When the PlayStation Network went down, I did not notice. I own a PlayStation 3, and I do play it regularly. But I never play games online. I can’t. It’s not my favorite style of gameplay, the fast-paced twitch-gaming. I’ll never practice enough to be competitive among the top gamers I seem to always encounter. But mostly, it sucks out too much of my soul and leaves me feeling intense hatred for the human race.
[Image via Matt Brett]
I used to think that YouTube comments were the evil pit of despair on the Internet. The worst place you could visit. I never sent my mother a YouTube link to one of my review videos because I did not want her to read the things commenters would say about me. The endless criticism of my voice, my cuticles (only my hands appear in most videos, so I was spared the worst taunts), my opinions, even the choice of device to review. I was told I should die, or never have been born. I was told I should be fired and stripped of my livelihood. I was told I was poorly groomed, or in poor health, or that my breathing was simply annoying. I’m a human. We breath sometimes.
Usually these criticisms were over serious errors in my judgment. If I disliked a popular device, I should die. If I liked an Apple device, I was clearly being paid off by Apple. If I had high expectations for a cheap device, I didn’t understand the audience. If I failed to compare that cheap device to the most expensive devices on the market, I’m clearly made a poor career choice, and I need to be punished.
My favorite YouTube comment thread is still ongoing, though I posted the video years ago. I posted a video shot with the high-speed Casio Exilim EX-F1. It’s a firecracker exploding at 1200 frames per second. I have received dozens and dozens of replies to that video claiming I was lying about the fps speed. At first, I tried to gently correct them. Then I got angry and started insulting commenters. Then I started deleting dozens of comments that made the same, stupid argument. Now, I simply laugh whenever I see a new comment is posted.
YouTube is brutal, no doubt, but by far the worst comments I have ever encountered come during online gameplay on a gaming console. I usually hear the most hateful, most racist, homophobic, misogynistic comments I could possibly imagine, and many that exceed my admittedly raunchy imagination. I thought about how I could repeat some of those slurs here in this column, but I’m going to spare you the abuse. Just imagine the worst thing you can think of, then dunk your head in a bucket of acid, and you’ll get an idea for how bad things can get.
Usually these insults are issued in prepubescent voices; young boys who could still sing soprano in their school choir. Not to make a sexist judgment, but I have never been insulted by someone with an obviously female voice.
There is a backlash against these cretins. I am not saying that theirs is the only voice you’ll hear in online games. I have seen users kicked out of arenas for using such slurs. I have heard other gamers openly correct and chastise these bigots for their slurs. I have even seen gamers devote their gamertags to spreading a message of love and acceptance, and not hate and fear. But the problem persists, and I think it is one of the biggest obstacles in online console gaming today.
Thus, it was refreshing to hear Gabe Newell of Valve software, talking to Develop magazine online, about how Valve and other developers can combat this sort of behavior. His solution? Charge nice guys less. Charge jerks more. A lot more. Make the game more expensive. Charge an extra $100 for voice.
My ultra-liberal First Amendment side perks up at this argument. Is this an abridgment of the freedom of speech? Of course not. The freedom of speech is a government concern. The law says that the government can’t curtail the freedom to spew whatever hateful nonsense you want. I’ll stick up for that, even in the worst cases when I truly despise what someone is saying.
A game developer keeping hate speech out of a gaming experience? That’s not freedom of speech, that’s capitalism. I don’t have an Xbox LIVE account anymore because I hated playing against the other online players. Microsoft is losing the money I happily paid in the past because of the people it admits to its servers. Freedom of speech does not guarantee you the right to say anything you like anywhere you want to say it. It’s only about the government, and what the government can do to your expression. It’s not about what a company can restrict.
But where do we draw the line? I’m offended by homophobic comments, racism and blatant sexism. But I’m not bothered by occasional cursing. I don’t mind trash-talking and insults about my mother. I have a dark, sardonic sense of humor, so it’s possible that I may offend people who are more sensitive than I, without realizing I am doing so.
Plus, though I strongly disagree with the hateful things you may say, you may have been raised in a cultural or religious background that finds no offense in such hatred. I don’t agree, and I don’t like those sorts of beliefs, but I’m not going to pretend they don’t exist, and that the believers aren’t earnest in their interpretation. How am I to curtail their speech if the things I say may offend their conservative sensibilities?
It’s a tough question, and one that cannot be answered with a blanket policy. To understand my sense of humor, you have to get to know me. Once you know I’m a nice guy (doesn’t it say so in my bio below?), the terrible things I might spew are so out of character that it’s obvious I’m making a joke, making fun of the human condition of horrible thoughts that pop into our heads. I never veer into hate, but in order for my comments to work, you have to get to know me first. That’s my responsibility. If I fail, and I get fined by Valve or kicked out of an arena, I’ll know the next time to tone it down if I want to keep playing. And I’ll appreciate the mediation that keeps gamers happy doing what they love, which is just playing the game.