The gaming industry has a people problem.
I'm not talking about "greedy corporate types" or "the passive press"—although those common stereotypes are at least somewhat present in reality (and I take exception to the latter). No, it's something much simpler, something we're all a little guilty of being from time to time. The troublesome kind of people I speak of are jerks—specifically those of the online variety.
Jerks are a problem most every gamer has come across at some point or another. Most often they are angry, sometimes they are just trolling, but they are pretty much always unwelcome to their fellow players. Showing a little frustration or doing a little trash talking is one thing, but to verbally abuse or harass your peers (something that takes various forms) really shouldn't be tolerated by anyone. I know I'm speaking in basic terms here, but it's a message that appears to be forgotten from time to time, and thus bears repeating.
This is certainly an issue that many in the gaming industry are determined to at least calm down a bit. Immaturity will never go away—we're all human after all. But that doesn't mean it can't be contained.
One leading voice in this containment process is Valve's head honcho Gabe Newell. Speaking to Develop last year on the topic, Newell—who is no stranger to online harassment himself—presented an amusing and potentially effective way of lessening the sheer volume of rude players found in some of his company's games.
Here's what he said: "…the games industry has this broken model, which is one price for everyone. That's actually a bug, and it's something that we want to solve through our philosophy of how we create entertainment products.
"What you really want to do is create the optimal pricing service for each customer and see what's best for them. We need to give customers, all of them, a robust set of options regarding how they pay for their content.
"An example is—and this is something as an industry we should be doing better—is charging customers based on how much fun they are to play with.
"So, in practice, a really likable person in our community should get Dota 2 for free, because of past behavior in Team Fortress 2. Now, a real jerk that annoys everyone, they can still play, but a game is full price and they have to pay an extra hundred dollars if they want voice."
On a conceptual level, I think this idea is brilliant. If there's one thing that online jerks are more protective of than their ability to disregard common morality without consequence, it's their bank accounts. And if there's anything gaming jerks hold dearly, it's their games. Making certain games more expensive for those with notoriously poor reputations, or barring games from them entirely, is the sort of life-or-death stakes that may be necessary to communicate with those special kinds of ne'er-do-wells and get the point across. That point being "don't be jerks."
Now, in practice, there would most likely be problems, as there are with any radical new system. I imagine it would be quite difficult to always accurately distinguish between who's a harmless dude who occasionally rages and who's a serious repeat offender. And, if everything went according to Gabe's master plan and people suddenly matured en masse, his company may soon find themselves losing revenue faster than they anticipated, not to mention the potential loss of customers whose trolling urges are just too strong to accept suppression.
Nevertheless, the sentiment remains strong. Yes, it's true that free speech is one's right. But harassment, hate speech, and intolerance (which, let's be clear, extend beyond simple trolling) are abuses of said right, and have no place anywhere, including the Internet. If Valve were to hypothetically enact a policy such as the one Newell describes above, nobody's rights would be violated—they are a private entity, Steam is their platform, they are the ones paying for the servers on which certain players are vomiting their insensitivity, and so on.
Beyond the legal debate, though, this issue is one of basic humanity. This dilemma really shouldn't exist in the first place. I've said it myself in past columns, but behind every avatar, gamertag, and message board post is a person, one who is affected, at least a little bit, by malicious words.
You're not "weak" for being kinder to a person you don't know. You're just a better person. If steps like the one proposed by Gabe Newell are needed to bring about more of those, then so be it.
Date: September 10, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*