When the games turn us against each other
Video Games. The stuff of the future. You can be a hardened soldier, defending your planet from vile alien attackers. You can be a noble hero, braving the wilds searching for a missing princess. You can explore magical worlds and survive dangerous missions.
While the Atari 2600 did a good job bringing Video Games into peoples homes, it was the Nintendo Entertainment System that forged them into our childhood imaginations incarnate. Suddenly all of our backyard adventures with the neighborhood kids were real. We could be the Ninja Turtles, team up and fight Shredder. Together we could brave the enemy jungles in Contra. On late summer nights we could stay up exploring Hyrule, trying to save the missing Princess Zelda.
For an entire blooming culture, Video Games were something to bring us together. A shared interest, a source of imagination and passion for us to rally behind and experience together. While each game was different, one part was mostly the same. It was us against the game. Getting that high score, clearing this tough stage, conquering the final boss, gamers used these challenges as a vehicle for camaraderie. A new community was formed and it was us against the new and exciting challenges that game designers had to offer.
But what happens when the games decide they want to turn us against each other?
Video Games have always been competitive in nature. A relentless will is required to conquer many of the games of yesteryear, only achievable after countless hours learning and increasing your skills through repetition. We were always competing with the game, even if we weren’t directly competing with another player. Many times, we found solace in other players, sharing skills and experiences to help each other through.
There are notable times in our industries progression where competitive games came into the spotlight in one community or another, be it Street Fighter II or Unreal Tournament. However, for the sake of argument, I’m going to take this further ahead to the modern days of Xbox Live and Call of Duty, the days where nearly every gamer has taken steps on the virtual battlefield.
We live in a period of our industry where many of our highest grossing franchises are based around pitting us against each other. This focus has brought with it increased revenue, innovative new technologies, a wider audience, and some of the most foul representations of mankind some of us will ever experience firsthand.
The modern combination of competitive games and the seemingly consequence-less nature of the Internet has given birth to a hotbed of vile and offensive behavior that has quickly become so regular and prevalent, that it is just expected within our subculture. Communities formed around games like League of Legends have become so notoriously hostile that the game can’t be played without the acceptance of it. Some players become so dedicated and passionate about the game, and that’s never a bad thing. It’s times like, in the recent case of the Black Ops II weapon-balancing patch, where these players use the social reach of the internet to project hatred onto developers in the form of death and family harm threats, that we begin to see what’s so wrong about our culture.
When exactly did we reach the point where we think it’s ok to threaten to rape and murder someone’s child and parents over something as trivial as a fraction-of-a-second extension on firing times in a video game? At what point did we decide we wanted an overly-aggressive, testosterone-filled sense of hostility and hatred surrounding something we all clearly enjoy?
Did the rise of competitive games start this fire by pitting passionate individuals against each other as opposed to teaming them up? Was it the rapidly growing accessibility of the internet, with its immediate access to anyone verbally, and the anonymity that protected us from our actions?
Honestly, there really is no answer for it.
It’s just something that has spread within our culture, and reached a point where it is expected by our peers during any interaction. There’s a sense of ownership and entitlement surrounding games that only seems to feed this hostile and aggressive beast we all know too well, leading to a very different culture from those who enjoy comics or movies. Not to mention those who will align themselves wholeheartedly behind corporations whose job it is to sell them products, and use this as a vehicle for violent behavior. It’s the nature of a competitive industry, and no different than the dedication surrounding any sports team.
Perhaps the most fearsome part of this whole situation is the effect it will have on the younger generation of gamers. It’s no secret that young people emulate the older crowd, and it won’t take more than five minutes on any popular shooter before you’re on the receiving end of rape-threats from someone who sounds like they haven’t hit puberty. Raw emotion is far harder to control at such a young age, passion behind something like a game can easily be concentrated into hate and aggression if that is what a child is exposed to within the confines of his/her hobby. What we get is a large number of young children who are now emulating behavior that is both expected of them, and worse yet, without the understanding regarding the weight of what they are actually saying. When the understanding isn’t there, the consequences aren’t there, and they are surrounded by this behavior through their peers, what reason do they have to not play along?
In the end, would things really have been that different in other cultures? If we had online message boards in the 80′s, would Football fans have created this sort of violent subculture for themselves? Is this something we all just have to continue to live with and expect? At what point do we stop longing for a more mature and adult experience? It’s true events like PAX bring us together in a friendly and welcoming environment, and the vocal hostility doesn’t accurately represent anyone who’s ever touched a controller. Despite it being a minority, its allowed itself to become the voice of our hobby, something I struggle with through association on a regular basis.