrim.
(A troll is a term for a person with questionable social skills, who hangs out online and spews horrible things at people for no other reason than to get a reaction. Trolling including threats, hate speech, and random argumentative nonsense.)
Stepto (as Toulouse is known) espoused the idea that gamers need to do more than just control their own behavior, but also encourage their friends and peers to create a gaming environment that is fun for everyone. He wants online gaming to be a place that is free of hate speech aimed at gays, women, various races…let’s be honest, hate speech against everyone and anyone.
Lately, gaming circles have given a lot of attention to the hate being spewed online, specifically that taking place in online gaming. And a lot of that recent conversation was sparked by the hate that feminist Anita Sarkeesian faced when she started a KickStarter to fund a project talking about women in video games (hate that included rape threats, death threats, character assassination, etc.). You can read more about it here or here, or type in Sarkeesian’s name on any search engine and have enough to read for a few days. Honestly, every convention I have been to in the last few years has had a panel on the subject.
I have been gaming online since I was about 15 and the random vitriol-spilling that happens is really not new. I learned some very interesting, inappropriate phrases while gaming in high school. That doesn’t mean that things haven’t changed since I was a high schooler getting in trouble for being on the computer building Zerg bases to take over the world at 2 a.m.; there has been an important shift in the demographics of gamers.
According to the Entertainment Software Association, 72% of Americans now play computer or console games of some variety. The median age of gamers, which might surprise you, is 37, and is higher than it used to be. Not only are gamers older, but more women are playing, currently making up approximately 42% of gamers. (If you would like to know more about gaming statistics, ESA has a fantastic collection of facts.)
Stepto said in his talk at PAX that he doesn’t think the online harassment is getting worse, and I have to agree. But what is changing? The make up of the community itself has shifted enough that gamers are no longer willing to just put up with hateful behavior. Jerks (really that term almost seems too nice) are being called on their nonsense more often and more publicly. For example on the site Fat, Ugly or Slutty, jerks are called out publicly for inappropriate messages. (Even better, the site doesn’t just call them out, there is also a section that helps gamers know what to do if they ARE being harassed.)
So, no, the problem isn’t worse; it just looks that way because the victims of the hate are not willing to put it off as “part of gaming” anymore. And championing this movement, are high profile gamers like Stepto, Felicia Day, Wil Wheaton and others who will throw the smack down.
But you are not Wheaton, you might not have millions of geek followers! What can you do? Sure gaming is inherently competitive, but that doesn’t mean that you must succumb to being a jerk. Back away from the anger; anger leads to hate. (Think Yoda!)
You don’t need to start a blog, or quit gaming, or throw hate back at haters. Just be cool and be good to others. If you see a friend being a jerk, point out that there is a better way to game. If you see someone engaging of hate speech, report them to the moderators immediately. Treat new gamers like you would have wanted to be treated, help them out instead of picking on them for a lack of skill.
It is more than “Don’t be a Dick”; it is also be a leader of awesome.