As a lifelong fan of video games, my humble origins in the medium began with Contra on the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System). Years of beating games with a single player focus were a staple of gaming. The only divergence from this formula came in the form of a fighting game or sports game. Things have changed considerably. As of late, the majority of my gaming has been steeped in online multiplayer: co-op play in Monster Hunter; teaming with a friend to complete No Way Out, but most prominently looking for a win in Battle Royale.
Gamers are a curious bunch. A broad statement indeed but stick with me on this. If you’re reading this article, you’re more than likely a gamer; casual, hardcore, or somewhere in between. Regardless of your level of interest, you are part of a community; you are “in the know.” There is often a stigma associated with gamers: lonely men in their mom’s basement with a complete lack of social skills, a weight problem, and too much time on their hands. But that skewed image couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Gaming, more specifically online multiplayer gaming, is a community unto itself with its own social norms and standards of practice. Your squad can consist of Amy from Miami, a 32-year-old mother of two, Harry from the U.K., a 16-year-old high school student, and Chet from Texas, a businessman in his 40’s. Scientists and sociologists continue to dissect the nuances of these unique digital interactions. Online social interactions surrounding video games is relatively new, only having been established in the 21st century. Essentially, you are building relationships in a virtual realm, this new form of relationship building includes the negatives and positives of any “real-world” socialization with the inclusion of (relative) anonymity, reduced repercussions, and a unique take on identity management. Fundamentally, online gaming is a relatively young form of relationship building rife with players from all walks of life. Have some fun, earn your wins, and get to know someone.
The subject of gaming communities is nothing new, but some recent interactions I’ve experienced lead me to put the proverbial pen to paper. My current game of choice is Apex Legends on the Xbox One (I hear the naysayers now, I tried Fortnite, but it wasn’t for me). The newest addition to my friend’s list is Chev, a 26-year-old from Texas with cowboy adages that make little sense to an east-coaster like myself. For the sake of privacy, names have been changed.
Suffice to say; we share disparate political views. I won’t delve into specifics, but politics has come up, and neither of us seemed to let it stop this budding relationship. Chev is no non-sense, brutish in his delivery of ideas, and often intoxicated while gaming. I love it. Over the course of 4 hours we lost, a lot, and I enjoyed every minute. Chev makes losing fun; but when we finally obtained that win, it felt deserved. Would we have been able to relate to one another if we had met in real life? I’m not sure, but gaming provides us with a common goal, the game itself serves as a bridge to relating to one another.
Then there’s Ally, as it turns out, she is married, has a son, and is in her late 30’s. Due to her busy schedule, she can’t join our team as often as we would like, and yet, it should be clarified that Ally is an absolute beast. We initially met while looking to dominate Call of Duty’s Blackout mode. Our crew consisted of a group of 3, and we wanted a fourth for a full squad. In came Ally, with her sweet, unassuming voice. A teammate was quick to make a crude remark “Now we’re stuck having to save her for the round.” Ally shot his comment down and fired back, “shut up, stop acting like a B*&^%, and get ready to play.” The crew erupted into laughter.
Ally backed her words up by racking up 6 kills and being the last of us to survive. The best part, while waiting for our next round we dropped the misogynistic player and picked up my old pal Chev. This little anecdote serves as an example of one of the pitfalls of the gaming community, the prevalence of female harassment.
THE UGLY SIDE
There are many drawbacks to online gaming, but let’s consider one of the most prominent: harassment. Female gamers account for nearly 42% of all players in the United States as of 2017, according to Statista, a leading provider of market and consumer data. However, you cannot be faulted for believing otherwise. Look at the world of professional gaming, the teams consist of mostly male gamers, and most online outlets for streaming are male-dominated. It is hard to point to one contributing factor for this, but let’s not pretend we live in such a progressive society. Female gamers are often harassed online.
Communication in these games is key to success, meaning there is usually no buffer between players and the nasty comments spewed by their teammates. The most common theories suggest that males consider these gaming hubs to be male-dominated arenas, the malicious attacks stem from men trying to remove women from these spaces. Yet, Statista’s findings and common sense say otherwise. If over 40% of gamers are female, how are they male dominated? Who dictates that this is a man’s realm?
A 2015 paper by Kasumovic and Kuznekoff approached the harassment differently. They attributed male harassment to women towards a male’s skill level in the game. Men tend to view these hubs as a hierarchy; if a woman performs better than him, it is an affront to his position within the hierarchy. In turn, males that perform better than women do not fear their hierarchical status being diminished. Regardless of the reason, there is no place for harassment of any kind in the world of gaming. Some women have taking to respond to ire.
Female gaming journalist, Alanah Pearce, took to blowing the whistle on her internet trolls – to their mothers. In 2014, while still in school and beginning a career in gaming journalism, Alanah Pearce fought back, “most of them write to me through their personal Facebook pages. It’s shockingly easy to find out who their families are”. Harassment is being reported more than ever and, gamers are showing less tolerance for this kind of behavior.
NICE TO MEET YOU
Despite the detriments to online gaming, there are far more positive aspects than negative, “it gets better,” trust me. Most notably, online multiplayer games enable the formation of lasting relationships, and Long-term interaction lays the foundation for a feeling of community. In his doctoral thesis for the University of Jyvaskyla, Marko Siitonen studied social interaction in online multiplayer communities in his doctoral dissertation on speech communication.
Online gaming fosters communication, and subsequently, the formation of communities. Social interaction is a strong motive not only for playing multiplayer games but also for forming lasting social relationships with other gamers, Siitonen says. Most interestingly, many gamers go beyond the forms of communication allowed within the game itself; even keeping in touch face to face, over the phone, via email, social media, or in real life.
He also found similarities between online and face-to-face social interactions. Shared values and goals are the basis on which a shared understanding and a sense of community are built on, concerning gaming, the goals, responsibilities, and boundaries of the game dictate these values. Hearkening back to my varied squad, Siitonen also stated that traditional building blocks of identity – appearance, age, race, wealth, etc. – are often insignificant. A user’s activity and reliability (in both frequencies of play and in-game ability) carry more weight than their demographic identifiers.
Online gaming gives us a bridge to people across the world. It provides an outlet for gamers to connect with a plethora of individuals with many backgrounds and experiences. The online experience shouldn’t be intimidating, after all, we all play games to have fun, as an outlet for our real-world problems, or – to the point of this article – to connect. There are so many theories to tap into when considering online interactions, and worth taking time to look into for yourself. For now, this is just an old gamer letting a “Shower Thought” take the form of an article.
Feel free to interact, meet new gamers, and show us your squad.