“Violence is wrong,” say gamers, “unless it’s funny.”

As we’re probably all aware, video game culture — the games themselves, the players, and the media covering it — has a wee bit of an image problem.  No matter how far we’ve progressed in becoming more mainstream, trumpeting video games as art forms to Roger Ebert, and helping to cure AIDS through gamer groupthink, we’ve yet to shrug off this massive reputation of being immature jerks.

Some days, like today, I can see why we’re spinning our wheels with progress in this regard.  If you haven’t heard already, there’s this story of a middle-aged dad in the UK who was taunted by a teenage kid over Xbox Live, so he tracked the kid down and choked him.  Not to death, but bad enough that it freaked the family out and ended with an arrest.

It’s a story that’s lit up discussions all over the place, mostly due to so many people — wait for it — applauding the choker for his actions.  I’m not even remotely making this up.  Gamers far and wide are applauding this physical assaulter because he represents “sweet vengeance” or something on smacktalking video game jerks.

What gets me, when reading reactions to this story, is just how petty and vindictive these comments are.  Plenty of them start with “I don’t condone violence, BUT this kid was asking for it.”  Because violence is bad, you know, unless it’s either funny or provides some sort of vicarious release for gamers who sometimes fantasize about slapping online jerks upside the head.

I get that.  We all have those daydreams, especially when someone is just mean, rude or vile to you and you feel like you can’t do anything about it.   The thing is, having fleeting dark revenge fantasies is legal.  Physically trying to kill someone is not.  No matter how much you think this kid “deserved” the payback, words don’t justify assault.  It’s when gamers are coming to the defense of the choker that I realize the mob is no better than he.  He just did what they wanted to, and they’re cheering him on for it, all while making noises about understanding that it wasn’t really right and hiding behind the shield of “it’s FUNNY so stop taking it so seriously!”  No, it’s not funny.  It’s sad and kind of sickening.

There’s a lot of other side issues in this topic, such as the fact that this guy is clearly unstable, the kid’s parents should’ve been monitoring their son’s online behavior, and that if this teen was griefing this guy, there were plenty of ways to avoid/block/blacklist him so as to not have to deal with him from then on.  I understand the kid and the parents aren’t blameless, but none of this excuses the guy’s actions, and gamers do no credit to their community by trying to provide justification just because of their own personal frustration at griefers.

Seriously, how can we act like we’re maturing when this sort of thing goes on?  It’s good to read statements and discussions by those who weren’t rooting for the choker and realize that this gives a black eye to the games community, and that’s heartening.  I just wish I had read more of them today.

21 thoughts on ““Violence is wrong,” say gamers, “unless it’s funny.”

  1. The community of XBox Live is renown for being extraordinarily toxic in general, so why should it surprise anyone that the guy’s peers think what he did was awesome? Being socially dysfunctional seems to be embraced as the status quo over there.

  2. “Seriously, how can we act like we’re maturing when this sort of thing goes on?”

    I think the simple, sad truth is that we’re NOT maturing. We like to focus on small portions of good, or convince ourselves that our little corner of gaming is somehow better than their little corner of gaming, but I think the reality is that the gaming community, as a whole, is a pretty sad, maladjusted, antisocial, horrible bunch. Easily 80% of the communication I’m unfortunate enough to experience online is bad – but a lot of that is because few choose to communicate at all. When you can put 15 players into a 15-minute game of World of Tanks, and end it with only two lines of text, it’s not a shining beacon of social activity.

    We see this manifested constantly, but these days it’s usually in the form of neurotic behavior concerning this bug or that release date. We saw it on full display in UO and EQ – griefing hasn’t gone away, but every game from then on has done everything it can to restrict players’ ability to harm one another. The cesspit that is EVE online shows on an ongoing basis that those restrictions are still necessary.

    I hadn’t heard this before, but I find myself not the least bit surprised by any of this – not the assaulting, stalking trashtalk that enraged someone so badly they felt the need to resort to violence, not the violence itself, and certainly not the response.

  3. On my previous comment, in hindsight it looks like I was trying to make a joke… and I guess I was… but I was also trying to point out that there is no special controlled environment where gamers learn only from gaming and are not otherwise socially influenced. Man hits boy is hardly newsworthy… except when it becomes “oh, they were gamers.” It must have been the games… and not The Simpsons, Ultimate Fighting, NHL Hockey, soccer hooligans, having endured abusive adults as a child, or any one of the millions of things that influence who we are at any given moment.

    @Bhagpuss – Not sure how Real ID would have helped here. One managed to find the other despite handles, and we all know who the adult is now.

  4. If anything this is a huge vote AGAINST RealID. The last thing we need to do is make it easier for unstable freaks to find people in RL.

    What this is a vote for is for not letting opponents in PvP games talk to each other directly. There’s no need for it, and certainly no benefit. It just promotes hateful trash talk.

  5. Offtopic on RealID, I’m with muckbeast; we don’t need to make it easier for stupiditly like this to happen.

    As for maturity, I’d say that getting older isn’t the same as becoming a mature adult, and that goes far beyond just video games. There is no small amount of proof in this world of adults in their 20s and 30s and beyond who, while being older, are still stuck in a pre-pubescent state of mind and being.

  6. Willhelm is on to something with where he’s going: this is hardly news, except that it’s a marginalized community committing the act, therefor it must be the behavior of the marginalized community that caused the problem and NOTHING ELSE.

    I could contribute examples to support this, but I’d be afraid it would derail the conversation, but I’m sure we all have other examples of this type of an attack on a marginalized community.

    But to Sype’s point, it certainly does not help anything for anyone within the gaming community to act as if this violent act is in any way justified or “OK.” The kid didn’ask for it,” this was just some wacko acting like a wacko.

  7. The average person isn’t capable of empathizing with people they’ve never met, never mind that many can’t even empathize with people they know. This is true of all people, not just gamers.

    Combine that with what you mentioned, the dark fantasy of revenge, and of course plenty of people are going to applaud this. Being choked out isn’t something most people can relate to but being taunted by someone and wanting to get back at them is easy to empathize with.

    Thus the suffering of the choking victim is less real to the average person than the suffering of the taunted man.

    Welcome to humanity. We suck.

  8. The larger issue isn’t that playing games somehow make us prone to violence. It’s that those gamers saying “the kid was asking for it” are saying it’s OK to choke someone over an insult about pixels. That is insanity. It’s not the fault of the games. It is the fault of a community of gamers defending the action as if this were acceptable behavior.

  9. Violence will always be wrong no matter have funny or warranted, but people need to remember that their actions have consequences. They can, and apparently do, push someone too far and don’t believe it will come back to hurt them.

    The 30 year old has some problems, and that will be dealt with… but the kid apparently doesn’t realize that he can (and did) get hurt. Perhaps he never considered the possibility… well now he will.

    No matter what laws we have in place, people should still consider self-preservation before they speak or act.

  10. “…words don’t justify assault.” – Syp

    Really? Ever hear the phrase, “The pen is mightier than the sword”? I admit that I’m playing Devil’s Advocate here, and basically agree with everything you stated in the 2nd to last paragraph of the OP, but dismissing any part of this whole f***ed up story is probably not the way to go.

    Wars are started with words. Emotions are triggered by words which in turn trigger actions. Everything we do, all of our behaviors, are governed by bio-chemical reactions in the brain, which are basically what emotions are on a cold, scientific level.

    Emotional and psychological abuse is still abuse, and many times the effects are far more lasting and long reaching than physical torment.

    I guess all I’m saying is; our words have an effect on those we direct them at, and we would each be well served to be conscious of that fact when dealing with others, especially strangers. You don’t know what other factors that person is dealing with in their life, or how close to their own personal edge they already are before interacting with you… do you really want to be the one that tips them over that edge?

    It’s just not always easy to remember that at the end of long, frustrating day…

  11. Couldn’t have said it better myself Liquid Wolf. That’s exactly what came to my mind after reading the story. While violence is certainly never the answer, one does need to look at both sides. Too many take advantage of the wall of anonymity in order to do and say what they please—things they would never do if face to face with someone. And more often than not they get away with it, because said wall prevents any consequences or backlash.

  12. Another vote for Real ID.

    As others mentioned, I hope this was stated ironically, as the entire premise of Real ID is that there are consequences for bad internet behavior, yes? Assault = bad. Stalking, public shaming, verbal harassment = good?

    It’s when gamers are coming to the defense of the choker that I realize the mob is no better than he.

    Now you’re just being overly melodramatic, Syp. When has ANYTHING good came out of “the mob?” Why would a mob of gamers be any different? Are gamers different human beings than normal sort of mobs that loot stores, yells for jumpers to “just do it already,” and set fire for things in their own neighborhood? Mobs are mobs.

    Why are you upset at the “community” for voicing the dark revenge fantasy you admit everyone harbors? Is it simply a PR issue with you, or do you somehow believe that these people legitimately believe 13 year-olds should be assaulted?

    P.S. Words can be assault too.

  13. @LiquidWolf “the kid apparently doesn’t realize that he can (and did) get hurt. Perhaps he never considered the possibility… well now he will.”

    You know nothing about what he’ll realise from this. Maybe he’ll “realise” that it’s ok to choke people if you don’t like what they say.

    If you’re an adult how can you support beating up other people’s children?

  14. @Stabs

    There is no support for beating up other people’s children in my post. The 30 year old man will be punished, severely, for what he did.

    The child will, hopefully, learn a valuable lesson about possible consequences of his actions and words… especially now that his parents saw the result of his actions.

    If the child fails to learn a valuable lesson, and proceeds to choke some other people, then he too will find himself punished and likely jailed later in life.

    My post was leaning more to this:
    The law doesn’t protect you, it really only punishes people that do you wrong or harm. So if you taunt or hurt others with the expectation that they will not retaliate because the law is there… then you are sorely mistaken.

    Sometimes, getting back at you is more important to them than the consequences of the law. I hope this kid understands that now… and I hope that man pays for what he has done.

  15. @ Liquid Wolf

    Oh I see. Fair enough, sorry to jump at you. (At least I didn’t come round your house and choke you 🙂 )

  16. “Man hits boy is hardly newsworthy… ”

    Actually, I think it would be fairly newsworthy if the man had done it at a sports match, school yard or any other place. We’re only getting defensive of it because it involves computer games.

    Every time something vaguely critical of games come out, you can depend on gamers to circle the wagons and blow off all criticism. Looking above, there are plenty of, “What the man did was wrong, but…” and then a justification / excuse for why the victim asked for it. Both parties here are products of gamer culture and ultimately both sides were wrong in how they behaved.

    There isn’t an excuse that covers the taunts OR the assault.

  17. Both people are at fault here – taunting people isn’t nice, and clearly neither is choking them. However, the “adult” here should certainly have shown better restraint. I mean – choking a kid? There’s no place for that, I don’t care what names he called you. There is a huge chasm between verbal assault in a video game and physical assault.

    The parents should be doing a better job monitoring their child, frankly, and from what I hear, XBox Live is no place for a kid, anyway.

  18. Jumping way after the fact, and I don’t justify the man in any way, but:

    “Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.”

    I do hope the kid learned that his trash talk did have consequences, just as the man who lashed out will experience consequences.

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