*trigger warning: harsh, violent, and derogatory language follows in the following article*
Verbal abuse and verbal harassment is very common online. In fact I would call it pervasive. The things that spew from some people’s mouths would make you think that they’re a garbage compactor and not a person. If you happen to land in the wrong match you can hear people throwing slurs like they had an actual impact in the game, as though calling someone a faggot is going to improve how one performs during a match. It can be extremely overwhelming and it wasn’t until recently that I had my first true experience with online harassment to this kind of extreme.
My parents bought me Black Ops 2 for Christmas. I have played plenty of “War Games” online such as Halo and previous Call of Duty games. However I never paid any attention to the chats that were going on. Often times I would mute anyone and everyone who was in my lobby so I could listen to music or something else. As well, I played on my PS3, where the problem (while still pervasive) isn’t as widespread. I played Black Ops 2 online in some casual matches, but it wasn’t until I started playing Hardcore matches that I came face to face (or should it be ear to ear?) with the extreme end of online verbal harassment.
Playing Hardcore Team Deathmatch I found myself in a lobby with a bunch of people who were part of a clan. There were probably 5 or 6 of them (I don’t remember exactly how many), but I was kind of excited. They all were speaking to each other, relaying information, and generally trying to communicate during the first few minutes of the game. After that the chat went downhill. No, that’s not a proper description. The chat fell to the depths of Mariana Trench where I wish it would have died. Rather than relaying information to each other they began slinging cunt, faggot, homo, and a whole bag full of words I would never say in front of… well… anyone actually.
At the end of the match I really didn’t feel like playing. I quickly exited the lobby and turned off my 360. The whole experience, one that I probably had been a part of in the past but had never paid any attention to, left a terrible taste in my mouth. But, the worst part was that I had done nothing about it. I hadn’t reported a single person and had said nothing during the match. That’s probably what upset me the most – the fact that I could sit there and play the game and not say a single thing or even make an anonymous report disappointed me. I was disappointed in myself for not taking action to stop the way that they were speaking online.
Rather than seclude myself and never playing Call of Duty again (which I actually considered at one point) I made a plan of action. Whenever anyone used words like cunt, homo, faggot, or any other derogatory slur I was going to politely ask them not to use that word. While I knew that this wasn’t going to do much, and would probably end up in backlash against me, I wanted to publicly voice my disapproval to the language that they were using. If they refused to stop using said language I would then report them. I had my plan of action and I was going to stick to it.
Fast forward to today. I decided to play Call of Duty online again. I was playing for around half an hour when the foul mouth struck. Our team was losing. We were doing rather poorly and I was frustrated by the whole circumstance. However there was someone else on our team who was more upset. He proceeded to jump on his microphone and utter “Is this team made up of homos? You all suck!”
I had kept my plan in the back of my mind the entire time. I knew that if I wasn’t keeping myself conscious of my plan I wouldn’t follow through, so the entire time I was highly aware of the language that was being used (or lack thereof) during matches. I calmly stated “I would appreciate it if you didn’t use that word.” Step one – complete.
He retaliated to my calm request “No, fuck you. I fucking hate homos!” Now, I figured that I was going to be targeted for my behavior so I was prepared. I didn’t utter another word after that. However, because he apparently “fucking hates homos” he continued his barrage of insults. “Take that you fucking queer. Is that better? You fucking queer.”
Now I decided to move on to step 2. I walked [my avatar] into a corner while he threw everything he could at me. “How about faggot? Is that a better word you faggot?” Using select I pulled up the menu, keeping myself as calm as I could, and asked over chat “Wait, who was the one who was insulting me?”
Proudly, he responded “Oh, you mean me?” The speaker icon next to his Gamertag lit up, telling me that he was the one who was speaking over chat. I highlighted his name, pulled up his Gamercard, and filed a complaint for verbal abuse during online chat. Step 2 – complete.
After that, feeling rather vindictive, I threw the match trying to give the other team as many kills as possible. The player who had been harassing me over chat wasn’t very happy about that. It was a strange form of revenge and was rather immature on my part, but I strangely enjoyed it. Afterwards I left the lobby and found a new lobby to be a part of. I played a few more matches and then logged off because I had some things I needed to get done during the day.
The weirdest part about the whole experience was how proud he was to admit that he was the one calling me homo, faggot, and queer. He was happy to identify himself as someone who was targeting me based on the fact that I asked him not to use the word homo. All I had to do was ask who it was (although I’m sure I wouldn’t have had to actually ask as he probably would have thrown some other insult at me in the near future). It’s sad to think that gamers are so proud of themselves when they are derogatory and demeaning. They proudly take pleasure in the verbal abuse and harassment that they perpetuate online. I wish it weren’t so.
Afterwards I felt a strange bit of pride in myself, and still do. I have signed the Gamers Against Bigotry pledge. The pledge is as such:
As a gamer, I realize I contribute to an incredibly diverse social network of gamers around the world, and that my actions have the ability to impact others. In an effort to make a positive impact, and to create a community that is welcoming to all, I pledge not to use bigoted language while gaming, online and otherwise.
Having taken the pledge I don’t use bigoted language while gaming. However, I didn’t use bigoted language before I signed the pledge so it wasn’t really much of an issue.
What I realized is that I have to actively shape the community that I am a part of. This is true for any and all communities. When you are part of a community you are actively shaping it. When you do actively work to stop something you are tacitly giving consent for people to do such things. When you remain quiet you are telling others that their behavior is okay because you aren’t actively telling them it is not okay.
I think this is the hardest part. A lot of people don’t want to call others out on bullshit behavior because they are afraid of confrontation and backlash. When you ask someone not to use a word, or ask them to stop doing something, you open yourself up for criticism. If you call someone out on something there is a significant chance they will go on the defensive, often times through verbal abuse. As seen above in my experience, by merely asking him to stop using said language he immediately turned on me. But rather than actually attempt to defend himself he just made me the sole target of his abusive language.
The only thing that I am going to do differently next time is engage the rest of my team. I’m going to encourage them to report as well.
Your Resident Anthropologist