Let's face it, when we play often we end up behaving like beasts. It is a well known fact, in the textual and vocal chats of every online game one insults oneself; it's like yelling at people in traffic, only they can hear us here. In three years of Hearthstone, the only game in which I usually meet strangers, they added me without bellicose intentions only once. An event so rare that it has stuck in my memory.
But it is the excitement of the moment that makes us so, right? We just lost, the RNG deprived us of a certain victory, an incapable teammate threw a simple game into the nettles. With bowls still we are normal and calm people, we are good guys. Quite right?
Of course not. Because you have read the title, because otherwise I would not have been writing this article, because we have all seen the news accumulating in the last few weeks. Anger, harassment, suicide, cold-minded, with bowls still, away from keyboard. Let it be recorded now, before this introduction ends, that I am not looking for causes or solutions. I write only to realize what we are becoming as a community and what I have to account for when I say that I play video games as a hobby.
The old monster
I want to start from the lighter topic, we will have time to descend into darkness. The most obvious expression of the problems that the gamer community has are violent reactions to seemingly insignificant episodes. If I wanted to dig into the past I could bring very famous case studies, but I don't want to stray too far from the present.
On June 19, 2020, a month ago, The Last of Us Part II was released. You know that a community has a problem when it takes the trouble to run an extensive review bombing campaign for a character with big arms. Because yes, behind all the apologies of leak and hatred for Naghty Dog the main engine of all the anger was the sexuality and gender of the characters.
"Lesbians want to steal video games from us" is a topic as old as gamergate, which in years of the internet means that it goes back more or less to the period when the dinosaurs became extinct. But even if he is old, he has returned to the surface with surprising and unexpected violence. But it's not about insults, meaningless reviews, nor about death threats to the game's cast (leave Ashley Johnson cursed) that I want to focus on. Not on the noisy minority, but on the majority and its silence. In front of the screaming crowd armed with torches and pitchforks, what did everyone else do? Nothing. We ignored them, branded them as a dying part of the community, which will sooner or later disappear. But we have been repeating this for years, yet they are still there.
The truth is, those players who are angry about the big arms are not diminishing. They are not even increasing, but they are a part of the gaming community, inseparable from it. By their nature, video games attract people who have difficulty relating to society. Such attacks on video games that choose to represent more progressive instances will therefore always exist. Hiding the dust under the carpet, pretending they don't exist, is useless. It is our community, for better or for worse, and it is our duty to understand how to manage these reactions if we do not want to be defined by them.
The new monster
But it's not just the community of simple players that has to deal with the present. Just as The Last of Us Part II came out and the ruckus was unleashed, several women accused the SayNoToRage streamer of harassment and inappropriate behavior. As has already happened in other circles, the first accusations have caused a domino effect, giving the courage to other women of the gaming environment to come forward and tell their experience.
So several professional gamers, streamers and youtubers have been hit by similar charges, with such a huge echo that they even touch the Italian competitive scene of Super Smash Bros.
But the accusations didn't stop with the players. During the following weeks, evidence of similar behavior also began to emerge in the workplace. Software houses such as Ubisoft, Wizard of the Coast and Insomniac have had to accept resignation letters from important collaborators or even executives, following internal investigations or simple accusations. It is easy to derate events like a long wave of the Metoo. Video games are just another entertainment industry and like in cinema, there is a very serious problem of harassment. And this may be true, considering only the second part of this story.
Because the classic situation from Metoo is that of a working environment hostile to women (but also to other men, see the case of Terry Crews), in which men in power exploit their position to obtain sexual favors in exchange for career advancements . However, our community has demonstrated the existence of a dynamic that is not unique or perhaps new, but entirely peculiar. In fact, all the scandals concerning streamers and youtubers do not closely follow the dynamics just described. Instead, it is a celebrity, even a small one, who exploits his shareholders' relationship with fans to implement inappropriate behavior and to go unpunished.
And it is precisely the nature of the relationship between fans and celebrities online that should worry us. This type of behavior has always existed, groupies have always existed, but the type of relationship that followers have with their favorites is different from what a fan can have with his favorite singer. You see a streamer every day, he is active in the community, he is invested with enormous power and responsibility towards his followers, a power that is amplified by the often very young age of those who follow him.
But is it really fair to put the blame on kids? Don't get me wrong, I'm not accusing the victims. I'm accusing everyone else. Those who while these things happen turn the other way, and then when the rotten one comes to the surface they sit comfortably, popcorn in hand, to witness the disaster of a crashing career. Don't we have a little responsibility too? Shouldn't we try to make our communities a less hideous place for potential victims of these behaviors? Shouldn't we, and here I am referring especially to older adults, explain to these kids why using their numbers online to get fans to bed is not a nice thing? Everyone to ask Twitch or whoever to intervene, but it's our community, it's up to us and no one else to make it a better place.
The eternal monster
On July 2, Byron Daniel Bernstein died of suicide. A week later it was Lannie Ohlana's turn. Both streamers, both gamers. I didn't mention Reckful by editorial choice. This is an entertainment site, we don't do obituaries. But behind the will to communicate the death of the World of Warcraft streamer there was more than just a clickbate article, at least in my case.
I wasn't following Reckful directly, but I had known him for his participation in a very nice project, HealthyGamer. A Twitch and YouTube channel managed by a Harvard graduate US psychiatrist and expert in video game addiction, dr. Alok Kanojia, dr. K in short, which aims to give visibility to the mental health problem of the whole community that revolves around video games. To get this light, interview famous personalities especially from the world of streaming, as well as ordinary people, talking about their problems. He did six interviews with Reckful, almost ten hours in total.
In those interviews, as in many of the other ones held by Dr. K, it is easy to find the same difficulties that I know for certain many gamers have in common. Often lonely people, frightened by a society they don't understand and who does not understand them, without the tools to interact with it in an acceptable way. It would be nice now to be able to trace a path, which brings the considerations drawn from these chats to justify all the evils of the community, but as I specified at the beginning, I am not here to look for causes or solutions.
Another time, however, I would like to invite all of us to look at each other. To exercise a little empathy, to try to understand what the people with whom we share a game are going through every day. But unlike harassment or anger, this time I don't think we can win alone. Reckful had all the attention he needed from more than one community. He was listened to, he was open about his condition. But he lost anyway. The truth is that community support isn't enough for such a monster. What we can do is try to raise awareness of these problems, including by sharing projects like HealthyGamer. Especially in Italy, where a stigma still lingers on the issue of mental health.
At the end of this river of sentences, what I want to express is simple. I would like us, as a community, to be able to solve the problems that afflict us not by tackling them one by one, but simply by interacting more. If we really want to be a community, let's stop pretending that other people's problems don't concern us.