Adam's Rant: Developers Are Responsible For Their Communities

By Adam Ma on August 28, 2013, 8:57AM EDT

Cheating, homophobia, women hating, malicious hacks, suicide goading, and incredible degrees of immaturity are just a few of the many negative connotations associated with online gaming. From competitive e-sports to casual matchmaking our industry is rife with some of the most hateful and abusive attitudes around, and while fingers can certainly be pointed at a wide variety of outside influences can we really say that our industry is doing the best it can to help lay this stigma to rest?

Every developer beams with pride when their community is active, responsive and enthusiastic about their product, and why shouldn't they be? Titles like Borderlands have thrived on their incredibly vocal followers who thanks to an impressive effort of communication between the developers and their players have created a franchise that writes itself as an almost consistent love letter to the industry and all of its little fandoms. There's good reason why Borderlands as a series (and subsequently Gearbox as a developer) is so highly acclaimed, and it shows. The key is communication and it's that sort of effort that every development team should strive to have with its audience.

Now the differences between games like Borderlands and Halo or League of Legends may be fairly radical, and even comparing the multiplayer elements are a little unfair as one is inherently cooperative while the other will always keep an element of competitiveness in its online play. But there are positive and negative ways to encourage a community's flourishment, and what the competitive gaming sector consistently fails at is elaborating what is (or is not) acceptable behavior.

In 2009 we had the infamous Modern Warfare advertisement campaign Friends Against Grenade Spam, an advertisement that "˜jokingly' called grenade enthusiasts (or the people who complain about them, the joke is a little unclear) fags. Shortly after EA released their own counter-video for Battlefield: Bad Company with the much safer acronym of FRAGS, but outside of making fun of Infinity Ward's publicity misfortune missed the boat on making a genuinely relevant comment regarding the event. Then came Halo's hologram which will automatically teabag (crouch over) enemy corpses, a play on the lighthearted immaturity rife in Halo's online community.

The fighting game community has been easily the worst offender, filled with personalities that range anywhere from sexist to outright hateful. From Aris Bakhtanians' sexist livestream taunts of fellow gamer Miranda Pakozdi during a live hype-generation promotional tournament in 2012 to Microsoft's most recent fumble during a showing of Killer Instinct where two employees jokingly tossed sexual innuendo focused on rape. Amongst close friends the matter is different, but on broadcasted or live play the question as to whether standards should be set has already been answered. At most of these events swearing or racial slurs are non-existent, so it stands to reason that it should be the same for sexual harassment or homophobic innuendo.

And cheating? It seems almost ridiculous to mention, but it was just under a year ago when Korean League of Legends team Azubu Frost couldn't resist the urge of looking over their shoulder to observe enemy movements taking place on the big screen behind them. A 30,000 dollar fine seems pretty slim considering they were allowed to keep the remainder of their winnings. Flash forward to a few months later and we can look toward Absolute Legends, another "˜professional' LoL team, admit to Ghosting in order to win but are kind enough to apologize and hope that both their fans and the world at large don't look down upon the integrity of the sport as a result of their actions. Considering their sport is to sit down and play a game it's fair to consider them poor athletes.

Change doesn't simply come when developers and platforms create a better means of reporting players; a system like that only punishes someone if an abused individual steps takes the time to actually report the abuse. Too little, too late. What matters is how these publishers showcase their games to us prior to launch, and the effort that's taken in marketing to suggest what is or isn't appropriate behavior.

The bottom line is that games which promote equality will foster it, and events that endorse hateful actions of any kind encourage it. It's strange to consider but many of the most media loathed franchises do far more to further the cause of showing games as more than bile spitting trolls than our multiplayer ones. Grand Theft Auto is a series that's known first for its massive narrative sandbox storytelling and arguably second for its hooker beating antics. Carjacking may be the real second, but the point is that since GTA III the series has largely avoided being the scapegoat of random murder or assault in the US. Rockstar has done a phenomenal job in putting the narrative first and foremost, even though that narrative may be the story of incredibly violent individuals doing ridiculously violent things; and that difference is the fine line between the Grand Theft Auto series being a satirical work of art from an extended B Movie looking to sell on a few copies using babes and bullets.

A lot has changed since Modern Warfare's FAGS advertisement, and it would be incredibly unfair to suggest that Activision hasn't done their part in trying to improve the online community. They've made effort to push their co-operative modes over the past few titles and the biggest public issue in CoD e-sports has been whether or not the FAL is overpowered, rather than match-trading or brutish sexism. That doesn't mean the CoD community is a safe haven where online abuse never happens, but its better than even a few short years ago and isn't reveling in its flaws. When good examples are put in the right places, encouraged by the developer, everything else is just a matter of time. At least now we finally have women represented in a military shooter that aren't hidden behind a mask or helmet or some pretense of machismo.

We still have a long way to go in cleaning up our collective act online and until developers like Riot Games put a much firmer foot down unsportsmanlike conduct the wait may be even longer than we think. What gamers need to do is ask publishers like Capcom to set a clear example out of anyone who think it's alright to shame a woman at a globally broadcasted event, or put pressure on Microsoft to have a firmer hand on gamers who think sending threatening or violent messages is just harmless fun. They have the power to lead by example, all that's left now is to exercise it.

Maybe then a website like fatsluttyorugly.com won't need to exist, and that's certainly something to aspire for.

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