Abuse in online gaming: Are we all part of the problem?

“Game experience may change during online play” is a cute little disclaimer next to the age rating, carefully constructed for clarity so there can be no mistake that online gaming may not be all sweet and innocent. But as an example of understatement, it’s masterful. Because there’s nothing that can really prepare you for the first time you play a bunch of sweary, obnoxious 12 year-olds online in Call of Duty. Nothing at all. But how are you supposed to react to it?

There are three logical responses:

1) Log off

Not really going to happen when you’ve just spent upwards of £50 for a new online multiplayer experience. But you could just get out while you still have some shred of aural innocence.

Above: Ah – there’s yer mistake. Should’ve used green internet cabling. Red cables only carry anger and cuss words. Green cabling only carries compliments. You didn’t know?

2) Join in

You’re older, smarter, wiser and have a huge vocabulary of cuss words to choose from. You can beat these noobs in a slanging match so that you’re onto the next group while they’re still scouring Google for the meaning of vas deferens. You wouldn’t write to your mother about how awesome it was to systematically destroy these high-voiced hellians with a sentence containing the words ‘erection’, ‘father’ and ‘stop getting’, but it was a laugh at the time, right?

3) Ignore and accept it

This is the simplest one. You just don’t get involved. But, crucially, you don’t do anything about it either. You either mute them, or sit there with your mic off, letting the torrents of abuse wash over you as you concentrate on keeping your killstreak going. In fact, the abuse is more like a reward. Their anger at losing is just more fuel for your calmness. You are the real gamer here and you’re giving one hell of a schooling.

Which one sounds most familiar? Probably ‘3’ as that’s the hardcore gamer’s response. Online abuse is just something you expect when you log onto any multiplayer server (but in particular Xbox Live if we’re honest). But arguably that makes you a part of the problem. Especially when the abuse moves from the usual ‘your mom’ to racism, homophobia or sexism.

Above: Beautiful, comfortable, wireless communication headgear that represents the pinnacle of… transmitting a bunch of swears from potty mouthed kids to your ears

But of course, there is a fourth option that could (and arguably should) apply to any of those three responses:

4) Complain

It’s easy to report a gamer you don’t think is playing by the rules or who is calling you a ninny (or even worse!). There’s an option on every gamer’s virtual gamer card to do exactly that. But apparently that’s not something that everybody does. Not by a long shot.

The former head of Xbox Live’s Head of Enforcement, Stephen Toulouse, recently explained (opens in new tab) that hardcore gamers do indeed tend to put up with abusive communications, whereas casual gamers who log onto, say, the Modern Warfare 3 servers occasionally, expect there to be some comeback for all these abusive voices they hear over their headsets. Apparently each complaint is checked by a human being who then decides whether things are serious enough to warrant a temporary or permanent ban from the service.

Ironically, if everyone actually read the terms and conditions, they would see that they’ve legally agreed not to be abusive by signing up to the service. Look at the rules that everyone agrees to (as a binding contract) when they sign up. All of the voices you hear agreed to the Code of Conduct (opens in new tab) that states (among countless other things):

  • Don’t harass, abuse, or spam other players, or encourage other players to do so.
  • Don’t scream, yell, threaten, or stalk other players, or encourage other players to do so.
  • Don’t create a gamertag, profile content, Avatar action, Avatar content, or in-game content that other users may be offended by. This includes, without limitation, anything related to or suggestive of: profane words/phrases, topics or content of a sexual nature, hate speech (including but not limited to racial, ethnic, or religious slurs), illegal drugs/controlled substances, or illegal activities.

But who reads the T&Cs, eh? It’s got too many words in it, it’s boring… it’s time that could have been better spent questioning noobs’ sexuality in Call of Duty.

So here’s the question: Should we hardcore gamers be doing more to stop online idiocy? Are we in fact passively condoning it by accepting it’s ‘just something that happens’ online? Or is the problem more about the anonymity of the internet? We’re sure you’ve got the right answer, so let us know what you think in the comments.

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