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Friday, March 25, 2016

To Be A Good Gaming Corporate Citizen

As I mentioned on Wednesday, I am at Norwescon this weekend. One of the things I get to do here is play tabletop games rather than just virtual games. Last night I was talking about non-virtual games with a lady friend of mine, and she relayed to me a very interesting story from her youth. This happened about 25 or 30 years ago in Tennessee. It involved a group of young men, seal clubbing (in the online game sense,) and extremely bad behavior towards other players and especially the young woman in the story.

At the time of this story, Laser Tag was a big thing in many parts of the country. Paintball had not yet made it onto the scene, and the entry into a Laser Tag maze was affordable enough young teens could afford a Saturday night of fun running mock engagements against each other. All matches were domination style.

As my friend described the setup, I could not help but remark on how similar it was to the maps used in games like World of Warships and Armored Warfare. The arena had a set area, and certain aspects of the map were unchangeable. Metas developed on how to win matches within the arena, and through practise and observation my friend had become pretty good at the game.

There was also a league, and league players would win awards for playing well. These awards were point based and very, very similar to Team Battles in World of Warships. There was even a grinding mechanism by which league players could earn points by playing against the the general player base in the random matches. And if they did so, they got a few perks the general players did not, like getting to choose when and against whom they played.

The problem with this system was obvious. One particular league team of young men just out of High School gamed this system of preferential matchmaking to only play "weak" teams whom they could easily dominate by large margins thus gaining more league points faster. This is like a combination of farming and seal clubbing.

The incident my friend relayed to me concerned a group of very young teens who'd been singled out by the "veteran" team for clubbing. They were understandable distraught at their prospects of having the floor wiped with them. This is understandable as everyone plays games to have fun and it's no fun being seal clubbed by players who should be playing several ranks above you, but for lulz or whatever they choose to pick on the inexperienced. So my much more experienced lady friend decided to help.

She drew the inexperienced team together, and instructed them on how to counter the more experienced team using their smaller stature and better agility. This worked very well. And no, the inexperienced team did not win, but they made such a match of it that it actually hurt the league teams standings as well as making them objects of ridicule by other league teams. They were very unhappy about the outcome, became verbally abusive to my female friend and the younger team, and were banned for the night because of their aggressive behaviour and use of racist and misogynistic slurs. Sound familiar?

But wait, it gets better. A few weekends later a few of these league players, not all of them, showed up and started working themselves into a match against my lady friend. During the first match, she handily dispatched one of these 'l33t' players because he tended to do the same thing over and over and was utterly predictable in him play. After his dead light started blinking and his laser gun was disabled, she moved past him looking to leverage her momentary position of advantage over the other team. She didn't pay the guy any more attention because the rules were clear. He could do anything else and must move to the nearest exit and wait for the end of the match.

And of course that's not what he did. With an epitaph starting with "no woman," he grabbed her harness from behind, lifted her feet off the floor and threw her down the ramp. Did I mention my lady friend at the time weighed all of 100 pounds soaking wet? Well, fortunately she was well trained. She tucked, rolled and came up on her feet to face the bully. Two of the referees saw what he did as did many of the players both in the maze and in the gallery above. It was the last straw. Physical contact was forbidden. He, and his league team, were permanently banned from that facility and all other facilities owned by that company on the spot.

Did any of this sound familiar? How many times have you been on a team in World of Warships and run into "that guy" who just has to tell everyone how badly they suck? Were you a victim of seal clubbing when you first started to play? Have you ever been threatened with rape or murder and then doxed?

I know people, almost all women BTW, who have been. It's not a joke. It's not funny. And unfortunately, many of the gaming companies don't see it as a real problem - only a marketing issue. But as you can see from this story, the behavior predates online gaming. Without making excuses for it, it is likely inherent to the male psyche. That in no way should be interpreted as acceptance of the behavior. We are human beings. We have a large frontal lobe that makes our species uniquely able to override our base behaviors and to act in a socially acceptable manner. Should we fail to do so, society has mechanisms to deal with the bad behavior just as the Laser Tag company dealt with it.

Now every gaming company will tell you such behavior is not tolerated and that they do not condone it. That's nice. Words are cheap. What is lacking from many of them is a will to do anything about it. They are not keeping the social contract which says all members must be protected. When gaming companies do not pursue racist or misogynistic behavior in the manner exhibited in the story above, they fail the social contract. They are bad citizens. And with history as my guide, when any organization fails their social contracts and allows unacceptable social behavior from even a few undesirables, societies can and do rebel. It's called civil war and it is devastating for all involved.

Is that hyperbole? Perhaps. But I have this nagging doubt in the back of my mind about it. Online gaming as a culturally accepted practise is new. It's happened within my lifetime. And already I see cracks in the foundation of it threatening to separate it from the rest of society.  I do not want to go back to the days when terms like geek and nerd were slurs as bad a nigger and chink. We as gamers can only point out the bad behavior. Only the gaming companies can do something about it. Isn't it about time they did so consistently and without fail, regardless of the difficulties in doing so? It's the price of being good corporate citizens. Sooner or later society will ask for that payment. It would be far better on this growing gamer culture of they did it without being forced to do so by the older, more mature segments of society. That's the difference between being the master of your own ship, and having it sailed for you. Or put another way, taking responsibility for one's actions, or lack of actions, is the first sign of adulthood. It's the first time you're taken seriously by your parents. It's the moment when everything changes for the better.

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Be civil, be responsible and most of all be kind. I will not tolerate poor form. There will be no James Hooks here. We are all better than that.