Where the hell is everybody?

A lot of blog posts try to make an argument. Some of them present data and then try to make an argument. Scientifically, of course. This blog post… I don’t know what kind of argument I can make. I have a statistically insignificant data set that belies the real point. I have little more than anecdotes. However, these anecdotes, these experiences, were interesting enough that I do feel like I should relay them.

In my lonely, chubby, socially awkward days as a middle school student, I was not the most comfortable person when it came to real life. In fact, chances are I was the least comfortable person in any given room at any given time. I hated being around people who I knew laughed at me behind my back, were judging me, and in general merely tolerated my existence out of a sense of politeness. The only place I could feel comfortable was in a virtual world imagined by Bioware, or Bungie, or Gamefreak. I could be the Dudley Do-Right I knew I was inside but never had the opportunity to be in the real world. When I finally became connected to the world of Xbox LIVE, with its vast online of faceless (but not quite nameless) players that were no longer just characters, but people, I quickly found a sense of belonging and acuity that I’d never felt in the physical world. I made dozens of friends and few enemies. Everybody was irreverent but polite.

To me.

"Top right conversation choice for me!"
I spent most of my days being this guy. Boy it felt good.

I was always aware of the extremely high amount of vulgarity used online, and it never bothered me. Why would it? I was a white male. Even when somebody threw out a slur against males or white people it was so absurd and out of place that I just laughed. Most people around me were white males as well. One of the few things that carried over from my real life social failures: I didn’t have many friends who were girls. It took until I really began looking into video games on a deeper level, several years after I’d moved on from obsessively playing games online. I read about people being verbally harassed, receiving unsolicited dick pics, and creepy messages that made them afraid for life by including private information that they’d previously thought, well, private. I read these things and was disappointed but mostly unsurprised. So I decided to see if I could reconnect my past with my present: my life as an obsessive gaming recluse with my life as an academic. I decided to try an experiment.

It didn’t work too well. I haven’t spoken on a mic on LIVE in probably over 5 years, and this had generally not been a problem. When I’ve been online in that time I’ve noticed a decreasing number of people using their microphones, and those that were were often in a party chat with other friends of theirs. Despite this, I tried to perform an experiment where a female friend and I traded off using a microphone between games to gauge the responses that the community had to our presence. We would behave virtually identically through two comparison scenarios and see how the gender of the player changed the behavior of our teammates.

We did this on Saturday. After about fifteen games Xbox LIVE shut down for the first time I can remember. The experiment was over and I didn’t have time to restart it. To make matters worse, the thriving, living community that I once held so dearly was virtually dead. I no longer could get eight or nine people talking all at once, striking up a conversation and discussing bullshit. We were lucky if we had three other people in our sixteen-player games with microphones. About five of the games were a total wash, with literally nobody responding to us. That left me with ten games to discuss, five pairs of male-female gaming. But at least they were worth it.

I came into this experiment expecting to receive creepy messages, have my friend be harassed, and in general see for myself the horror stories I read about on blogs and anecdotes all over. However, these ten games totally surprised me. The first game that my friend played, after the first sentence she said somebody asked if she was a little boy or a girl. When she responded that she was, in fact, a girl, he responded with “Oh, that’s cool. Gamer chicks are tight.” Oh, here we go. This was going to get real awkward real fast.

Pink = girls lol!
Ironically enough I did all my playing on a pink Xbox controller such as this (It’s mine)

But it didn’t. After that the issue was settled. They exchanged totally safe and regular banter a few more times through the game, and then it was over. We backed out to continue the experiment pleasantly surprised. Several games later we encountered our first potential stalker. It was a little kid who asked, after literally one abortive raid on the enemy base, to be added to my friends list.  When he was refused, he waited a few minutes and then began pushing the issue, asking if we could delete one of the friends off our full friends list. He was refused yet again and didn’t really bring it up again. He was awkwardly attached, though, and would repeatedly pull up to the character I was playing (I played through all the games so the skill level was consistent) and demand that I enter his vehicle. He wasn’t very good. After the game I backed out again, expecting messages or a friend request, but I got nothing. Maybe it was because, through this entire encounter, it wasn’t my female friend talking, but me.

We ran one pair of games where we would have an outside conversation. I remembered from my days of obsessive playing how pissed people would get if you talked to somebody that they couldn’t hear, and so I figured it would be funny to see what would happen if I goaded them. When I did it, they were relatively rude and abrasive. They would snarkily respond to statements and questions I made to somebody in the real world, and would give me shit for things that I said. It was not a pleasant gaming experience. When my friend went on, the situation was totally different. Not only did everybody just ignore her outside conversation, but we also ran into a fifteen year old girl using her microphone. My friend decided to do something of a mid-game interview of this girl, asking for her opinions and experiences. The girl said that she didn’t really have any problems with people being creepy or rude. I’m sure that she’s had some encounters, but of course so had I, as a man. She said that the only thing that really annoyed her was when people asked her if she was a little boy or a girl. That was it. That was the only complaint she had. As somebody who played on LIVE from the age of thirteen, even I’ve fielded tha


t question a healthy number of times. Here was a girl on Xbox LIVE, generally regarded as the cesspool of gaming communities, saying that she didn’t have any real problems with the community.

How was this possible? Honestly, the data that I got from this “experiment” was so far beyond what I expected to get that I couldn’t imagine how I was supposed to do a project out of it. I would have my own little pretend-science time versus a mountain of anecdotes by well-respected female authors. So here I am. Not trying to make any points. Not trying to teach anybody anything. Or maybe I am. I don’t know. Maybe the lesson is Your Mileage May Vary. Maybe everybody has different experiences. Maybe even people in the cesspool of gaming aren’t so easy to pigeonhole as we would like.

  2 comments for “Where the hell is everybody?

  1. Anthony Seippel
    April 18, 2013 at 4:53 pm

    I found your experiment very interesting and refreshing to see someone using the gaming medium for an actual attempt at understanding the nature of this subgroup of people, the odd online gamer. I remember back when me and my old roommate would do something similar, sitting with our own Xbox’s and our own Tvs right next to eachother playing the same game (Halo Reach), conversing with eachother and those we played with and against. The only problem we seemed to encounter was when someone speaking Spanish came on, annoying another player who then began to yell all the Spanish words they knew, confusing and angering the speaker. I had to intervene with my broken Spanish to assure him that no one was attempting to insult him, but merely trying to be funny. However I do remember a time when I played by myself without my headset in a group session of firefight in which one individual with a microphone continued to speak with someone we could not hear, who themselves were also playing with us. I grew so tired of his shouting and banter (consisting of insults and relatively rude things to say in a public setting) that I began to purposely sabotage anything he was trying to do. At one point he asked his friend to help him hijack an enemy Wraith tank, so I purposefully broke from the enemy I was currently engaging, lept upon the Wraith and planted a bomb within it as fast as I could, much to his dismay as he shouted “HEY DICK STOP IT!”. The Wraith blew up and I jumped atop it and began to “t-bag” the wreckage as he and his friend proceeded to hit me (but to no effect as we were on the same team and friendly fire was not enabled). I then pulled out my rocket launcher and shot it at them over and over as he continued to berate me and hit my character to no effect. His words were nonsensical but his anger was palpable. I proceeded to run circles around him and jump atop his characters head, “t-bagging” all the while. The last I heard before leaving the game mid session he was roaring into his mic. I guess I am the type of person you were worried about running into, but only in response to his blatant rudeness. I could have muted him, and I know he didn’t understand why I was doing what I did so in the end it was pointless, but it was fun to listen to him go from “pompous cool-guy shit talker” to “whiny, bitchy, crybaby” with one single grenade and a bit of awkward squatting.

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