Better Gamers for a Better Community

How can so much abuse happen within the gaming community even as we know so many good people? We all like to think that bigots and trolls are a loud minority, but what can we say about that silent majority? Are they not facilitators and complicit in the abuse due to their silence? Men are especially silent on these matters and that makes matters worse sense men tend to dole out the most abuse. Men have to do more to break the silence.

I’d say it’s been 50/50 split between men being decent human beings to indecent (*). But of the good half, I’d say the majority are silent bystanders. I’ve seen them defend their silence with terrible excuses while a fellow gamer is attacked in some way. The problem is two-fold then: it’s the abusers and then it’s those who silently allow it to happen. Our complicity through silence is a huge problem.

To have a better community requires us to be better men.

A Few Good Online Gamers

There are a lot of good men within the gaming community. The friends I play with at home or that I meet up with throughout the week for kicks are generally good guys. I don’t know a ton of male bloggers personally, but for those I’ve become acquainted with we get to know each other through games, comment sections, forums, and even voice chat on game servers. I consider them friends, but I wouldn’t say I knew them. I’m sure they think the same of me. The truth is I’ve been a silent bystander before. That’s how I know there’s not really any good reason for it; it is defacto support of the wrongs you witness.

Everyone knows that most people are different on the internet than in real life. Anonymity allows us to connect in more personal ways than we otherwise would — at a safe distance. Everyone also knows that the opposite is true as well. Anonymity brings out the absolute worst in many people.

Men on the internet can be predatory, because I’ve seen us do it at parties, at bars, in the night, on corners, on the job. I think this behavior happens 1000 fold on the internet. The bigotry is also constantly on display as well on voice chat, comment threads, “jokes” and everywhere else. Anonymity doesn’t have to mean no consequences, but in today’s environment it does. And that leaves a lot of room for predatory and hateful behavior.

How many of us have intervened for that drunken woman at the bar/party? How about that bully on Ventrilo? How about during a round of DOTA 2? I’m sure some of us have, but here’s the point: most of the time, we just let things happen without intervening at all. It may not be us who commits the crime, but it’s just as bad to standby while bad things happen. Silent men are no better than the perpetrators. Both acts are harmful.

Breaking Silence

In the gaming community, bigotry is a massive problem, but silence is an even greater one. I’ll take overt bigots over silent Good Guys any day, because the latter is a betrayal and is the means to suppress problems. Bigotry in all it’s forms is heinous, but the silence that permits it is an unspeakable evil. Bigotry, even the subtle kind, isn’t genetic. Plenty of men in the community do the right thing everyday and they are from the same general cultural circumstance as the bad ones. Silence is complicity.

That complicity is what allows the gaming community to descend into an ugly, unsafe, toxic state. It’s not the bigots, bullies and predators. It’s those of us who do nothing while the baddies do their worst.

I wanted to write this to implore and encourage other gamers who are silent bystanders to break the silence. I want to raise the percentage of gamers who intervene loudly and reliably. But how do we do it? What do you say or do to break that silence?

Foremost, don’t go along to get along. Let this be your rallying point. You don’t have to be belligerent or unpleasant in order to break your silence, and I know some may have that fear of confrontation. All that’s needed is for you to NOT be silent, whether it’s while you’re gaming, at a convention or just hanging out on a forum. Here’s some things to be avoid.

  • Don’t ignore it. And don’t advise others to ignore it either. If someone you’re playing with is being a bigot, politely point it out to them. It’s not about winning or policing people. It’s about breaking your silence when you see something wrong happening.
  • Don’t call the victim sensitive. This is a cop out for your lack of will/courage to attack the real problem: the perpetrator. The problem isn’t the person being attacked, it’s the fact that they are being attacked.
  • Don’t make excuses. It doesn’t matter how common a bigoted joke is. It certainly doesn’t matter that the perpetrator is angry and is “blowing off steam”. These are all excuses to evade the fact that something wrong just happened and you did NOTHING.

In every case, these things attempt to focus on everything except the abuser and that’s wrong no matter what. On the other hand, here’s some things that might be cool to do:

  • Confront the perpetrator. That’s the first and most important step. “Hey, that’s not cool” or “Hey, knock it off” are great starters. Again, it’s not about engaging in a fierce debate. It’s about refusing to allow bad things to continue unchallenged. They might ignore you, but that’s their perrogative; focus on YOUR part and refuse to be ignored. If this can turn into a civil discussion about it, welcome it.
  • Support the victim unconditionally. It’s about letting them know that the act is categorically wrong and that your support is based on that fact alone, without condition. I think it’s tempting to say/think things like “As long as <insert condition>…” or otherwise putting limitations on your objection. Don’t. If it’s wrong, confront the crime/criminal. Resist all urges to do otherwise.
  • Speak out. This is slightly different than confronting a person. To speak out is to independently call attention to an issue. It’s to call for a conversation about that issue, spread awareness or share information that could help solve the problem.

When all the talk and action is done, one of the most important things you can do is listen. Learn about the problem. Learn it’s history. This is the single greatest contribution you can make to community improvement: gradually understanding the problem and caring about the people directly affected by it. After all, a better community is about fostering better people and that starts with you.

Just first, please, stop being silent.

(*) = Edit for clarity: This refers ONLY to my personal experience and that part of the sentence was accidentally edited out of the original article. This is clearly not a factual statistic, but description of personal experience. Apologies for the mistake.

Scree Tags: #breakthesilence #gamerculture

11 thoughts on “Better Gamers for a Better Community

  1. Silence is definitely a major part in perpetuating a certain ideal. It reminds me of the speech by Ellie Wiesel (I think that’s it) titled “the perils of indifference. It’s about, as you said, silence being complicity but also that for there to be any change people have to be willing to act, to get angry and strive for change.
    Great post.

    • I’ve read no less than a half dozen books over the years where activists point out the problems with silence. And during all that time I can say I’ve seen very little progress made. People are more afraid of being the object of abuse than confronting it. When it could be you, you’re less likely to act — just out of fear.

      So some component of the silence is fear. Maybe I have something to gain or to maintain by not intervening. Maybe that bully will come after me. That is often unavoidable. I’d advise anyone not used to it to take it slow and to just start with breaking the silence. Some day you (not you personally, just the general public) might be willing to take a beating to go against injustice, but start small would be my advice 😉

      Thank you for reading and commenting, L33t J3w3l.

  2. Reblogged this on Healing the masses and commented:

    Great post from Doone regarding the act of silence perpetuating a certain set of ideals within gaming culture that are rather destructive and exclusionary. It goes on to say the silence in the face if such things may be equal to or worse than the act itself since silence us an act of complicity, of support for a certain ideal by virtue of not standing against it.

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  4. I’ve been in MMOs since the late 90s. Similar to Bhag, I’ve seen games go from cesspools to today’s environment. Certainly there’s bad spots in game but the tools available today allow for so much more control compared to the wild west of yesteryear. Are there bad spots? Most certainly. The WoW forums, XBOX live, LoL are 3 prime candidates of absolutely horrendous behaviour. The diffence lately is that there are more sticks to control the masses. Tribunal is a great achievement. XBOX purgatory is a neat idea. /report in WoW is used much more often than ignore. Mass bannings are much more common. Trion is trying it. EA has done it. Steam has done it.

    While I agree there’s still work to be done, looking back at where we’ve been to today, we’re quite literally a society away from 10 years ago. Education and open discussion will help move us along even farther.

    • Hmm, let me engage your points from the opposite end just so we can both see how these observations don’t amount to truth and in fact, aren’t likely to be genuine decreases in abuse and violence. Also, while I think its important to measure progress, we don’t really have good ways to measure it and that’s a problem which contributes to our ignorance of the frequency/intensity/impacts of abuse (I mean we have reported abuses, but a decrease in reporting can mean anything, including that the abused have simply left the community).

      I don’t think online abuse has decreased at all in the gaming community. It seems to me to have just taken on different, often more subtle forms and in some areas worse. As an example, I had a friend one time tell me that “now everyone is gay …every time you look up someone’s ‘coming out!’ ” What he observed was real — but it was not the truth. It is more socially acceptable to be gay today than yesterday, but there are as many gay people now as there has ever been (whether we’ve “seen” them or not). Homosexuality has been with humans forever. The same sort of phenomena I think can be observed when gauging online abuse. There’s not so much a decrease in the abuse as it’s the case that it’s taken on a different and more socially acceptable form. For women, sexism is still firmly entrenched and many forms of discrimination against them are still acceptable, even under law. Racism is another firmly entrenched form of oppression which never went away in America. Instead what we’ve seen over the years is it gradually shifting into more socially acceptable modes of expression (we no longer say wetbacks, but illegal alien; thug instead of nigger; muslim instead of sand-nigger, and on and on). People defend racial stereotypes more than they EVER have before, and this seems the likely reason why. The prevalence of discrimination (which is abuse) is higher today than it was 10 years ago in America. In an online, anonymous community, do you think it likely that this behavior has been disappearing even as its resurgent in the real world?

      I still think Bhag’s thoughts on the increase in diverse representation among player guilds is interesting, because it shows how players have taken it on themselves to correct structural issues in their communities instead of waiting for developers to care. I’d still really like to read something about those developments because I think you guys are on to something there.

      And I’ve not seen a general decrease in the amount of silence either. People are probably more likely to be silent now than they were in the past due to a belief that the abuse “isn’t that bad” or ” is over” mind sets.

      Thanks for the discussion.

      • I am honeslty sorry you live in country where so little progress has been made. I am Canadian. A country known for progressive social values. We have gay marriage across the country, have so for years. Scantily clad women are illegal in alcohol ads. There are plenty of other social tools/norms that exist here, and I suspect across the world, that have just permeated our perception.

        I do believe it has been disappearing in the online community. Do you believe we’d ever have talked aboout female sterotyping in a game like the Blizzard MOBA issue just 5 years ago? That Carbine would have to defend their art style? That tribunal was even a thought? The UK has laws, with jail time, against cyber bullying. My daughter now has the opportunity to be what ever she wants to be, that was not the case for my sister.

        I cannot dismiss that there are still issues, that much is clear. But to state that there’s been little progress forward, only sideways, is really doing a disservice.

      • You don’t need to be sorry for me! I’m not. It’s very simple: now that we’re aware, let’s do something 🙂

        You’re right that there are more laws and such for online abuse. While my daughters will have it easier than their mother, they will still have it very hard and should any of my children identify as anything other than heterosexual, they will have it harder still — we are FAR from a level playing field, both culturally and legislatively, and not just in America. I don’t want my responses to take the angle that this is an isolated issue or to finger point. It is global and we should all act.

        I again cite the data which shows things have actually grown worse in many areas. The Spirit Level is a statistical goldmine complete with expert analysis of the data which shows most “progress” is side-ways.But here’s a concrete example that you can read without paying. I think this shows side-ways “progress” as you put it:

        While this is hardly the cornerstone of the case for stagnating progress, it does illustrate an important point: that bigotry and oppression (and their attendant abuse) have taken on different forms and has NOT decreased. Other than your perceptions, do you also have some reason to believe abuse has decreased in our game communities? I’m not asking to be argumentative, but to understand where you’re coming from. We may disagree, but I’d rather we focused on takeaways, exchanging ideas to test.

        Grats on living in Canada 🙂 It appears to do better than some of us:

        This doesn’t mean there hasn’t been any progress, but I do believe the bulk of it has been side-ways, not forward. However, the steps that we have taken forward are large and significant. It just doesn’t happen often, so it’s important to focus on the small battles, which involve our everyday actions.

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