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.