Arts & Culture

On Culture: Mean-spirited players make for risky gaming

I haven’t been into gaming since I was a teenager. Gaming was a heavy part of my childhood, though. For Christmas when I was 5, I got an Atari 2600, on which I played “Pac-Man,” “Frogger,” “Donkey Kong,” even the notoriously gawdawful “E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial.” For my 13th birthday, I got a Nintendo Entertainment System and, for the next several years, like other players, I would blow into the cartridges of “Super Mario Bros.” and other games in order to get them to work.

As I got older, I grew out of gaming. Maybe the games were getting too complicated or I just couldn’t deal with the intense competition when I played more determined players. These days, I’m beginning to think I got out just in time. The online gaming community is becoming a brutal, unforgiving battlefield.

Look no farther than the Gamergate controversy to see how savage and unforgiving today’s gamers can be. It all started a few months ago, when an ex of video game developer Zoe Quinn alleged Quinn had a relationship with a journalist from the video game news site Kotaku. Eventually, gamers started harassing Quinn with violent threats and doxxing (where gamers give a person’s address and other information online). But she wasn’t the only female getting it. Feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian, indie game developer Brianna Wu and actress/gaming enthusiast Felicia Day have all received ugly online treatment from gamers.

For these women, it’s more than just taunts and insults. In a Tumblr post, Day explained how she was afraid to write the word “Gamergate” for fear of the hate she ultimately received. “I have had stalkers and restraining orders issued in the past, I have had people show up on my doorstep when my personal information was HARD to get,” Day wrote. “I haven’t been able to stomach the risk of being afraid to get out of my car in my own driveway because I’ve expressed an opinion that someone on the Internet doesn’t agree with. HOW SICK IS THAT?”

What started as a discussion (with the social-media hashtag #Gamergate) promoting ethics and guidelines that should be put in place for video game developers and journalists who report on video games has descended into ugly madness. Gamers are now seen as an unruly, misogynistic bunch, ready to knock a lady who dares to enter into their boys’ club down a peg or 15.

Of course, it’s not all gamers who spew bile while they’re blowing people away during “Call of Duty.” John Brown, 26, of Raleigh gets fed up with the abuse a Miami-based, female friend of his gets when they’re playing multiplayer, battle-arena game “League of Legends” with other, not-so friendly gamers.

“They sometimes harass her,” Brown says. “They’ll belittle her. They’ll be playing to, like, make her angry. She sometimes can clear it up, but it depends on how she responds. … But when she calls them out on a problem and they don’t own it, they ignore her and, then, they insult her.”

Brown, who is gay, has had to deal with harassment personally, as well.

“It just sometimes be frustrating,” he says. “I mean, I’m kind of numb to it now. And, even then, I’ll dish out some of my own – I guess I wouldn’t say harassment, but nitpicking at people.” But there are times when it still stings. “I’ve played with some people and they’ll be like, ‘Oh my God – this is too much gay for me.’ Or, sometimes in games, people will call you a faggot. Faggot is, like, used so much.”

Brown says “League” has a reporting system in which invective-spitting gamers can be reprimanded and even banished from playing if they don’t act right. Christopher Blacka, 22, of Raleigh says legal action should be taken against perpetual harassers.

“You can always hit the mute button, yes,” Blacka says. “But, sometimes, it doesn’t always work. Because when you do that, someone is going to (play as) a different character and, then, insult you with that, because you haven’t blocked that character.”

Jesse Jones, 50, of Raleigh (aka Blacka’s uncle) is also an avid gamer. He says more video game companies should follow “League’s” lead and implement stricter penalties for those who go too far.

“I don’t think you address it by taking people to court,” he said. “I think you address it by, in the community, having the developers shut the people down who keep making these statements.”

It looks like it’s going to take a lot of work – and more thoughtful discussions from gamers like these local gents – to keep the rampant misogyny, homophobia and general hatred out of their community.