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The other evening I was playing a game of Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft (a digital card game) and I completely destroyed my opponent. I had what you would call a “God Draw”. Every card I drew was perfect, and the game was over in a matter of minutes.

Afterward I received a friend request from my opponent. This isn’t at all uncommon and it usually means one of two things. The first, is that my opponent wants to have me on their friends list, maybe play some games, talk about Hearthstone, or comment on the match. The second is that they want to trash talk, telling me how lucky I am and that I’m a terrible player. In this case, I assumed it was the latter, but I sometimes welcome some friendly banter. Usually I find nothing wrong with a little trash talk.

After I accepted, I received a message telling me, “I am going to kill you and your family hahahaha.” Knowing that this wasn’t going to go anywhere pleasant, I immediately deleted this player and continued playing.

It’s not right that people can’t enjoy multiplayer games because of bullying.

This particular comment however really stuck with me. It wasn’t because I was concerned for me or my family’s safety, I knew it was an idle threat, but it was because this player had made such a serious threat so flippantly. Technically, what this player had just done was committed cyberbullying. Yet I had pretty much just shrugged it off. As a life long gamer, and someone who has played online since my young teens, it’s something I’ve gotten used too. Usually they aren’t this bad. Mostly players just insult other players’ skill, but threats aren’t uncommon. After thinking on it, I was profoundly saddened that this kind of thing is so common that I had become desensitized.

An example of some post game trash talking in Hearthstone.
An example of some post game trash talking in Hearthstone.

This is a big part of multiplayer video game culture. As is the case with internet culture in general, when anonymity is involved, people don’t fear the consequences of their actions. As most multiplayer experiences are competitive, it’s only natural for things to get a bit heated. But you’ll rarely see people say such threatening things in sports when face-to-face. Its usually much lighter, meant to get under your opponents skin, and gain an advantage. That’s just the spirit of competition. But comments made in online multiplayer games go beyond gaming. They affect people personally. They are meant to bully and make someone feel bad about themselves for almost no reason. The really sad part is that it drives people away from playing games they might otherwise enjoy. New gamers that aren’t as desensitized read a threat like that and might immediately leave and not play again. It’s not right that people can’t enjoy multiplayer games because of bullying.

Online gaming culture is particularly tough on women. Gaming is usually been thought of as appealing to a predominantly male audience. As such whenever there are women involved people make a big deal out of it, one way or another. Some are just simply in love with some of these female gamers and perhaps want some attention so they say or do stupid things. This is usually harmless, and it’s what you see for the most part. A vocal minority, however, are just down right awful. Female gamers receive threats of violence and rape far too often to not be taken seriously. Unfortunately, it pushes a lot of them away from video games and certainly doesn’t provide an inviting environment for female gamers to join. And that’s the point. Some people just want to have a “no girls allowed sign” around video games so they try to drive them away with threats.

Another common element is the general disrespect towards women in the online gaming community. You have to look no further than Twitch, one of the world’s premiere video game streaming websites to see this. During E3, when hundreds of thousands of people were watching streams, whenever women would come on the chat would fill with comments like, “boobs” or “women’s opinion’s don’t matter,” (though perhaps with harsher words). Even if you’re a horny teenage boy and boobs are on the brain, saying that objectifies women and belittles them. I’m aware that sexism is a prevalent problem, but to see it laid out so comfortably, knowing that chat will agree or latch on to it is perplexing to me.

Brianna Wu, Head of Development at Giant Spacekat, has received death threats as well as her address being posted online
Brianna Wu, Head of Development at Giant Spacekat, has received death threats as well as her address being posted online.

I love video games, and I don’t want them to be associated with this stereotype. With more and more stories about female gamers receiving threats of violence what are people in mainstream culture supposed to think?

This brings me to my overarching question. Is there any way to change this culture? Obviously it isn’t possible to end sexism, racism or violence, but how can we limit its prevalence in multiplayer video game culture? Right now, the vocal minority is in control of the community’s image. They are the ones that choose to say something, and they usually say something hateful. To change, the majority must emerge from the shadows and become vocal. As a member of this silent community, I will do my best to say something. Maybe its something positive or maybe its something thought provoking.

While it may be naïve to think this can make a difference, as a producer of online content, I know how far a few positive words can go. And if things change maybe people wont be afraid to play multiplayer games anymore. Instead of logging into a game to hear “You suck,” you’ll here something constructive. Video games are a love of mine, and it’d be nice to live in a world where everyone can enjoy them as much as I do. It just seems that we a lot of work to do before we get there.

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Writer at Victory Point. Has a Bachelor in Business Administration so I'll write about the business end of games from time to time. Passionate about video games and once spent 27 straight hours playing Oblivion. Follow me on Twitter @PattySinc.
  • Michael Marye

    Excellent, excellent article. I have been searching for a while for any information related to the social dangers related to online multiplayer interaction. I am new to online gaming and I am extremely interested in it, and yet, based on some live multiplayer game streams I’ve observed I’m hesitant to participate. What especially concerns me is how little these dark social aspects are discussed, so I am very appreciative of the effort you have made here to get the conversation started. I certainly hope there’s more attention given to exposing these controversial yet unspoken issues. You’ve set a brilliant example by writing this. Bravo