Originally I thought about writing some thoughts on how toxic the gaming community can be. Then this whole #GamerGate thing started to take flight. It’s reminded me of some of my earlier thoughts and notes regarding “what the hell is wrong with everyone?”. So here I am, back to elaborate on those musings in the late summer hours of the night. Note, this isn’t a response at all to that garbage. It just sent a ping to my brain that I wanted to question what’s going on with the community and why was it turning to shit?
Looking back, I want to recall a telling change regarding the evolution of behavior in multiplayer games. I used to game on PC a lot, discovering mods and player-generated content for Star Wars Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight… Roughly in 1998. I dawdled with other games on PC before then, but around that time I played a lot of Ages of Empires and Jedi Knight. The special edition versions of Star Wars were still hyped and I was in bliss running around with a lightsaber and dueling other Jedi/Sith. Microphones weren’t very prevalent; there was no Teamspeak or Ventrillo. After a match with your opponent the respectful thing to do was end with a typed message of “GG“, short for good game. Even on a superficial level of just saying it because that’s how you conclude a match, it create a vibe of union. The other player and yourself just spent 5-15 minutes murdering each other repeatedly and shared in an experience. You both enjoyed the game despite being rivals. Like playing tag with your friends, it’s a competitive game that you play collectively. I noticed this going forward carrying into Team Fortress Classic, Counter-Strike, and whatever deathmatch style games I played on PC. “GG” was a staple of the community to show respect.
Then, Halo happened. I suppose it isn’t Halo’s fault as it wasn’t necessarily designed with a certain element’s inclusion, but some other games eventually whole-heartedly embraced it. Teabagging. It became a trend to virtually hump your slain opponents face. The modern equivalent of defiling a warrior you faced in battle to create shame; rubbing salt in the wounds of their loss. I’m sure the lack of technology (IE; keyboard) prevents the “GG” from ending matches the way I had come to know them. The spirit was lost entirely though as people viciously sought to dispose of the other player to the point of violating their corpse. With the camera still focused on their recently slain body, the other player just sort of watches unhappily. Unfortunately mics DO exist at this point as that’s usually accompanied by the victor yells obscenities into the mic proudly boasting how they raped their face.
It sounds extreme and overly emotional to some, but that will actually resonates with the player on the other side of the screen. It might just be on a level they aren’t even aware of, or they could just flip out depending on the frequency of these events. Revenge-killing becomes a motivation to continue playing. If you’re good you can get the satisfaction of settling the score before the match is over… Then despite not normally being that type of player, you catch yourself crouching repeatedly over the other player’s head. The cycle of animosity continues. If you want to argue that the competitive nature of the game, or shooting each other being the basis of play creates that tension I’d have to disagree and point you to years ago when “GG” concluded FPS death matches quite regularly. So what has happened between now and then to cause the joy to drain into aggression?
- Changing of the Community – I think a lot of it can be attributed to the mainstreaming of video games. Not in the sense of the developers changed their product. I mean in that as the audience grew, less-desirables began to pour in. Instead of being a hobbyist outlet to serve as a gateway into other worlds it became something friends did on a Saturday night. That’s not inherently bad, but a byproduct of the increased audience is you start to gain people that don’t care for the hobby. Casuals that just play because their friends are. Growth and maturation of the medium means nothing to them. Through this process of bringing your friends into something or them just following the trend there ends up being a lack of appreciation for the community and industry. This isn’t exclusive to games. This applies to any entertainment hobby. Art, film, anime, sports, collecting, reading. Jumping into something and not learning the history or minutiae that is associated prevents the appreciation of it’s inherent value. Try sitting down and watching a sport you’re unfamiliar with among a group of regular fans. They see the beauty in maneuvers or plays based on historical information that to you just looks like a regular play. You’re investment might not last past that game. If that league collapsed you’d be unperturbed. That’s what gaming is overflowing with now. Many, many people that don’t care if games were a passing fad. “It’s only entertainment.”
- Internet Culture – The internet itself is a wonderful thing. A platform free and open for discussion and discourse. Information and communication available to the masses. At the same time, it provides a place for normally decent people to become a wicked effigy of who they are. It’s not like I’m verging into new territory with this thought. Penny-Arcade established this a decade ago with “John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory”. How that pertains to this particular situation is it’s unfortunately bleeding over into mainstream culture. As Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram become staples of daily life the line between reality and virtual space obscures. People en whole in America are becoming increasingly apathetic. There’s a disconnect caused from entitlement bolstered by false importance. Because you have 712 friends on FB and get 42 likes to your snarky comment of the news de jour, people MUST think you’re more interesting than your peers. Kindness and decency get left by the wayside in the attempt to capture further passive praise. The quality of interpersonal interactions has plummeted with the increase of technology social network dependency. The chase for the next tweet worthy event of your day versus sitting with gram gram talking about family over the years. A lot of people even have trouble recognizing the fact that there are actual people on the other side of their digital interactions. It’s just one big entertainment experience designed just for their amusement.
Those are just two major factors in what I think has impacted the community. I’ve been a gamer long before there was any campaign tied to it. It’s a hobby, I’m an enthusiast of said hobby; a gamer. I bare it with no shame. There are countless awesome events, charities, people, and even companies within the gaming scene that highlight what a great positive thing it can be when we all just look out for each other. Be people first, gamers second. No game is greater than the people developing, critiquing, or enjoying them. We need to be decent to one another. I don’t mean we all have to agree on every point. I just think things would be better if we could have conversations about gaming without hating each other or trying to one-up the other in a witty display of prickhood. Games are amazing in every way imaginable. They’re pushing new technology constantly, creating social interactions previously impossible, vividly imagining worlds to be shared, and questioning some of the deeper thoughts people have had. As gamers we should encourage this evolution in a positive direction to sustain the medium we’ve come to love.
Be cool when you game. Being courteous, generous, and helpful to newcomers. Welcome diverse thoughts. Discourage hateful behavior. We’re building the next generation of gamers and setting them up to carry the torch. With the indie scene brimming with creativity games are going into interesting places. The industry moving forward is covered to succeed. Let’s try and get our peers to match the excitement, positivity, and community being fostered as the audience. Games deserve better than what we’ve been giving them.