Evan Lauterborn explains how rampant harassment creates a hostile video game environment.
For as long as multiplayer gaming has been around, there have always been 14-year-olds saying they fornicate with mothers, trolls shooting teammates, and “griefers” destroying hours of hard work. These “villains” of online gaming take pleasure in making virtual lives hell and are an unfortunate yet omnipresent force within the realm of today’s gaming scene.
Female gamers have been a topic of much-heated debate among many in the YouTube comment sections but have yet to be taken seriously by these groups of people. There are millions of girls logging on to games with multiplayer chat and being relentlessly harassed by the predominantly male population of online gaming. The privilege of anonymity is wasted on these vile, testosterone-fueled male gamers who use both voice and text chat to verbally and sexually harass females in the virtual world—largely due to their gender. In an interview with NPR about the subject, deputy editor of digital operations at The New York Times Amy O’Leary stated:
Some women either don’t use voice chat altogether and miss out on those features of gaming, or they find that these communities can be too hostile for them, and they stop playing in those communities altogether.
This online female harassment has escalated to such a high degree that proud girl gamer Jenny Haniver felt obligated to start a website called notinthekitchenanymore.com where she posts obscene audio recordings directed at her during her online experiences. Unsurprisingly, an overwhelming majority of her posts feature RMPs (random male players) making lewd sexual remarks and comments on the inadequacies of females as both gamers and people. A similar website called fatuglyorslutty.com posts user-submitted screenshots of the same behavior from video games of all types.
The most recent example of rampant sexism and harassment from the “hardcore” gaming community came in the form of the relatively new Gamergate controversy. This Internet-based struggle between pro-female/feminist members of the gaming community and a conglomerate of angry misogynists, trolls, and general internet troublemakers (as well as some well-meaning members who want to improve general journalism ethics) has been steadily escalating since August. The scandal started when the vengeful ex-boyfriend of Zoe Quinn, developer of the interactive art game Depression Quest, accused her of sleeping with industry journalists in order to garner press coverage.
Opponents of social justice of all manners from sites such as Reddit, 4chan, 9gag, and Twitter took up virtual arms against this supposed breach of ethics within their beloved industry. In response to the accusations, these malicious hackers proceeded to post Quinn’s personal information, including nude photos, onto their favorite internet forums. The controversy surrounding the initial infidelity allegations proved to be unfounded; it was discovered that the journalists in question took no part in publishing any reviews about Depression Quest, and therefore could not be traced back to its designer. Other female journalists and designers who attempted to defend the DQ designer had their personal information leaked as well and received much harassment from the Gamergate crusaders.
Eventually the entire argument devolved into a slurry of journalism ethics, misrepresentation of females in video games, and the adamant defense of anti-women gamers. The fact that those who speak up against this wrongful gender discrimination can be so easily harassed in the same manner makes fighting this troubling issue quite difficult.
However, there is some hope. League of Legends, currently the most popular free online game in the world, is taking a stand against verbally abusive players whom they label as “toxic.” LoL is a multiplayer online battle arena style game that relies heavily on player-to-player cooperation in which a single match could last more than an hour at a time. With so much time spent in each game, it becomes easy for players with ill-intent to ruin large amounts of gameplay for the other nine “summoners” in the arena.
Riot Games, the publisher that developed LoL, has now instituted a system where players who commit offenses regarding racism, death threats or homophobia can be banned anywhere from 14 days to 486 years, no questions asked. Riot constantly advocates in-game that trash talking other players causes them to play even more poorly and has instituted a tribunal system in which players (above a certain level requirement) can review less-severe toxicity cases of peers in order to dole out swift and appropriate punishment.
Call of Duty, probably known just as well for its juvenile and vulgar online community as its gameplay, has only just recently begun policing its in-game chat. Players who are reported in-game for aggressive, offensive, derogatory, or bigoted language are instantly banned from online play for a set amount of time. Repeat offenders are subject to having their stats reset or even their online privileges taken away. Those caught hacking or with pirated versions of the game will instantly be banned. Although Call of Duty will probably always be filled with 10-year-olds bent on “destroying your filthy casual ass,” this system is expected to greatly reduce the number of players spouting particularly smelly sludge from their tiny mouths.
With gaming becoming such a large part of world culture, people everywhere are taking their online experiences more and more seriously. In an ideal world, there would not be any anonymous harassment, but that future has yet to arrive. In the meantime, all we can hope to do is act like normal and civil humans both online and IRL, and hope that these cyber-harassers will be the ones eventually caught for using their ub3r hacks.
This article originally appeared in Buzzsaw magazine at Ithaca College.