Let me begin by saying that I am not writing this as a shrill, anti-gaming activist who has lots to say about online gaming, but no real knowledge of the subject. I grew up with gaming. My father was obsessed with Zelda. Most kid’s living rooms were full of family photos and knick knacks. My living room was full of gaming posters and maps that my dad created to determine where he was on a particular game and where he needed to go next. I even accompanied my parents across the country on many occasions so that they could compete in video game competitions.
Needless to say, I had my own system and was playing at a very early age. My first obsession was a game called Breath of Fire IV on the PlayStation. In fact, I can’t tell you how many copies of that game I have bought over the years as I’ve managed to wear out discs.
Eventually, I started going to LAN parties with my cousins who were as much into gaming as I was. Like most gamers, I naturally moved into online gaming when it became available. I took my cousins along with me. I’d like to be able to say that I was a model gamer and an excellent example for my cousins. Unfortunately, I can’t. This is the point in this story where I come off looking like a real jerk.
I was that gal. I started playing Runescape, and I was good at it. I was really good at it. Unfortunately, even though I was really good at playing a game, I wasn’t always very good at being a human being. I harassed and bullied players who I deemed as being noobs or otherwise unworthy of playing where I played. I cussed at and insulted people. I managed to get myself banned more than a few times, but I always came back. The worst thing is that the uglier my behavior was, the more positive feedback I received. Yes, many people me to knock it off or back down. But the truth is, I got many more virtual high fives for the things that I did and said than criticism.
Then, my youngest cousin abruptly stopped gaming. He closed out all of his accounts and he stopped talking to us online and in real life. He even stopped going outside and made his mom enrolled him in a homeschooling program. When he was finally cooled down enough to talk to anybody, what I learned made me want to die. He’d ventured out on his own to play a new game and was basically ripped to shreds. For whatever reason, a lot of the other players decided that he was their target, and they were relentless. Even worse, somebody figured out his name and school and catfished him just to dig up information to embarrass him.
I was livid. I was absolutely ready to go find somebody and knock the crap out of them. Then it hit me. How many people did I make feel the same way that my cousin did? How did my other cousins behave online because of my example? That’s when I decided to clean up my act.
I know that there is no way that I can personally contact every person who was the target of my abusive behavior. What I can do is educate people on how to be a responsible gamer by sharing my experience, and by offering up a few tips.
One of my issues with online gaming was that I lost touch with my moral center. I would have never behaved the way that I did in real life. I would have been horrified, and I would have been quick to confront people if they acted that way. My screw up was that I let go of my personal standards and allowed myself to behave in ways that went entirely against my personal belief system.
I got a lot of thumbs up and virtual high fives by acting like a jerk. That kind of feedback was kind of addicting. I thought that was going to go away when I started to clean up my act, and it did. That kind of bummed me out for awhile, until I realized that I was actually beginning to make friends online. People would actually engage me in real conversation instead of telling me how I had just freaking owned somebody that I’d just insulted. Other players actually started asking me about gameplay strategies, and things like that. I went from being the jerk who happened to be funny sometimes to a player that people actually wanted to interact with.
There is no way around it. Gamers just have to do a better job of policing ourselves. That means confronting people and telling them to knock it off when they take online banter too far. It means not participating in that kind of stuff, even if you think you’re just being funny, or if the target happens to be somebody you dislike. If things get really bad, it also means reporting people. It sucks, but do we really want to be known as a bunch of sexist, bullying, neck-bearded neanderthals? If you do nothing while some 14-year-old kid is getting bombarded with a bunch of homophobic slurs or a girl is being sexually harassed just because she dares to be interested in playing the game, you are just as guilty as the people who are participating in that kind of behavior. Cara Vaggio from Safer Gaming warns that “People have been driven to suicide due to online bullying.” and that’s the horrifying truth.
At one point I was putting in close to 40 hours each week when it came to online gaming. That doesn’t count the time I spent watching videos or in chat rooms talking to people about strategy. You just cannot put that kind of time into something and live a healthy existence. If you have more friends online than you do in real life, if you get irritable and hard to deal with when you can’t play, if you get into trouble at work or school, and you start ignoring your health, there’s a good chance that you have a problem. You have to act quickly and get things under control. Set limits on your gaming. Get a hobby that doesn’t involve being online. Take a month long break from the internet. Do whatever you have to in order to put your life back into perspective.
Online gaming is intense and competitive. I still get ticked off when somebody does something stupid as screws something up for me. I’m still a ruthless competitor, and I still engage in a lot of competitive back and forth with other players. I’ve just learned to recognize the intensity of my own emotions. If I find that I’m truly getting angry, if I find that I’m getting a bit too foul-mouthed and rude, or if I can feel myself physically tensing up, then I know that it’s time to walk away from the computer for a little while.
When I confront other gamers about trolling or other abusive behaviors, the responses I usually get show me exactly what the problems with online gaming are. So many gamers have a huge sense of entitlement, and they start to believe that they have more rights than others when it comes to playing. This is what I tell people. If somebody has done the work of creating an account, developing a character, and making it onto this server, they have the right to be here. It doesn’t matter if they are a 13 year old who has never played an online, it doesn’t matter if they are a member of the opposite sex, it doesn’t matter if they aren’t very good yet, and it doesn’t matter if they ask questions that you think are stupid. Gaming is supposed to be about fun and community, not about beating people down who don’t meet your approval.
If you ask people their opinions about online gamers, you’re going to hear words like trolls, sexists pigs, antisocial, and bully. That stings to hear, but the truth is many of us have earned that reputation and done damage to the gaming world because of our behavior. It doesn’t have to be that way. People just need to get a handle on their own behavior.