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Why It Pays to Keep the Video Gaming Trolls at Bay

The BBC had the chance to celebrate the unifying joy of video gaming. But instead, it focused on hate and harassment.
April 4, 2016, 8:58am

Illustration by Dan Evans / @dan_draws

This article originally appeared in VICE magazine (UK), Volume 23, Issue 1, March 2016. More information on said issue, here.

A few weeks prior to BBC Three going online only in the UK (on February 16th), ditching its linear broadcasting model to both save corporation coin and, I suppose, appeal more directly to the watch-when-I-want millennial crowd, the channel put out a great documentary on eSports.

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In The Supergamers (which can be seen online here), YouTuber Dan Howell followed three competitive players at very different stages of their careers – one starting out and choosing between A levels and Hearthstone; another emerging as a star on his team as they took on League of Legends' finest; and a third attempting to get back to the top after slipping down the rankings. It really sought to understand the world it was exploring, never depicting its subjects in a negative way, ultimately conveying the very real sentiment that video gaming is for everyone, whatever your level.

The day after Three's online switch, on February 17th, another, much shorter show on gaming appeared. Running to 11 minutes, The Dark Side of Gaming, with its suffix of "the females fighting back", wasn't approaching its subject with positivity in mind. (Watch it on YouTube.) Here was the so-called mainstream media backing away from the wonderful reality of modern video gaming – that it's the most progressive entertainment medium on the planet, with the highest global revenues and a gender split of roughly 50/50 – and regressing to where we were in the bleak autumn of 2014, in the eye of the storm that was Gamergate and its associated accusations of online harassment and sexual discrimination.

The Dark Side of Gaming fixed its focus exclusively on the hateful abuse that a select group of female gamers and gaming industry professionals had received from male strangers on the internet, from the explosion of Gamergate through to the present day. Now, Gamergate itself isn't the beginning and end of online harassment, and I'm not about to get stuck into how or why it might have instigated a significant percentage of abuse directed at prominent women in the games industry. At this stage, Gamergate isn't the point.

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What is, and BBC Three was right to acknowledge it, is that female users of online multiplayer video games do, sadly, receive far worse verbal abuse than their male counterparts, horrifically graphic stuff that can turn the strongest stomach. The Dark Side of Gaming began with this disappointing state of affairs – but, frustratingly, it proceeded to simply recycle the message that women get a raw deal online, and little else.

The Dark Side of Gaming would have fitted the atmosphere – of distrust, fear and loathing – that descended onto video games culture in late 2014. We were all worried that the dickhead minority of internet-enabled gamers would ruin the magic of the medium for what's most likely a solid 98 percent of good-natured sorts, those who might curse once in a while during Counter-Strike but aren't generally threatening to come around to your house, rape you and then forcibly abort the foetus. That such extreme trash talking persists now, in 2016, is a depressingly endemic aspect of online gaming – but it's something that the majority is fighting back against. As the gaming audience matures, so older, wiser, less-of-a-total-prick players stand up against misogynistic (and worse) voice chat they hear. We are turning the corner, slowly.

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The Dark Side of Gaming represented nothing more than fuel thrown onto a fire that the vast majority of gamers – be they casual, hardcore, professional or press – only wanted to see flicker out and die. It repeatedly used the catchall term of "gamer" as a bogeyman character, the bad guy, the antagonist behind all of the ills affecting its profiled individuals, the puerile but persistent thorn in the side of women who just want to get on and play the same way as guys.

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Which is, naturally, absolutely and dangerously naïve – imagine if former Sunderland player Adam Johnson's court case, in which he faced charges of sexual activity with an underage girl and was subsequently jailed for six years, was used to tar "all footballers" as paedophiles. That is what the use of "gamer" alone, dressed in pessimism, does for anyone who cherishes video games.

Related, on Motherboard: What Happened When a NASA Astronaut Got Harassed on Twitter

I don't care about the fact, repeatedly presented by guys trying to make out that the shit that women receive online isn't that much of a big deal, that men receive online abuse too. They do, because I have, but it's nowhere near the level that women get it. That's not a reason to criticise the content of The Dark Side of Gaming. However, that the documentary allegedly changed direction towards the end of its production to concentrate on female-directed abuse rather than a broader "women in gaming" narrative most certainly is reason enough to treat it with suspicion. Posting on YouTube, the (female) manager of London's Heart of Gaming arcade – where some of The Dark Side… was filmed – wrote:

"I am very disappointed at the finished edit of this. This was supposed to be a film about women in gaming, but 'sorry we had to change direction' in the last couple of weeks. Its only purpose is to make women feel like victims, when we're not. The best thing to do is ignore (the abuse) and ban the stupid people on Twitter, Xbox Live, PSN and Twitch. [They're] not worth the worry. I said this, but clearly this was deemed too logical to show, and we must all remain victims."

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The Dark Side…'s only real achievement, as I see it, was to resuscitate a dying dialogue that gaming is full of hateful shits who will ruin your fun, especially if you weren't born with a penis. Yes, it was right to expose the lunatics who live to excessively and explicitly troll female players – but by offering no hope, no solutions to the problem, it represented only a backwards step for resolving gaming's most septic irritation. By shouting about the idiot few, we amplify their force – whereas by just getting on with loving and sharing our games, we put the morons in their place. They don't matter to us. Gaming's bigger than them, evolving rapidly, and it is for everyone. So let's play on with hope in our hearts, shall we?

@MikeDiver

More from VICE magazine's Video Games Killed the Radio Star column:

This Is How Nintendo 'Won' 2015

Discussing the Benefits of Video Gaming Behind Bars with an Ex-Con

Tim Schafer and Elijah Wood Discuss the Making of 'Broken Age'