Is the Fighting Game Community Really Better Without Aris Bakhtanians?

By Adam Ma on February 29, 2012, 7:13PM EDT

Let's start this off by saying that I in no way defend Aris' treatment of any female gamer, let alone his commentary during the Cross Assault live-stream. Harassment of any kind is wrong, and any gamer can agree that verbally abusing anyone over something as trivial as a gamer is about as despicable as you can get in any community. FPS games are often held high as a shining example of deplorable behaviour and attitudes towards girl gamers, but very rarely is that kind of behaviour shown during high ranking tournament play. That doesn't mean it's not present, only that it rarely sees the spotlight so gloriously as on Cross Assault's stream. But it's hard for me to really rationalize that 'here and now' is the place to take a stand against sexism in gaming. After all, the fighting game community has never really been about making friends.

Most of the nonsense that comes out of Aris' mouth is a juvenile attempt at defending his right to trash talk an opponent. To be fair, there's really no reasonable way to defend this kind of action, but he digs himself into a deeper and deeper hole by making a series of wild proclamations. That the best part of the fighting game community isn't being welcome, that racial and sexual humour are somehow something exclusive to the fighting game community, or that sexual harassment somehow is welcome during any community event are all bogus claims. No one in their right mind will defend this kind of logic because it only serves to justify bullying 'for the sake of fun,' something only alright if you're not the one being bullied. But the overall point of 'what is acceptable language for a community' that gamers continue to argue over seems to be missed here. After all, anyone who has ever participated in a fighting game community will know that despite sounding like a major asshole Aris does make quite a few good points.

Fighting games have always been about trash talk. It's one of the few genres that puts players head to head in an environment that generally gives room for speech, one of the few genres that grew up and evolved in sweaty arcade basements packed with local fans and street-based heroes. The nature of fighting games themselves have led to the rise of gaming commentators before gaming commentary really became cool, and just about everyone who has ever picked up a controller, pad or stick is beyond familiar with Mahvel Baby. The fighting game community has never been about togetherness, learning how to make friends and becoming a better strategist. It's been about shutting another player out, overcoming odds, and having a bunch of friends and strangers cheer you on while you do it.

So when Aris defends sexual harassment it's hard not to understand a little of where he's coming from. If you can't take being ridiculed to an extent, the fighting game community isn't really the best place to spend time. Aris most definitely crossed the line in his treatment of Miranda, but even assuming that the show was entirely male driven I can't help but feel that the comments made would have been no less offensive. These are the players that have never hesitated from throwing down racial slurs, using words such as 'rape' to describe top tier gameplay, or commenting on an opponent's appearance on and off camera in jest. It's a community whose local lingo not only includes in-game terminology, but flavourful taunts and terms like 'salty', which just means being a poor sport. Mixed in between all the hate is most certainly a lot of love, but it's certainly not the kind of gaming camaraderie that's found in Starcarft 2 or any other tournament level game genre.

I also can't help but point out that if Miranda wanted to be taken more seriously, she should never have sat there and pretended she was alright with the invasive line of questioning that occurred over the course of 13 minutes. I don't know if it was simply to keep as much drama as possible out of the event, but all she really did by 'playing it cool' was perpetuate the problem. It would be nice to find out if off-camera she requested Aris to stop the nonsense, or to see if anything else transpired on any of the other days rather than just assume the worst from the group. Granted we're talking about a community that largely basks in the glory of making an opponent mad, but you never know.

A line was crossed, absolutely, but Aris isn't the cause of the problem as much as he's simply a product of the fighting game institution; and it's sad to say but taunting is not something that's going to change anytime soon. It would've been nice of Capcom to step in and draw the line sooner, to make a stand and say that 'although taunting is acceptable, bullying isn't,' but that never happened. It would have set things straight for the players, it would have helped give solace to a gamer who was getting an unnecessary amount of flak simply for being a girl, and it would have set a nice precedent for future events. Since none of that actually happened, it's going to be interesting to see how live-streams (specifically tournament commentary) are treated from here on out. Either way, all this drama certainly won't change a damn thing when it comes to the fighting game community, and frankly that's exactly how they like it.

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