Gaucheness in Online Gaming: Finding Both Harassment and Hope on the Xbox Live

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Chloe Brown has tough skin, and as a member of the all-female Pandora’s Mighty Soldiers (acronym: PMS, formerly known as Psychotic Men Slayerz) gaming clan, she’s no stranger to the habits of online gamers. But while learning how to play Halo 2 on Xbox Live, she experienced one of the worst online hazings of her life.

In multiplayer first-person shooter games like Halo 2, gamers learn to use and defend against many different types of weapons. As a novice, Brown tended to play cautiously, hiding inside of bases where she couldn’t be hit by sniper fire.

Annoyed by her behavior, one group of players decided to make things personal. “My teammates decided it would be more fun to kill the ‘stupid c*** who can’t play videogames’, and actually went to the other team, told them I was a girl, and I was the only one who was hunted the entire game,” says Brown.

Sara Nicholson, also a player of Halo 2, once had a similar experience. “Not only was I barraged with the worst female-oriented slurs, I was also hit with racist comments… I’m stronger than a lot of people when it comes to insults online but this really made me uncomfortable. What made it worse was that the guy sounded like he was no more than 13.”

Trash-talking jerks are nothing new. But with the rapid growth of the gaming audience, and the perceived anonymity of Internet services like Xbox Live, those jerks become louder and louder—it could be a real problem for a burgeoning in-game advertising market that places corporate brands into an environment that can potentially espouse racial and gender-based discrimination.

“I have heard about women being threatened with rape and murder. I have heard stories of ‘nice’ guys who go completely ballistic if a female gamer takes him off her Friends List, or doesn’t respond to his awkward advances,” reveals Xbox Live’s community editor, known online as TriXie 360.

Harassment and hateful language is strictly against the user behavior policies of nearly all online gaming services. To enforce those policies, Xbox Live relies on a user feedback system. If you encounter someone online that harasses you, Live gives you the option of reporting that person to human moderators who can then suspend or ban that person’s account.

Unfortunately, because the system requires human intervention, it may take a day or two for an offender to feel the sting of the Xbox Live authorities, leading some gamers to conclude that the feedback system doesn’t do anything.

Bad users make up about 4-5% of the Xbox Live population, estimates Trixie. Most of them are in their teens and early twenties. “You know, the same demographic that commits the most crimes and gets in the most car accidents,” she states.

Until the release of Gears of War this holiday season, Halo 2 was the most-played game on Xbox Live. The service had more than four million subscribers in 2006, according to Microsoft, and it doesn’t look like that number will start to shrink anytime soon. And, Nicholson mentioned, “More people equals more chances of getting a jerk in a game,” as she described a more peaceful Xbox Live before Halo 2’s incredibly successful multiplayer began bringing more and more fans online.

Both Brown, known as PMS Kitty, and Nicholson, known as DirtyDiva, were able to put their bad experiences behind them and continue playing the games they enjoy. Unfortunately not all gamers, especially casual gamers and new gamers, have that same resolve.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Great article on any interesting topic… the culture of wide-open Internet-based war-game playing… addressed by forming “communities of interest” …via social (Inter-) networking and filtering out that 4-5% group of offenders. Right on sisters.. Your oppression is also mine.

    Art Johnson
    New World Communications

  2. ok. I agree. No one should have to put up with this crap. I am a male and have been subject to this sort of same immature BS.

    BUT here is my question. With a formerly known clan name Like PMS, formerly known as Psychotic Men Slayerz or a gamertag like DirtyDiva what kind of message are you sending world about yourself. If I had a name like Niga-killa or something like that I can expect to recieve some heat for that….

    Now if you had a perfectly nice sounding name and STILL got this treatment then its absolutely got to stop. !

  3. I haven’t heard too many slurs against women on Halo2. The biggest thing seems to be insulting peoples sexuality and even then I don’t take too much offense as a hetro male being abused by a young kid that hasn’t got a clue what they’re talking about.
    When I was learning I found that by sticking around the insults stopped.

  4. Grow up,
    You are on line pretending to kill and maim each other take it on the chin or join a different game.
    You sound like someone who was bullied and now wants to bully – Psychotic Men Slayerz sounds a bit sexist?

  5. I’m a frequent gamer on XBL, and yeah I hear alot of bad mouthing going about, but I think thats all part and parcel! As already stated if your in a game trying to kill each other of course its gonna get emotions running high when your killed or kill someone! I think racist remarks have no place anywhere…however if you can’t take general rantings and ravings go elsewhere! or start a private game, people get insulted every single day and some take it on the chin and carry on, others winge about it or let it get to them, you need to be more thick skinned if thats the case!Your sitting possibly thousands of miles away from the person who’s saying it, so who really cares they’re just words?! And also actually look @ the options that you can with XBL as you can ‘mute’ people which stops you being able to hear what they say…

  6. Users of Microsoft products are usually uneducated, uncouth and unrefined. So it comes as no suprise to me that this childish name calling goes on from users of the XBox. I’m so glad that Mac users are so much more refined.

  7. Philip McCaity – “Users of Microsoft products are usually uneducated, uncouth and unrefined. So it comes as no suprise to me that this childish name calling goes on from users of the XBox. I’m so glad that Mac users are so much more refined.”

    Don’t you have a bridge you should be under?

  8. cummon please!!! When I pay on-line no-one knows whether I’m a man, woman, black, white, christian or catholic. In an online gaming experience you are going to come across idiots who think that they are the big ‘I am’ the key is to remain true to yourself and not rise to the taunts and not accept abuse. Any resepctable online community is very efficient at moderating its users and if they don’t or can’t then don’t spend your $s on their products. Whilst its true that you shouldn’t have to put up with abusive of offensive behaviour whether online or not……we don’t live a utopia just yet….its a fact of life however un-palatable……just move on.

  9. I play on Xbox live every day, usually in multiplayer shooters like Halo 2 and Gears Of War. Use of racist slang is commonplace and I have to say it appears to almost always come from players from the US. I’m not sure if it is a cultural thing – if racist slang is a more widely accepted part of conversation over there than it is in the UK for example. It may just be a result of the fact that the vast majority of players are from the US – it being the biggest XBL market.

    Anyway, in one game recently, in the space of two minutes, I heard someone use the term Jew in a perogative way, call someone a n*****, repeatedly, and then move on to insulting people from Japan.

    When players are can be as young as 8 years old – lets face facts, adult certificates do very little to prevent young people playing unsuitable games or watching unsuitable films – I find it worrying that impresionable minds are being exposed to this kind of language. Given that this is as widespread a problem as it is I don’t doubt that it is giving advertisers a serious headache.

    The problem is that, as it stands, you can’t police it. There are ways of making complaints against fellow players but, given that people will petulently make complaints against other players who simply beat them, it’s almost impossible for Microsoft to take these complaints seriously. I don’t know what the solution is – sending players out into the “live” community, undercover if you like, joining these games, monitoring them and being able to take action against individuals caught using inflammatory language – bans, accounts suspensions, that kind of thing. Expensive and, no doubt, unfeasible – but about the only suggestion I can think of.

  10. …reveals Xbox Live’s community editor, known online as TriXie 360.

    Moron. You’re speaking of avoiding online ‘hazing’ yet you allow your gamertag to be displayed.
    Remember that you’re in charge of your own actions, you can always mute the voices or avoid mentioning yourself at all.
    Furthermore, newbs always get picked on. Just like how seniors pick on freshman’s.
    The majority in any community will always be able to get away with harassing the minority, either get used to it, adapt, or sign off.

  11. Some of the above comments look as if they were written by the idiots who commit this sort of behaviour on-line. You do realise that you AREN’T actually being killed don’t you, and that it’s only a GAME. It’s meant to be fun, not an excuse to abuse or exclude someone. Being abusive to new players is in no way constructive. You were new once, but you all seem to forget that. Hurling offensive insults at new gamers, especially women is never justifiable, right or amusing. ever.

  12. I play World of Warcraft and have found few instances of sexist or racist abuse against other players.
    There is a real sense of community and with so many players to interact with, it is easy to ignore the less mature players.
    The Guilds are generally self-policing and this allows the majority of players to enjoy the gaming experience without having to endure abuse from other players.

  13. Lensman, you are right, but then World of Warcraft players are a different breed of player. 99.9% are become part of a community on thier Realm and respect others as though it was Real Life. Although I do have an Xbox360 I have yet to venture to the online gaming area and this is a bad advert for it from what I have read so far.

  14. I loved this article. I believe online gameplay can become an easier experience if people really do use the feedback system that microsoft provides. Use it people!!

    As for me, I am a girl gamer and these bad experiences happen a lot! but there have been few to really support me and we’ve come to form great relationships. When bad ones come up i just tend to turn my mic off and continue playing….

    Thank you for this article. I enjoyed it very much.

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