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Out Of Control - Video game reviews and news
2011-11-14 at 11:57

Racism, homophobia and online games

There’s a problem with online gaming.

It has nothing to do with framerates, bugs, or game exploits. Forget lag and random disconnects. 

The problem is with online games that feature in-game voice chat, or rather how that feature is being used. The intention of voice-chat is to allow gamers to converse with one another about the game, share strategies and work together.

The system usually works, but sometimes it’s abused. 

Some gamers use voice-chat to get under the skin of players they don’t like. 

“You suck,” or “my mother snipes better than you,” are not the phrases used to achieve this. Instead, many gamers go on homophobic rants to make their point. Many times racial slurs are thrown into the mix, with the N-word (an unfortunate fan favourite among some gamers) flowing freely.

The super technical term for this, according to those who study cyber bullying, is griefing. A griefer is someone who uses the online game as a platform to harass and attack other gamers.

It might not be a big deal for someone like me. I have thick skin and can ignore griefers easily. But other gamers, specifically teens who may be dealing with bullying and other sorts of harassment in their non-pixilated life, may see this as a serious issue that’s impossible to escape.

According to a 2008 Pew Internet and American Life Project report, more than 50 per cent of teens playing online games reported hearing “people being mean and overly aggressive” while playing.

While the study doesn’t examine the specifics of “being mean,” I know as an online gamer that “aggressive” can be downright vicious.  

I couldn’t find a more recent study, but my gut tells me that today’s results would feature a number larger than 50 per cent. After all, 2008 in the video game world may as well be 1998.

My approach to this issue, which I believe has probably been the wrong way, has been to ignore it. 

I even purchased a Bluetooth microphone earpiece in an effort to turn a blind eye (or a blind ear, I guess) to the issue.

Typically, the voice-chat banter comes through the same speakers that deliver game sound effects, which means the racial slurs bounce off my living room walls with the sounds of gunshots and explosions.

By purchasing a headset I was able to have the voice-chat run through the earpiece, while the game sounds continued to emit from the home-theatre speakers. Muting the microphone ensured the sound from my living room wouldn’t invade other gamer’s space.

With the gadget on my coffee table and away from my eardrum, I assumed I had solved the problem.

Not exactly.

The problem is still there.

So how do we, as gamers, solve this?

I could demand Microsoft and Sony begin policing their networks to ensure voice chat isn’t abused. But that’s not feasible.

So instead of turning to Sony and Microsoft, I’m turning to gamers.

We can’t ignore griefers. We can’t stoop to their level either, but we can at the very least use our voice-chat to express our displeasure. And we can set the record straight – griefers don’t represent gamers.

This may add fuel to the fire (never feed the trolls, I believe is the expression) but speaking up isn’t for the griefer anyway. We need to speak up for that possibly fragile teen who may be absorbing the hate and harassment.

It is that person who needs to know that the griefer attacking them (even if the attacks aren’t specifically directed toward a specific person) doesn’t reflect the other dozen players he or she is online with.

Until gamers start doing that, the griefers will win.

And something tells me that a griefer’s victory could one day become a fatal headline we read about.

Let’s fix the problem before it gets there.




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