Online Gaming and Bullying?

First I should preface this entire thing with the saying that “I am not a professional gamer”. I do not play games to earn money or win tournaments or anything like that. I am a gamer that plays for fun. Win or lose I don’t particularly mind, as long as the game is fun to play. With that being said I think I should begin.

I grew up with games and gaming. It was my release from a world that felt didn’t understand me and to interact with people (albeit we only had local multiplayer back then) who I had something in common with. I was lucky enough to be around for the widespread birth of internet gaming, an idea that 8 or 9 year old me would love. A chance to interact with people all over the world who share the same love and passion for games that I do. I very quickly learned that this was not the case.

Early instances of online multiplayer, with games such as Smackdown and Tekken, offered no penalty for quitting a game halfway through. This meant that as soon as you started losing you could quit and it would protect your “reputation”. This is an annoying act in itself as the idea of leaving anything unfinished and unresolved aggravates a lot of people. We were lucky though because it didn’t take long for companies to pick up on this and install certain penalties if you left halfway through a game. However, this didn’t come without problems.

At school  you have to face bullies because you are kept in a place with them, maybe it’s a classroom or a playground, until the teacher dismisses you. This is what has now happened with gaming. Should you not want to quit a game halfway through then you can be subjected to bullying by the rest of the people playing the game.

This happened to me recently. I took a foray into online gaming with a fantastic game called Overwatch that I had heard a lot about. I was so excited about this game because it was genuinely a really good game.

(This wasn’t my first Blizzard game though, I had put a lot of hours into Hearthstone and was always excited to load it up. I wanted the same experience from Overwatch.)

But I do fear my experience with Overwatch has been tainted by the recent bullying I have experienced. I admit I am not great at the game. I’m playing to have fun remember, not necessarily to be the best at the game. However other people feel it fine to tell me through the chat feature to uninstall my game because I’m so bad at it. They also feel the need to tell me which characters I get to play as and then moan about it to the team if I don’t follow their orders. I thought this would go down badly on Overwatch but I found that people AGREED. My team were shouting expletives through the chat at me just because I hadn’t devoted my entire life to being the best at Overwatch. It really put me out when one of my team suggested that the entire team “report me” for reasons unspecified (I believe reporting should only be used for bullying and/or threatening/disruptive behaviour). What really shocked me was that my team agreed! They knew I wasn’t as good as them, your level is clearly displayed, but to gang up and agree a group report based on nothing more than my ability at the game is sickening. This isn’t even “good-natured fun between friends”, I don’t know these people and what they’re saying is not “good-natured fun”, it’s vindictive and horrible bullying.

I don’t write this for me. Personally I’ve given up caring what people think about me when I’m playing games. I don’t play games to help you win, I play whatever is fun for me. I write this for the people who have a hard enough time in their everyday lives and who want to escape into a game only to find themselves vilified and bullied because they don’t practice every waking hour. It equates to bullying. You see people picking on somebody in a school playground you would do something, why do we accept it in gaming circles? Gamers, as people, have a history of being marginalised and so why do we try and do it to each other. Why can’t we offer out an olive branch of perhaps asking somebody if they need help or tips with certain characters? Offering better play strategies? Suggesting easier characters to play as (but if they don’t want to that’s their choice). It’s not a difficult thing to do, it’s actually just being a nice human being.

I understand this boils down to bullying and why people bully. These people have their domain where they are the Alpha Male – tough guys have the playground and gamers have online games – and that they are essentially trying to assert their dominance by bullying others. But bullying, any form it comes in, is disgusting. Games are not a place where gamers should be scared to go, games should be a safe-haven for those having a tough time, those who find it hard to make friends in the outside world, a place where you can escape your “ordinary” life for a while.

Please, let’s not let this get out of hand. You don’t know the mental stability of the person you are playing against. You can’t judged someone’s mental health on how they play and you can’t guarantee that your words aren’t going to be taken personally.

Thank you. As always, if you know somebody who is going through a hard time similar to this then please direct them to this blog and let them know that they aren’t alone and how they’re feeling isn’t something to be ashamed of or to hide away.

Follow me on Twitter – @JoshuaJace121