Growing up surrounded by my brother and a mess of loud and sometimes obnoxious friends, I was no stranger when it came to gaming and trash talking. Whether we were swapping one-shot kills in Goldeneye, making fun of each others’ created characters in Wrestlemania 2000 or swapping insults during bouts of Bushido Blade, the smack we talked ran freely like milk and honey in the Promised Land. In my mind, this was just the way gaming was: friendly, fun and all in good sport. We dished out only what we could take, and only occasionally did the bad blood spill over into the real world, and usually it was the other way around.
My first extended stint into online gaming came with my late discovery of Counter-Strike my freshman year of college. What started as something just for pure fun soon grew into a relatively serious hobby. It was only when I dived in more deeply that I saw the gritty underbelly of the online world: griefing, racism, verbal threats and rage.
As much as I like to joke about some of these things, I really was astounded at this ugly side of human nature, which is obviously going to become more apparent the more people you throw into an anonymous environment. My first encounters with griefing and other things was in a Counter-Strike match, where a group of redneck-sounding guys were shouting racial epithets and slurs at anything and everything. After a shouting match between them and some other more vocal players in the server, the whole thing eventually degenerated into teamkilling and anger.
While we often joke about this kind of behavior, it really is disconcerting at best, and at worst horrid and sad. The recent dispute over the XBL ban of Black Ops players with swastika emblems only highlights that even nearly a decade later, we are still having the same issues when it comes to online gaming. And no, this isn’t about XBox Live and the typical stereotypical labeling it gets when it comes to kids and other obnoxious online brats. One needs to look no further than the Serenity Now raid of the WoW funeral to know that these people come in all shapes, sizes and genre preferences.
My experience has taught me that these people are cross platform, and the problem is more widespread than just the one service. It’s a bit dismissive to act like Microsoft’s service is the only place that idiots congregate on the Internet, and a bit obtuse as well. Are there more idiots per capita on XBL? Probably so, but that’s more likely due to the pool being larger. The bigger the area, the more idiots. It’s statistics, really. I feel like anybody with a reasonable amount of time spent online can testify that trolls and griefers are anywhere and everywhere. They’re climbing in our windows, snatching our fun up. HIDE YO KIDS.
Due to recent debacles like this, as well as many others, there are people out there calling for reform in the way that Microsoft polices its own service. But really, where does the responsibility ultimately fall, and is it being a bit too naive to assume that we can simply weed out every jerk out there that tries to use his anonymity to have fun at someone else’s expense?
We could throw the blame on the publishers and developers, but how much manpower would it take to send that many “policemen” out onto the service, watching games and enforcing some kind of online law? Is this really where we want development budgets to go?
Another option would be to give the responsibility to the Microsofts and Sonys of the world, but even that carries with it a cost. As someone who dislikes paying to play online, I don’t like the idea of XBL getting even more expensive, and Sony would most certainly have to start charging in order to put that many enforcers out there en masse as well, when you consider how many millions of online environments are ongoing at any given time.
Really, the closest thing I can imagine to this online world of altruism would be in well policed dedicated PC servers. These are owned and operated by individuals, companies or clans, and they carry with them their own sets of rules and standards that all people in the game must comply and adhere to. Some of these are more lax on the way they mete out punishments than others, but when you find one that works well, boy does it shine. The only problem is, the more people will say that this is totally free to do on PC, that’s still just a lie. It might be free for you, but there is someone else paying to maintain and operate that server. It comes at a price for that person to have just the right online environment, and will if we want it to be more widespread in other places as well.
So what’s the answer, then? Honestly, I have no clue. To me, it seems that the idea of some sort of gaming utopia is a far-fetched one at best, but then again I have a pretty dismal view of the way humans will treat one another when left to their own devices, especially when no clear punishment or discipline is at stake. But the more I see things like this go on, and the more I join online games only to hear some of this same idiocy, the more I wonder if it’s too pie-in-the-sky to think that someday we’ll have a perfect service without paying a dime more for it ourselves.
What do you guys think? Is it naive to think that some day, we’ll have an online game that can rid itself of griefers? What was your first experience with griefing, and what are the things you hate the most when it comes to this kind of behavior in online games? Go!