PvP and Gaming Culture Redux

So, a while back I wrote about PvP and gamer culture.  It was a long rant against ganking and how our culture was being brought down as a result of all this unrestrained ganking by gamers and devs who allow it.  It generated some interesting comments and I wanted to try to address some of the issues in that original piece that I feel were inadequate the first time around.

The piece was supposed to be a call to developers to start engaging in better behavior and reducing the opportunities and allowance of ganking in their games, as I felt like this behavior helps contribute to the negative culture over all.  But is there any actual link showing that ganking negatively affects our culture?  It’s probably the biggest weakness of the original post and as I ran straight to the conclusion that ganking is obviously contributing to the problem, I had no actual hard evidence to support my theory.  Since that post went up, I’ve been searching for any evidence I could find to bolster my thesis.

This week I found a study that poked another hole in the violent video game content leads to aggression theory, but in doing so led me straight back to my ganking and PvP idea.  This study focused on the psychological effects of playing games that were difficult or hard.  The study showed that gamers who were frustrated or had difficulty learning to play a hard game would often “rage quit.”  The key point I found in the article was this:

The study demonstrated that aggression is a negative side effect of the frustration felt while playing the video game.  “When the experience involves threats to our ego, it can cause us to be hostile and mean to others,” (Richard) Ryan said.

Now this is not a hard link to my theory in any way, shape, or form.  But, it does lend credence to my ideas in some ways.  Getting ganked is often an incredibly frustrating, and difficult experience to deal with.  It can be a huge blow to the ego, especially when you think you’re good but discover you’re not only not good, but possibly terrible compared to certain others.  And while this study doesn’t comment at all about the negative side effects these experiences might engender in other bad behaviors online, it does give us a little more ammunition in the ganking argument.  Maybe not a lot, but I think there’s more there then just a casual inference.  I also think the fact that the worst behavior of all online communities are in the hardcore FPS games, and the MOBA’s and other games that set up direct competition between players is not an accident either.  But again, circumstantial evidence is not enough for a conviction and the search will go on.

But while searching for evidence to support my theory, the research has been no joke, exhausting.  I’ve run face-first into all kinds of examples of what’s going on in the industry and the systemic problems of not just bad behavior in the community but of the lack of inclusiveness and diversity as well.  It becomes particularly difficult when reading over female journalists reports and views of these very real issues.

Maddy Myers diary from the 2014 GDC is bracing and difficult to read, but should still be required reading for every straight, white, male in the industry.  My Twitter and blog streams are chock full of accounts from dozens of people every week showcasing some new sexism or racist remarks by people who should know better by now.  These posts come from the gaming industry, the comics industry, tv, movies, politics, culture, literally everywhere. This is a societal problem.  It isn’t going to go away over night and it likely isn’t going to go away ever.

But just focusing on the gaming industry alone can make you realize what a hot-bed of misogyny and racism that’s been pre-built into the system.  It really isn’t this hard people.  Hire black people.  Hire women.  Hire other minorities.  Their views on life aren’t the same as yours and will in fact be different, and possibly better.  This is not a bad thing.

And while it’s been tough reading through so much of this stuff, it hasn’t all been bad news everywhere the eye can see.  In fact there’s lots of good things happening right now all over the internet.

Vlambeer, a company responsible for the game Luftrausers, recently published a statement online saying that they never intended for players to think they were playing as Nazi soldiers despite the imagery that appeared in their game.  Regardless, it was their job to communicate their intentions to their players and if they failed then it was there fault for not working harder.  And then they apologized to anyone who was offended by it.  That’s how you actually say you’re sorry when you make a mistake people.  Not hard.

Jeffrey Lin from Riot Games recently gave a talk at the very same 2014 GDC, showcasing the way they altered team matches and how teams were created in League of Legends to reduce the amount of negativity the game was generating.  They went through an iterative process of slowly improving how matches were made to reduce the stresses on gamers and improve team formation.  As a result, they successfully managed to reduce complaints and improve fun for their players, while implementing additional systems designed to reduce the negativity and actual bad language (BAD LANGUAGE) coming from players.  What’s this you say?  Game developers actually coding systems designed to improve cooperation and reduce hostility in their games?  How is this even possible??? Social Engineering!!!  You won’t control me, LOL!

Another super important talk at the GDC came from a panel that Ashly Birch and Roaslind Wineman gave called “Better Game Heroes Can Actually Save Real Lives.”  Wineman was the author of Mean Girls, the very same book that Tina Fey made a movie of a few years ago.  At the panel she shared her research on a book that she was working on about boys in much the same vein.  Her research pointed to the fact that video games were huge influences on young boys and the panel was a call to action to make game heroes better then what we currently have.  Master Chief may be a stoic bad-ass, but when his only methods of communication are either silent glares or rage fueled murder rampages, you don’t get a lot of positivity to help influence boys much.  Making our heroes have a larger emotional range could literally save the lives of people (especially young boys) who need to learn that there are other ways to express yourself beyond the gloomy brooding of Batman.

I could go on.  There’s lots of good stuff out there.  And it is encouraging to read.  But I wanted to spend this last bit talking about a question posed to me recently.  If you’re a straight, white, male, how do you contribute to the zeitgeist moving forward through our culture and our society right now?  How do you actually try to be a positive force when so many others of that particular class continue to defend their privilege and place in society, while also being viewed with immediate skepticism and defensiveness from the people you want to actually help?  It’s not as tough a question to answer as you might think, but it is something that’s not going to be so easy to do.  Really it boils down to two things.

First you have to listen.  Try to understand where other people are coming from.  Try to understand that their experiences probably don’t match up with yours, and that’s not a bad thing.  That’s easy, right?  No problem.  The second thing you have to do, is remember your privilege.  And that, is hard.  You have to remember that you’re part of a societal structure that’s been built up for hundreds of years and permeates every aspect of our culture such that it sets you apart as something special.  And that’s not really fair.  Because, you are not a snowflake.  You do not melt at 33 degrees Fahrenheit.  And there are lots of people who don’t have ANY of the advantages you have.  And if you’re white and male, you have a LOT of advantages.  Remember that.  And remember the way you’d react to a situation isn’t the same way that others react to a situation.  Disagree with a cop?  If you’re white and male, you can get a badge number and file a complaint.  If you’re anything else?  You shut up and pray they don’t arrest you just because they feel like it.  Understanding that difference is how you can remember your privilege and it is sooooo important.

I’ve run long today, for sure.  But in my own personal experience, I’ve found that the other perspectives and knowledge of people who aren’t like me, has been nothing but a boon to me in my life.  I have been fortunate enough in my professional and personal life to be surrounded at many various times with people from amazing cultures and ethnicity.  I value all of them and all of the things they’ve shared with me over the years, but the most amazing people I’ve had the privilege to get to know have probably been the handful of trans people I’ve met in the past 5 years or so.  They are the bravest people I’ve ever met.  And in a society that locks gender into a binary bioligical decision and actively works to punish, repress, and murder, those that see this decision as faulty, their existence is nothing short of extraordinary.  I’m grateful for the things they’ve opened my eyes to, and grateful for all the other things I’ve learned from all the people who aren’t like me.  Seriously people, click that last link, it will expand your mind.

Whew.  Long one today, gang.  Next week will be lighter.  See you then.

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