Are Our Gaming Communities Toxic?
Massively multiplayer games have notoriously harsh environments to play in. It isn't from the monsters, but the players who inhabit these worlds. Should we and developers do more to stop this behavior?
There isn't a day goes by where I don't encounter an obnoxious or rude individual. The prick bus driver who won't say please or thank you, an individual who queue jumps at the bank or the cyclist who shouts at me because I opened my car door when he was 10 meters away. Life is full of idiots and yet more and more, they seem to house themselves in massively multiplayer games to such a degree that at times I wonder why I play this genre. Admittedly the gaming industry as a whole is filled with idiotic human beings (as is life), especially in first person shooter circles, but there seems to be a greater quantity hiding behind elf eared avatars than there does hiding behind a military uniform.
As an individual raised by two relatively level headed parents, I was always taught that if what I wanted to say couldn't be said to a persons face, that I shouldn't say it at all. And yet here I find myself, on a daily basis, witnessing players be bombarded by a variety of hatred from unknown and unashamed individuals, in the games they and I love to play. Sometimes it's aimed at me and a recent exchange in WildStar when I asked in the help channel as to whether Carbine were publicly aware of a certain class flaw and whether it was to be fixed, resulted in a pleasant: "Of course it will you idiot. Go and play WoW"
That small exchange was incredibly tame compared to some I've seen in my time and yet I can't help but wonder why we as gamers tolerate such individuals and more importantly, why developers allow them to taint the product they've created. If you or I were to stand in the middle of a department store verbally abusing the staff, the likelihood of being removed and barred would be high. It certainly is where I live: stickers on store windows and counters litter the high streets in the United Kingdom, where “STAFF WILL NOT TOLERATE PHYSICAL OR VERBAL ABUSE – YOU WILL BE PROSECUTED” is a mantra you simply don't mess with. Why then are developers so reluctant to act on such unpleasant behavior and why do we all stand by too reluctant to report?
Partly I think the subscription model is to blame, with developers in fear of a heavy handed approach scaring away paying players even if those said players are undesirable. After all, banning or barring too many would have repercussions for the team behind the massively multiplayer game and lost revenue, to shareholders, is never a good thing. On the flip side, the tools that developers provide us with to weed out the bad apples are too flimsy or non existent. I've reported many players over the years for racial, homophobic or misogynistic comments and yet continued to see said players for months (keeping track of them on a “friends” list is a clear sign of a development team taking action or inaction). It's cowardice from all of us not to continue to confront this repeat behavior or to challenge why the industry does so little to combat it.
During a recent sub-reddit discussion, one user asked whether there were any MMOG's in existence that allowed users to rate one another. The ratings, they said, could present themselves as a variety of options after you've played alongside an individual (in a party), similar to the pre-sets presented by eBay. An interesting concept I felt but one many were quick to denounce as open to abuse. Would this not be an elegant solution to allow players to form some sort of consensus on an individual? The system certainly isn't perfect on eBay, but it levels out for the vast majority. Were a similar system be supported by tools to report individuals as well as forum and game accounts publicly linked and displayed, it might have some legs. It would still heavily be reliant on in and out of game moderation, but the fear alone at receiving negative feedback that you know can be viewed by all might just stir enough of a conscience from disruptive or unpleasant individuals for them to think twice before they spew bile.
You might be wondering at this point why I've not yet pointed out anonymity as the biggest cause of harm to our communities and that's partly because it's a matter neither you nor I can change. Unless developers begin to demand drivers licenses or passports and display an individuals details for all to see, we will forever be hiding behind not only our avatars but our PC's as well. I'd like to think it's our responsibility to ensure that we challenge such behavior or we risk tarnishing the genres reputation to an even greater extent. I'm sure that's something none of us want to see happen.