THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
By Sean Comerford
Board of Directors
After a stultifying day at work, I often look forward to sitting down at my computer to enjoy some video games. Games are big business these days, but even long before they were ever taken seriously by the mainstream, they have been a go-to release for me, particularly as a kid who was interested in sports but not particularly athletically inclined or talented. Despite my own enjoyment of many games with a competitive or team element, there is usually someone not enjoying themselves, and that person will let the other players know it—often with abusive, racist, and shocking language. In short, the same tendencies towards awful behavior that coaches, parents, and players seek to fight in the “real” world of sport occur online as well.
While unsurprising that some people will choose to behave badly in any venue available to them, the nature of online, networked gaming specifically worries me for a few reasons. First, much of the social pressure to behave is removed when online thanks to anonymity. Some participants will see this as license to act horribly towards their teammates or opponents despite any culture or accepted practices of the game, such as typing “GG” (good game) into the chat, win or lose. Second, bad behavior online is often viewed as having little to no consequences, as opposed to acting like a jerk at a Little League game, where a bully’s actions may result in punishment or retribution. Finally, although video games do come with a rating system to gauge age-appropriateness, even appropriately aged individuals can act in ways that are not acceptable to anyone. This includes abuse directed towards children or young adults, who already struggle with self-esteem issues and bullying online. Even as a grown adult, I find this behavior to be incredibly off-putting; it easily gets under my skin, leaving me angry or stressed out after playing a game, which is exactly the opposite of how I want to feel after using some of my leisure time.
So what can be done?
Some good first steps are technical. Most games have reputation management systems through which players can report others for abusive behavior. These "trolls" suffer restricted privileges in the game or can be banned entirely depending on the frequency and/or severity of their negative actions. Of course, these sorts of remedies miss much of the abuse, as they rely on action taken by the game developers and let toxic players off the hook if they are—for whatever reason—not reported even though they have acted terribly. Players can also act themselves by “muting” other players so they don’t hear their voices or read their chats, but this can unfortunately directly harm the competition of the game, as most online games require team coordination and strategy.
A brand-new game that I just played addresses the issue of toxicity by having players read through and indicate that they have understood a three-point “code of conduct” before unlocking the ability to play online with others. This is a nice approach, but of course, anyone truly determined to be awful can ignore the prompts and continue to make other people miserable.
Ultimately, as in other activities, education is imperative. The more that can be done to raise awareness among the participants in any activity that their bad behavior has a negative effect on others, detracting from everyone’s enjoyment and character-building, the better off everyone will be. Organizations like OSIP can help inform the public about their responsibility to uphold good sportsmanship, whether online or off.