I join a random lobby in an online game. I'm grouped with a random assortment of other people. All of them playing the same game, but all of us in different places-all from different backgrounds. Over the chat the language gets dicey immediately. Racial and sexual epithets, slurs, are being thrown around. People are getting angry at each other, eventually everyone seems to start singing along grade-school style that one player is...well, that player leaves as laughter continues to erupt. For the next few minutes people keep singing the chant, and saying they're sending this person messages. What have I just seen?
What have I been a part of?
I was a big fan of Call of Duty. It was like a card game, very simple to start having fun but complicated to really implement right every time. Just a fun game to blow off some steam. Sometimes you ate the bar and sometimes the bar ate you, as they say. But I began to get more and more disconcerted with the language I heard. It wasn't jus that there was this seemingly endless supply of young guys trying to test their boundaries, it was that nobody seemed to care.
I mean how many times can you go onto the chat and tell someone what they're doing isn't cool? That they aren't hanging out with their friends? That they're talking to living, breathing people with lives, their own tragedies just trying to enjoy a few games while they can? At some point there are more of them than I could ever hope to reach.
So the feeling hit that there wasn't a system in place to deal with this stuff. Banning people seemed too drastic at times, reporting people felt sleazy at times, but what sort of interface could work? Online people genuinely don't feel like the rules are for them. You can see it in studies, once people are dealing with others online they lose a bit of their patience, and a bit of their tact. For some, either the ignorant or immature, that last bit was generally all they had.
To me Activision knew they had a problem. They had one of the strongest entertainment brands of all time, seemingly growing forever, and yet they wouldn't do the slightest thing that would risk alienating their audience. Even if it's an aspect of their audience that's bullying, or pushing their boundaries one step too far. Young people need discipline most of all, and yet somehow online communities buck at that idea.
So what should a workable solution look like? I think we should start with the idea of what a "bill of rights for the internet" might contain. I know that's kind of macro, but give it time. So at it's most basic any framework pertaining to human rights has to have several basic tenants in the 21st century. How people ethically treat others and how they deal with that treatment. Similarly creating groups that independently check this status.
Players' unions might be a good middle ground. As it is players are just consumers, it's pretty much everyone else in the industry, then the press, then players at the bottom. Everyone is heaped together. No, there shouldn't be a player hierarchy, but there needs to be(or there could be) an organization that, whether as a watchdog group or active player organization, commends and criticizes the efforts of game makers in attempting to honestly promote hate free environments online.
Right now you look at any major community online for a game and there might be a few news sites just for that game that seem to have the ear of the developers. The problem is real examinations of the "state of things" costs money. Hiring people to coordinate with developers, as well as those to take complaints from players, then organize these things, this is actually not a cheap idea. A news site makes money off ads, but I doubt they could do the type of work that would be required to understand whether a community is getting better or worse.
As well gaming communities are these digital playgrounds with different players. Some people move from one game to the next, communities rising and falling like castles in the sand. Can there really be any incentive to play nice with a group you probably won't be playing with for very long?
But as it is now most gaming communities area bit of chaos. Some small organizations designed by developers to foster better play experiences by creating relationships, but nothing really demanding players treat everyone with respect and dignity.
What are the basic human rights that gamers need?
For one there has to be rollouts from the Microsofts and Sonys that publishers are responsible in some way for their communities actions. This would make developers think about this task of how to report players for problem behavior as well as building dedicated networks for this problem. The second is that players have to accept that if a developer isn't taking these sorts of steps to improve their community they are, and this is sad to say, in effect condoning these behaviors. The third thing is that there should be at least one group willing to listen to problems with communities and broadcast these issues, making it known to consumers that this company(who might make a game similar to another company) actually cares about these problems whereas another might not.
Yes, on the micro level it's just us voting with our wallets. Always has been, probably always will. But I think the mental experiment of imagining what solutions to these problems might look like can be intriguing. At some point clear solutions will become more apparent, but I'm afraid by that time a whole generation of players will have been turned off to games. That is not okay. None of us should be okay with that reality.
Playing, and group play at that, has always been inherently inclusive. And as the years have gone by we've really had a great record of people from all walks of life finding comfort in games. In recent years we really haven't "owned" our problem in the online space though. If we don't though, this could be our greatest sin. To not even start a conversation would definitely be.