Parents and politicians were horrified by the violence of Mortal Kombat in 1993. The ultra-violent fighting game led to congressional hearings and the birth of the Electronics Software Ratings Board—the group that assigns an age rating on video games. For decades politicians and parents have vilified violent video games more broadly, with some cynical politicians attempting to find an easy explanation for mass shootings by drawing a tenuous connection between them and first-person shooters and games like Grand Theft Auto. Times have changed, though, and some gamers are no longer fighting against regulation. Some are even calling for it.
Welcome to RESET: The Unauthorized Guide to Video Games, a new television show from VICE and Waypoint that tackles the complicated and fascinating world of the world’s new favorite pastime. This week on RESET, Dexter Thomas dives into the history of regulating video games and how game companies are dropping the ball when it comes to moderating online toxicity.
“Games are incredible spaces for experimentation, socialization, for pleasure, for joy. Of various different kinds of stories.” Alison Harvey, Professor of Communications at York University, told Thomas. “But if we don’t address toxicity, we’re denying people access to that. What we know from the research is that online abuse and harassment disproportionately affects marginalized people….they’re alienated from the experience of play that everyone needs to have.”
The episode explores the story of SayHeyRocco, a cat puppet who streamed Sea of Thieves until a torrent of online abuse forced it to step away. Rachel Legault and Kellen Balazy, the streamers behind SayHeyRocco, share the disturbing way their lives changed when they became the targets of harassment and abuse.
“We feel for the team behind SayHeyRocco for having experienced abuse and harassment while playing Sea of Thieves. We understand the impact it has, and this type of behaviour is never acceptable in our game or our community," Craig Duncan, the studio head of Sea of Thieves developer Rare, told RESET.
“All accusations of abuse, harassment or toxic behaviour are investigated thoroughly, with our team examining all supporting evidence while also assessing past activity associated with each account," Duncan added. "Every case is considered with the care, gravity and diligence it deserves, and if there is a breach of our Code of Conduct, we take action. All support tickets submitted to us are treated confidentially to ensure the integrity of the investigation is not compromised, and that the player(s) seeking support are protected from any repercussions.
“Last July, the SayHeyRocco team engaged our support team, requesting that action be taken against players who subjected them to abuse and harassment. We quickly acknowledged receipt, reviewed the ticket, and informed the SayHeyRocco team that based on the evidence, we would take action against those who violated our Code of Conduct. The following week, we suspended or banned a total of 30 accounts
“Following this exchange and no further evidence coming to light, we communicated to SayHeyRocco that we considered the case closed.
“Rare will always act with integrity when it comes to our game and our players, and we have well-resourced channels for reporting and escalation. We continuously review and evolve our policies and processes so that everyone is working together to uphold what makes the Sea of Thieves community so special.”
New episodes of RESET premiere Fridays at 10pm EST on VICE TV