Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Are gamers really that bad?

Gamer culture on the internet gets a pretty bad rap.  Ziggyny talked about his own personal experience with it recently and concludes that the crap he had to deal with was brutal so it must be truly a mess for women in similar situations.  I definitely agree that there are a lot of crappy places out there but I know for sure that there are also some really decent places but that maintaining that decency requires a ton of time and effort.  I was always impressed with how decent Elitist Jerks was because they have punitive moderation policies in place and the discussions are quite reasonable as the trolls get banhammered very quickly.  I even got a few infractions there for things like quoting multiple people in a single post - the worst of the internet sure doesn't survive under those conditions.  The great majority of the internet is a pit of despair though and we can't clean it all.

The thing I have been considering is the question of whether or not gamers are actually worse than other people when it comes to hurling abuse on one another.  After thinking about the many places and social situations I have been in my life I concluded that gamers truly aren't worse, but they do tend to exist in a place that enables bad behaviour.  When I worked at a gas station as a teenager the difference between how things were when a woman was in the shop and when they were not was staggering.  As soon as it was just the boys the abuse that was heaped on pretty much everyone was dialled up to eleven.

The same story holds true pretty much everywhere I have been.  Bad behaviour has little to do with the hobbies of people and everything to do with anonymity.  As soon as people think nobody who can hear them will call them on their shit they suddenly turn into ravening monsters.  The Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory was developed after watching gamers misbehave but it rightly doesn't specifically distinguish them as the problem.  Targetting gamers as the source of online harassment problems is like saying that camouflage clothes are the primary source of violent atrocities.  The problem is that people in camo clothes spend a lot of time in foreign countries while holding weapons; dressing them in fluorescent spandex would not prevent soldiers killing people.  The problem is the guns / anonymity, not the personal details of people involved.

However, given that gamers do end up being really abusive because they are constantly in spaces where they can get away with it all of us have a real opportunity to improve things.  It isn't easy to constantly push back against crappy behaviour as there is a seemingly endless supply of jerks but there is no other way.  No government regulation will step in to save us.  There is no greater ruling authority of gamers that will come to its senses and suddenly fix the internet.  The way things will improve is for people to consistently speak out against anonymous abuse and to support with our voices and our dollars those companies, moderators, and policies that aim to clean up our virtual spaces.


  1. GIFT has been proven just plain wrong - when anonymity was stripped in places like the youtube comments the comments got *worse*. A lack of anonymity tends to drive away people like me who don't necessarily want their real names appearing on a game forum for an employer to google and keep people who really don't care at all what anyone things. Also, it is the worst of the worst who do things like threaten people, call in bomb scares and send SWAT teams to other people's homes - knowing who other people really are advantages them but doesn't help those of us who would never consider doing things like that.

    I do think that the gaming community is worse than a randomly selected population right now. Being vicious toward one another is acceptable in a way that it shouldn't be - kind of like Hockey fights. We need a cultural change where behaviour that is obviously totally unacceptable is not par for the course.

    1. Since I can make horrific comments on youtube using a throwaway account and never be traced I think it is still pretty anonymous. Some people use their real accounts and then they get harassed I am sure, but I would have to see data on a place where everyone used their real name for me to entirely buy into the idea that anonymity doesn't make things worse.

    2. You've had jobs. Have you ever had a manager or co-worker who, despite the fact that you all knew where he and various other details about his life, was a complete insufferable, bullying jerk? I know someone who had a manager who literally would choke her staff sometimes - like hands on throat shaking people. There are a very small number of intelligent machiavellian psychopaths who take advantage of anonymity to avoid consequences of their actions. But aside from that very small cadre of dangerous people, the worst of the worst are people who feel entitled to act the way they do, which means anonymity doesn't matter much to them.