The Burden and Responsibility of Anonymity

Gamers have always been a socially awkward crowd, as the thing they enjoy most, namely video games, requires them to focus their attention on a screen instead of another person. Growing up in the last throes of the Arcade Era, meant less and less interactivity between gamers as time went on. It was less common to see populated arcades, and they became more akin to ghost towns complete with tumbleweeds and coyotes. Only kidding. However when ever challengers were present, it was often a brief and cordial experience between total strangers. Most commonly this happened for fighting games, wherein two players controlled avatars engaged in brutal martial arts action until one emerges victorious. Being rude and impolite was out of the question, as you can never gauge the level of crazy you might be dealing with, and when considering the denizens of southern California in the nineties, or even now, it’s better to play it safe.

As video games evolved, the ability to play over the Internet meant those groups of gamers could compete in numbers previously thought impossible. However with the advent of the Internet, also came the anonymity which has proved to be too much for some gamers to handle. If you have ever played a popular first person shooter online such as Halo, Counter Strike, or Modern Warfare, then odds are you have experienced the rampant racism, sexism, and homophobia that streams out of the mouths of people. Such juvenile behavior represses not only gamers, but all people. All it takes is one moron with a microphone and grade school concept of society, to ruin an otherwise great online experience. Being able to hide behind the safety curtain of anonymity causes people to overreact to situations and lash out at strangers whom they feel inferior to. This insecurity runs rampant among the online gaming community, and is something that should be actively battled.

If your familiar with the hate speak that can be found in most online lobbies, you can imagine no one having the gall to behave that way if they were actually in the same room with the very people they were playing against. If you were playing shoulder to shoulder like you would in an arcade, and tried to tell the person you’re playing with/against that their grandma is performing various unspeakable sexual acts with, on, or near Hitler, the odds of getting into a real fight would skyrocket. However, online there is no threat of someone tracking down where you live because you flamed them for being so bad at a game, so the reigns of social etiquette are considered to be thrown out of the window.

Anonymity is a responsibility as much as it is a burden. Although it is unrealistic to think all participants in online video games are capable of having a mature sense of tolerance or dignity, that doesn't mean that those of us who are capable should just mute these players and ignore them. Every player can make a difference, by working with administrators to ban and flag players who actively sabotage the communal aspect of gaming, then gamers can make progress towards being a better respected community. As opposed to the ignorant and violent groups of delinquents that the media has advertised us as, we can reinforce the more sophisticated and artistic aspect of gaming culture that some of us pride ourselves on.

Some techniques that I employ when mingling online with other gamers via lobby screen, is to act as a host for the game, thanking all players for taking the time to get blown up and shot in the head (or whatever might be taking place in any given game). Mentioning any highlights of the match, or interviewing other players who have ranked highly for their prowess. Getting a dialogue going is a fun and surprising venture. Taking the spotlight first, I encourage other players to take a turn "on the mic” to act as a network of co-hosts to help entertain everyone during downtime between matches. If people like having you in their games, it will be easier to find a solid group of players who know how to interact like decent human beings ought to. Bad seeds will jump at the chance to have their long winded opinions about why certain people "suck and should die", and should be handled with swift action. Being able to quickly weed out players who lacks proper sportsmanship is paramount to making the gaming scene a legitimate one, instead of a laughable one.

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