Let me state for the record that I don’t consider myself to be all that prudish, politically correct, or shockable for that matter. So someone like me shouldn’t be too appalled when hearing a few choice words spewing from the virtual mouths of opponents (and allies too) when engaged in a little online gaming “fun.” However, my forays into taking my gaming consoles onto the Internet have made the leap to online gaming for me an experience I approach with much trepidation.
My first experience with an online console was the original big chunk of gaming technology, the Xbox. I received an Xbox Live kit complete with subscription and communication headset for Xmas that year, and of course, that night I hooked the whole thing up and was eager to play against people who weren’t sitting in the same room. The Xbox Live kit also came with a few demo games that you could play online. One was this cartoonish third-person shooter called “Whacked!” This game was billed by its publisher as a “toon’ thrashing experience” and featured weapons like rubber ducky grenades and giant staplers. Sounds innocent enough right? Well, with my headset connected to my ultra-large 1st generation Xbox controller I jumped into the first available online arena with my “toon” character and his wacky French horn like weapon and quickly realized my first gripe with online gaming - the ability for players to change or mask their voice. Let’s see, there was the robot voice, the little kid high-pitched voice, the slooooow voice, and the echo/feedback voice, though I’m not sure that last one was actually a choice.
Fast-forward a few more minutes into the game and I found it wasn’t just the voice changing that was bothering me; it was what those voices were actually saying. Imagine a bunch of odd looking, yet childish characters running around your TV screen spewing a string of expletives dotted by the occasional racial slur or reference to sexual orientation. At first it was kind of funny, even somewhat liberating until what seemed (or sounded) to be a group of 8-year olds ganged up on me and made me the target of both their video and aural assault. Let’s just say that the night ended with my wife coming into the room to find me cursing like a sailor at my invisible opponents and saying “What’s wrong with you? You do realize you are swearing at kids, don’t you?” Needless to say, I didn’t log onto Xbox Live for a long, long time after that. Happy holidays indeed.
Since then I have taken all three of the current generation consoles online, and though I’ve had some great experiences, Rock Band and Guitar Hero online sessions stand out. In general I find that online gaming apparently brings out the worst in people. From Halo 3 to Madden and most points in between you will hear a lot of off-color language, berating, and bullying. I’m all for a little smack talk in the heat of competition, but after awhile you just want to reach out into the ether and strangle some of these people, especially the ones who repeat the same explicit word or sentence over and over again just to taunt the other players. In fact, there are even devices you can purchase that can automate these taunts. By now, you probably want to say to me “if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen,” but really I am not all that sensitive. It bothers me when it gets to a level that sucks the fun out of my leisurely pastime.
However, as bad as I’ve had it online, nothing compares to the treatment that female gamers receive if their gender is somehow exposed during an online session (This is one place where voice masking actually comes in handy!). Remember, the majority of gamers are male, and they will do everything in their power to make sure that female players feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. I’ve heard some heavy duty online harassment of the ladies, and I don’t understand that at all. We guys complain that our significant others don’t understand our games, toys and hobbies, etc. but when they get in on the action we treat them like this? Gents, we better get with the equal opportunity gaming thing and quick! Besides, today there are legions (or clans) of female gamers that could easily kick our aging gaming butts. Perhaps that is just what we guys are afraid of. Hmmm…
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