The rise of the internet, and subsequently the rise of online gaming, have seemingly revealed to us the true nature of humanity. If an outside observer, say an intelligent alien being from another world were to view our internet in a random fashion, he or she would most likely assume that humanity is filled with the most vile and deranged perverts, people who would rather have sex with balloons while dressed as Saturday morning cartoon characters than live a respectable life, but this is the price we pay for anonymity.
The same price is paid continually by those that play competitive video games online, as millions of foul speaking youths and ignorant adults have deemed the realm of online gaming their personal anonymous platform to perform a Don Rickles stand up routine on the world, but why?
What is it about playing an online game that seems to bring out the very worst in people? No one has ever called me “faggot” while playing monopoly in the living room, and the same people that freely dispense the word “nigger” over microphone chat in Halo are likely to never be so shameless (or so foolish) to say it in front of living, breathing human being. Is it simply the anonymity that opens the flood gates of their mind, allowing the obscenity and hatred to flow freely? If this is the case, then why is it that only a few of us are screaming hate speech into microphones across the world, while the rest of us sit bewildered, desperately reaching for the mute button?
The plight of Sony’s online community project Home is a good social study for the state of the online gaming community as a whole. Since it’s inception Home has been a mess, and Sony quickly discovered that the average gamer’s ethical sense was lacking at best. Harassment and hate speech became such a problem that voice chat was dropped from the game entirely, and common words like “gay” and “Jew” had to be blocked as well. One might assume that the ease of availability of Home lead to a large number of uninterested users simply “griefing” the service because it was free to download to any and all PS3 owners with an internet connection, but the same level of hate speech and vitriolic displays of negativity are prevalent of pay-to-play services such as Xbox live.
The Xbox live service has frequently been the poster child for displays of racism and hate in the internet gaming community, and not without good reason. It is a rare occurrence to find a match in any of the popular Live capable games that won’t be housing various racists and hate-mongers, often the player finds him or herself entering a shouting match that has already begun, making enjoyment of the game impossible. Thankfully Microsoft, while having one of the most intolerable online communities, also has some of the most effective and well implemented ways to rid yourself of players who continually use hateful communication, and while this effectively shields you from having to deal with the frustrating number of immature and ignorant users, it does nothing to actually solve the attitude problem of the community at whole, but what can be done?
Engaging someone who is yodeling obscenity and hate into your ear is by and large a waste of time, and there is little chance that the person won’t simply turn their ire towards you. On top of that, it isn’t your job to teach these people how to be civilized beings, and the idea of sensitivity training held in the red base on Valhalla, or in the pre-match lobby of a Call of Duty 4 game is ridiculous at best. The only viable solution is to simply ignore these people with various muting technology and hope that eventually they’ll either grow up or get bored and retire. While some might see this as defeatist at heart, it is the only viable way to both protect the normal gamer from constant hate speech, and protect the first amendment rights of idiots and racists.
It could be hypothesized that our online games have become so realistic that they effectively dehumanize the participants, replacing the real image of a living person with that of a digital avatar, who it is much easier to speak to in a way that is hurtful or demeaning, but then the hate speech has only increased with the implementation of microphone chat during games, giving the inhuman representations the voices of real people, while the ignorant chat has grown more frequent and more fiery.
One can only look fearfully into the future and wonder where this sort of online behavior may lead as games become increasingly more realistic and more involved. Who is to say that in the time of realistic virtual reality gamers won’t be terrorizing others in a frighteningly realistic simulation? Who can really know what the effect of acting out aggressive behavior in a photo realistic virtual, and lawless reality will be on the human psyche. It can be reasonably assumed that the anonymous and hate filled sections of the online gaming world are grooming a generation of people who are less empathetic, more aggressive, and more likely to do real world harm to someone than the people of a more simpler, less simulated life. It is important to remember that regardless of moral, ethical, and religious beliefs, the rule of “do to others as you would have them do to you” should apply to all worlds, both true and created.