Tuesday, September 02, 2014

"Gamer" Terrorism

I read an article last week that someone (or maybe something) linked on Facebook about how some section of the gamer population are acting like terrorists. I did some more reading on the topic today when I got more links to people talking about an online open letter from game developers asking gamers to be decent human beings. And then I read the comments to some of those articles. *sigh*

I've been confronted with online harassment/terrorism myself and it isn't any fun at all. It doesn't happen all the time in League of Legends, but it happens often enough when I'm playing with strangers and on the losing team that someone will start throwing hate at the other people on the team. I'll lose about half of my games, so the opportunity for someone to act like a jerk comes up often. Sometimes they'll just go off insulting someone else on the team. Sometimes they'll go off on me. It's not fun in either case. I've tried to calm people down. I've tried to explain that we can still win if we work together, and that insults don't help anyone. On very rare occasions the offender will apologize and try to work as a team. Most of the time trying to intervene just gets the insults thrown my way too. I guess I just don't understand where the people who do this are coming from so it's even harder for me to empathize with them than it is normally (and it's really hard for me at the best of times). I want to get them to stop but I don't know how to do it. My best solution tends to be withdrawing from any communication with random people at all. I mostly only play online games now with people I know, and I have cross-team chat in LoL turned off so the people on the other team can't talk to me to spew insults even if they wanted to. (And from what Robb and Snuggles tell me on Skype while we're playing 3s, they definitely want to.)

About a decade ago I worked as a chat moderator on Magic Online. I got into it partially because I was always in the help room on the alpha test answering questions about how things worked. (Actually, I think I may have caused the help room to exist... It originally was just a generic chat room you could join through the command line but eventually they added a button to open it automatically.) And partially because I wanted to help keep the place 'clean'. The alpha test was only for people who were intentionally invited and access could be revoked so it was a pretty nice place to be. I'm not sure if it was people being more civil because they could lose access or because they were trying to make the game into a good product or what, but I really liked the community feeling. As they opened it up to more testers and eventually went live a lot of that feeling went away; replaced with people who were for lack of a better term toxic. People who wanted to cheat to win. (Spam trade requests to an opponent to prevent them from taking an action and eventually losing to the clock running out, for example.) People who thought it was amusing to draw ascii pictures of penises and spam them in chat. People who swore at each other. People who were so desperate to make a trade that they'd post their trade info in every chat area they could find. It made the chat rooms into a disaster, and I was happy to put in some time to try to maintain some semblance of the order we used to have.

I can tell you firsthand about how someone who thinks it's a good idea to draw penises in chat has no qualms at all about escalating things with the person who temporarily took away their ability to post in chat rooms. For the most part I was willing to just leave a chat window open with them and let them vent their anger and hatred on me instead of on the poor people in the public chat rooms. I did have people threaten to beat me up if we ever met. On at least one occasion the threat came from someone who frequented the Pro Tour, and I happened to be qualified for the next stop at the time. (Kobe 2006 I think.) We had to use fake aliases to do chat moderation so it was pretty unlikely that this guy actually knew who I was, but it did still scare me a little.

Magic Online was a pretty small group of people, I was (hopefully) anonymous, and I still had reasonably credible threats of violence levied against me. So when someone in the current day and age with the huge social media sites we have now says they've received threats of violence and are worried about them I absolutely believe them. Especially if they're a woman complaining about sexism in video games! There are so many people who are (inappropriately) going to feel attacked by her stances that the sheer volume makes me believe she'd get a ton of insults and threats thrown her way. I was worried about one threat from someone who probably didn't know what I looked like. I can only imagine what she'd feel getting so many of them from people who do know what she looks like.

Terrorism sounds like such a harsh term for 'innocent' online chat, but to me the shoe fits. I've felt the fear. And even if it is 'innocent' I don't understand the need for 'innocent' hateful chat.

But I don't know what to do to stop it.

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