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Online play – the kids aren’t alright

posted on April 3rd, 2008 by christian

Gamasutra recently posted an article about how annoying people in online play may very well be hurting sales. Regardless of whether this is a stretch, any discussion from developers about the problem of griefers is welcome. Like it or not, multiplayer features are becoming critical to the success of a game, so it is important to see those making them look at the issues that surround providing a good online experience. Otherwise all those Gamespot reviews that call for multiplayer everything start to look even sillier.

The more I play Call of Duty 4, the more I notice the trends among idiotic players. Among your older players, the supposed majority of the gaming world, you get your typical racists, wanna be gangsters, and so on. The most annoying of the bunch, the people who frequently teamkill, spam the voice channel, and use foul language and racial slurs until the words lose all meaning, seem to be in the 18 and under crowd. Of course, I have no concrete evidence of this, but when I hear a good portion of these players follow up a tirade of sailor talk with an argument with mom about what he wants on his sandwich, it is proof enough for me.

So this led me to a typical hyperbolic statement while discussing the topic with Jay, in which I said that it would be nice if online gaming was restricted for anyone under 18. Of course that simply can’t work, since only most, not all online games are rated M, and even then, we as an industry don’t do a great job of keeping those games out of their hands.

So rather than simply cursing at all the “damn kids” who make it harder for us to enjoy gaming, drinking and the like, we should look at why this is the case at all. That is, why do they act so blatantly stupid? We all know that anonymity is a factor. But how much of it is modern culture? If you gave online games to children of the 50’s, would they be just as competitive and vicious? I think they would, but I wonder if, aside from perhaps increased racism, they would be as harsh about it. I really can’t say, but it seems to me that we can blame some of these woes on another popular target; bad parenting. When I hear a child call someone a “fucking jew nigger”, I wonder if they realize just how powerful those words can be. Or maybe they do, but simply do not care because they do not live a life of consequence.

No matter how many poets laud the purity of a child, they are often very destructive creatures. Boys will fight each other or destroy an ant hill, and girls will be catty and psychologically destructive to each other. This is where good parenting, teaching and discipline can enforce to a child that certain things are wrong, and carrying them out can lead to consequences. If parents these days are any indication, this kind of instruction is getting rarer, and so kids will bring this unpunished behavior from the cafeteria to the internet, where they will find like minded peers to reinforce it.

One of my favorite anecdotes about this topic comes from the Halo 3 review on actionbutton.net. So the story goes, when the author was playing online, a young sounding opponent consistently harassed him about his sexuality. After responding to the constant messages with a logical acknowledgment, the author got a game invite rather than an insult. By replying with something other than like-minded insults and a little bit of logic, the author just may have triggered the kid’s sense of shame and humiliation that comes with being proven utterly wrong. It is a light form of discipline in a way, and he responded positively to it. We cannot be parents by proxy on Xbox Live. Lord knows I wouldn’t want it as a hobby. But I wonder if online gaming simply reflects the society it comes from.

10 Comments

  1. Shota said on April 3, 2008:

    I hope i don’t come off too harsh, especially on an issue that i have very little firsthand experience of, but: what the hell are you guys doing playing with these pubescent cretins anyway???

    I’m not attacking Christian here, or anyone in particular, mind you. I’m just completely baffled by the idea of online multilayer games between total strangers. Let me rephrase that: i am baffled not by the idea itself, as in the concept, (after all i have played a few games of chess with a few strangers at DuPont Circle myself, as well as playing countless hours of poker with total strangers at casinos) I am baffled by the current reality described in the above article. I am baffled that intelligent grown ups whose writing and thinking I enjoy, i.e. people on this blog, would continue an activity dominated by sub-moronic minds.

    Allow me to continue my analogy: If i went to a poker room and found myself offended by 80% of players there, I would leave. Period. I would not stay, trying or hoping to find the 20% of like minded people. No game is worth having to put up with something you don’t believe in. Freedom of association is paramount.

    Neither would I quit poker or give up on it as a game. I would merely go home and start a game between those people i found generally pleasant: my friends. A lot of this cyber/digital-interconnectedness is horse shit folks. (and I know i’m saying this on a blog; but the reason why i keep coming to VL, ((the only blog i read by the way)) is because i find myself sharing a lot of common values with you wonderful fuckers. If our values were wildly divergent i would not be here, just like i don’t go to church, NRA meetings or the white stripes concerts.)

    So, again, my question to those of you who keep swimming in this mostly polluted ether filled with teenage bigots is: why do you keep doing it? Because I know its not for the love of the Game. The Game, like chess or poker, can be enjoyed in many other ways. With actual friends on-line, with actual friends in the same room as you, by yourself with the ever improving AI…

    So, what do you get out of it?

    I’m honestly curious.

  2. Shota said on April 3, 2008:

    This exchange might be clearer:

    Jay:

    i think youre simply making the issue too black and white but that’s fine.

    Shota:

    how am i making it black and white when i say that playing with strangers as a concept is fine as well as playing virtually with friends. Its when the you hate the stranger that i start to wonder

    Jay:

    because sometimes people really want to play x and if their friends arent home and they have no one online to play with people roll the dice and see if they can get a game with strangers that wont suck.

    Shota:

    but when the reality is that the dice is loaded it should deter you from gambling.

    Jay: you’re mixing analogies.

    Shota:

    i’m mixing nothing. When the majority of the people you are likely to find in a gameroom are douchebags should you not be a little more apprehensive?

    Jay:

    you should be. its a matter of how much extra entertainment real humans will provide versus AI, minus the awful shit they spew.

    Shota:

    so its pure utilitarianism?

    Jay:

    its also that someone like Golden Jew thinks its funny when 7 year olds call him a nigger.

    Shota:

    ok, so when we subtract the bigotry and the disagreeable behavior from the enjoyment you get from playing the game with a human if you are still in the plus go and play.
    Thats what you’re saying? I disagree. But then i disagree with most utilitarianism.

    Shota:

    Also, GJ is not a nigger. He’s a jewgger.

  3. christian said on April 3, 2008:

    Shota, you have no worries about offending me. It is a very valid question, and I hope I have some valid answers for you.

    I used to play poker with a group of friends for precisely the reasons you gave; most college poker players in 2004 were assholes. This went well for a while, but we eventually stopped. The reason why is that it stopped being fun. Poker is a game of both chance and skill, and some of our party was simply more skilled at the odds and bluffing. This means that they always won, and eventually we decided we would stop giving him our money. Could I have practiced and gotten better? Of course; I’m a math guy as well. And to some extent I did get better, but I still lost just as much. A larger, heavier guy can still bluff a hell of a lot better than I can. Moral of the story? We all came in with different skills, and if I try to get better, so will the guy who is already better than me. And since this is poker, I don’t want to accept the idea of just playing for fun – there is money on the table. This is competition.

    Now how about DnD? It doesn’t matter how skilled we are at that game (which I’ve never played, but you get my point). We can play cooperatively and win together. We like banding together and succeeding together. That’s what friends generally enjoy.

    This translates into gaming. We could get 3 on 3 matches in some games if we wanted to. But we knew it would get old. We know that because we tried it. A much more fun option was to band together, and test our skills as a team.

    To do this, we need opponents. That’s where the general public comes into play.

    Could we find like minded folks and play as a clan? Yes, but we all know that the competitive nature of clans and their like can go to the deeper end of competitiveness. Playing with clans would mean scheduled play and practice, the whole nine yards. This is simply impossible for us, since we all have different schedules. In fact, coordinating play is so difficult that for us it destroys the “just play with your friends” argument almost completely, but I’ll still run with it.

    Bottom line is we want to play together, but we have to be flexible. The only way we can do that is to play against strangers, which also helps supply a random pool of players of different skills. And we don’t accept the excuse of only resorting to single player, because we have come to enjoy competition.

    To us, playing online should be like playing a pickup game of baseball. I might not know all of my opponents, but few people at my local park are going to grief me in real life like they would over Live. We shouldn’t have to be forced to either abstain from online play, or get pro-level in our dedication.

  4. christian said on April 3, 2008:

    Another thought I just had – I can play games and socialize with college students and professionals with little problem aside from the eventual jerk. I can play sports with them, jam with instruments, etc. All because most people have some sort of decency.

    When kids play on the playground at school, someone is out there monitoring them, because if not they’ll tear each other to shreds.

    There is no one to monitor these same people on Xbox Live. I guess its my fault for playing with people like that. Maybe that makes my original argument all the more reasonable.

  5. Tyson said on April 4, 2008:

    I am going to make a statement but keep in mind, my day job is dealing with troubled kids.

    Most kids are a product of their environment. 99% of the time, the parents of children are more rude than their kids ever thought of being. Most people that are parents, just plain shouldn’t be.

    The kids that are playing on Xbox Live and are good at it, are good because they play a lot. This means that the parents are not regulating how much time is being spent playing a game or what the content of that game is. They are essentially letting the video game be a substitute for them and I think we can all agree that most online games are a poor proxy for anything in the real world.

  6. GJ said on April 4, 2008:

    Honestly, the team killing, disruptive play, and worse yet, incompetence in my teammates bothers me more than the language. All online games have effective squelch mechanisms. The primary reason I enjoy gaming with my friends is the quality of play, not the quality of communication (and we probably call each other worse names than the kiddies do, because we have bigger vocabularies). I also have the ability to “turn off” my decency filter. This is probably a bad thing, but I guess I’ve just adapted like the dinosaurs. Oh wait…

    On a related social note, I agree with Tyson 100%. I am absolutely sickened and disgusted by the lack of involvement by the parents of US kids that leads them to be little uncontrollable monsters. And I think our society needs to figure out how to deal with the fact that a virtual society makes it easier to act like an asshat because people can’t punch you or even find you. Hell, you see this same problem in workplaces where people act like pricks over email but would never do the same in person or over the phone.

    But I won’t let it ruin my gaming experience, and it’s a fair trade to me to get access to online gaming on demand at high speeds with reasonable quality of play at any time. As someone who’s grown up in the internet era and remembers what a dream online multiplayer was, I’ll trade that for a few pizza faced kids with crappy parents venting their angst.

  7. Shota said on April 4, 2008:

    Thanks for the responses guys. I take Christians point about the desire for competition well. And perhaps in online play the odds are not as skewed as I seem to think between the % of asshats to normal players(although I go by what you guys imply) The answer to that question is central to this discussion for me. But since i have no real experience at gaming online i cant go on pontificating in this.

    I also completely understand what GJ is saying when he says that disruptive game play bothers him more than the language. You can turn down the volume on your headphones, but… GJ, I’d be curious to hear how you deal with asshattery in game play when you encounter it.

    Also, I understand the desire to band with like minded people against a band of other people who oppose you. It’s like when jay and I revel in our arguments against religious zealots. It acctually gives me a warm feeling to know that here I am with a friend at my side in opposition to people that make me glad to not be one of them. I this is a feeling you guys get when you get together with a friend and battle it out with some assholes online, i can’t really fault you with it. But in this instance that group dynamic, or the support from your friends, is central for me. I get the pleasure in “us” versus “them.” I’m not so keen on the battle of two “I”s.

    But the thing that bothers me the most is that there seems to be a consensus that lack of authoritative supervision is what begets douchebaggy behavior. Yes, i am sure that if the parents of these children monitored them better they would be less likely to scream racial slurs. But what about personal as opposed to social ethics. Both personal ethics and morality reveal themselves at the point when one is not observed by a source of authority. I want to rage against the fact that if we remove supervision (parental, governmental, religious) all hell breaks loose and the worst of human nature shines through. It is this argument that ultimately allows so many to argue that God is necessary for humans. And he is not.

    So, perhaps not all the fault is with the parents. Perhaps kids are like any other group of people: a lot of losers/assholes mixed with a few decent ones.

  8. pat said on April 4, 2008:

    between his arguments here and his arguments in the “can kids handle mass effect” article and subsequent discussion it seems that shota thinks kids are short adults. i understand the fears of the nanny-state and all, but kids do need role models and supervision.

    shota – i do agree with your comment that its the way people act when unsupervised that defines their personal ethics, but development is process that does not take place in a vacuum. further, we legally handle children differently from adults because their ethics are yet to fully develop.

  9. jay said on April 4, 2008:

    I agree with both Pat and Shota here. Children are basically broken adults working towards becoming repaired. But simultaneously, a lot of adults seem broken as well. It seems like most of these arguments are falling into the trap of assuming that nurture alone determines who we are. Good kids will come from bastards and bastards will come from good parents. Of course nurture is very important but Shota is at least partially correct – there are some asshole kids who will grown into asshole adults.

  10. pat said on April 4, 2008:

    i did not mean to imply that a person can not be predisposed towards either becoming a bastard or a paragon, simply that the influences they encounter (an important one being parents) can shift the percent chance of ending up one way or the other.

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