[content note: sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape]
I am, admittedly, a giant honking video game nerd. I mostly play on PS3, though, so I don’t have a lot of feelings about Toon Link. I finally got around to playing The Last of Us on the hardest difficulty, and after crying myself to sleep for a couple of nights in a row, finished it. It is, by the way, the finest game I’ve ever played.
I was, largely, raised by video games and they’ve colored the way that I think about the world. They are an art form unto themselves and if you don’t think so then I have literally no time for you. But there’s always been a sense of community about video gaming, people sharing strategies, comparing skill levels.
With the sixth and seventh generations of console gaming, we got online multiplayer, which has changed the way we think about games. The community of gamers became worldwide and truly connected. Online gaming networks turned out to be wildly successful, Playstation Network having 77 million registered accounts. Many popular games have single-player modes that are really only seen as vehicles for their PS Network or X-Box Live offerings. But, multiplayer and I have a love/hate relationship. For one, it’s now rather impossible to be the best person you know or interact with at a given game, and that’s difficult for me because I’m a giant tool. Also, there’s the mics. Some games require the use of some method of vocal communication to coordinate strategies, like SOCOM or Call of Duty. It comes with a cost, however. I played a lot of Mass Effect 3 on multiplayer and one day I happily decided to go buy a microphone. While having mics on made it easier to co-ordinate strategies on higher difficulties, keeping us from being rotely murdered by geth with flamethrowers, it also meant I had to listen to two French-Canadian boys try to serenade our fourth team member.
All told though, that’s a relatively minor problem. For example, people don’t regularly threaten to rape me in online games. If you’re a woman and you play games online, you’re familiar with this and other forms of gendered verbal abuse. If you want some detailed examples, please check out Not In The Kitchen Anymore, which is an online archive of exactly that kind of abuse. I don’t want to speak too much to this exactly, because it’s not my experience. However, before anyone accuses me of not being able to take a joke, or infringing on their freedom if speech, my thing is this: if games are supposed to be a space where people go to relax, get away, and enjoy themselves, then maybe we shouldn’t subject women to the same constant specter of sexual assault and harassment they live within the real world.
So, I’ve buried the lede a little bit. I mostly just want to talk about something I read over at Not In The Kitchen Anymore that made me want to vomit. You see, the post author, after a game of COD, was subjected to X-Box Live user PhatDog claiming that he was “gonna impregnate [her] with triplets and make [her] have a very late term abortion. Strict mental abuse. Hahaha.” If you are truly masochistic and would like to hear the actual message, you can do so here, but between the content and this gentleman’s vocal timbre, it’s like nails on a chalkboard inside your soul.
The whole post is here. What’s more problematic than this individual’s failure to be a decent human being is 1) that this is not at all an isolated incident and 2) that Microsoft did a whole lot of dancing around answering any questions or taking any action for some time. The Mary Sue can give you a more detailed review of the disappointing back-and-forth, but here’s a good example of what I would call Microsoft being rather snarky with someone who has made a complaint. Not cool.
It’s just an impressive kind of disappointing, from such a large company. Surely there is someone on staff that gets paid to say “don’t get sassy with customers who have legitimate complaints, especially ones who will shout you out all over the internet.”
There is good news, however. It blew up, as you may or may not have noticed, even developing its own hashtag in the process. #Microsoftunsupport, in case you were wondering. A day later, user PhatDog’s profile looks like this.
So, he was awful, got called out, got punished. He can kick rocks. I’m writing about this because the incident is indicative of the experience of thousands of women, and not just in the virtual world. Complaints of sexual assault and harassment are met with skepticism and stonewalling often as a matter of course. The only word for that is “unacceptable.” I’m writing this because it shows that we can collectively shout loud enough to make change happen, and to get results. The fatalistic “boys will be boys, there’s nothing we can do about it, why bother?” attitude is just nonsense.
Games are supposed to be fun. No one goes into playing a game saying “man, I really want someone to threaten to violently rape me today. Better turn on the ol’ X-Box.” Online gaming is supposed to be a community and the purpose of a community is to bring together all of its members. It follows logically then that an online gaming community should be fun for all of its members. Rape threats don’t figure into any definition of those words that I know. Microsoft, Sony, and anyone running an online community like this should condemn those actions in the strongest terms and promptly respond to legitimate complaints.
And if the inability to make graphic threats of rape and violence without consequence ruins your fun, please use your massive intellect to design and build a space ship and promptly exit my planet for one more sympathetic to your needs.