Galaxy Co-Star mode passes the mother-in-law test
Meditative gaming

Game of cruelty

Angel I came across the GayBoy video on YouTube today and am struggling to know how to respond. If you haven't seen it yet, it's a compilation of a young gay man's encounters with extremely hostile Halo 3 players on Xbox Live. He collected this sampling over the course of 11 days and, according to his accompanying post, made no effort to taunt or provoke anyone. The treatment he received was purely based on player reactions to his gamertag, GayBoy, which he purposely selected in order to gauge responses. He is remarkably thick-skinned:

Not everything in this video was said with hate. I can take a joke, and I never took offense to what was said in it. My purpose for this video was only to raise awareness.

Here is the video. I share it only because it provoked me to write this in the first place and is contextually significant. You needn't watch the entire thing; you'll get the gist of it within 30 seconds. Be aware that it contains virulent and exceedingly hostile behavior and vulgarity. Please watch it at your discretion.

I think it's often more useful to generate conversation rather than editorialize or stake out a position, and that's my intention here. The epithets directed at this man are despicable, of course, and I have strong feelings about such aggressive homophobia and hateful behavior. They are, unfortunately, nothing new.

The young man who compiled this video is clearly attempting to provide a snapshot of a particular segment of the online gaming world for all to see. He makes no particular claims or accusations, aside from wishing to raise awareness, but the video raises some important questions, especially for those of us who care about video game culture and the image of video games in society.

My experience with Xbox Live in particular suggests that it has gradually degenerated into a sort of virtual wild west where anything goes and few are held accountable. The degree of malevolence and anti-social behavior on display there can be nauseating. That's not to say it's impossible to have a positive experience, and many players are respectful and considerate. But the raw frequency of belligerent, racist, sexist, and otherwise contemptible behavior has nearly driven me from the service altogether.

Leigh Alexander's latest Aberrant Gamer column highlights several recent incidents, including the GayBoy video, that suggest all is not well in the world of online video games.

Lately, many have found themselves asking whether, as our own society with its own set of norms and behavioral standards, gamers are approaching--if not already crossed--a line from the justifiably passionate into the alarmingly vitriolic. As certain kinds of gamer behavior, mainly online, reaches a fever pitch, many of us have found it increasingly difficult to take a defensive stance. It's becoming harder not to ask certain questions about ourselves.

So, back to those questions we need to ask. Here's a stab at a few. I raise them because I don't know the answers. They aren't rhetorical.

  1. Is this a real problem, or is it a relatively small number of idiots behaving like idiots?
  2. Is this behavior more pronounced in online gaming environments, or is it merely reflective of society at large, gamer and non-gamer alike?
  3. Do companies like Microsoft bear any responsibility to ensure that players aren't verbally attacked or otherwise victimized by players on the network service they provide to their subscribers?
  4. Is there a connection between the competitive virtual violence in a game like Halo 3 and the aggressive behavior of its online players?
  5. Is it mostly adolescent boys engaging in this kind of behavior, or is it more widespread across age groups and sexes?
  6. Has it always been this way, or is it getting worse?

I honestly don't spend much time fretting about how we're all going to hell in a handbasket, but I do find myself increasingly concerned about the mean-spirited and hateful ways people treat each other, online and otherwise. Am I seeing what's really there, or am I just growing older and inevitably more worried about "these kids today"? I really want to know.