You all know this universal scene — the girl at recess minding her own business, the boy sneaking up from behind, a yank of the pigtails and bawls ensue. The experts says it’s really just a sign of interest, just that a lot of boys at that age have no real method of attracting attention other than by inflicting pain. Now that might let you off the hook if you’re too young to even know about the birds and bees, but the sad fact is, a lot of guys well into adulthood are pulling virtual pigtails in the gaming community.
The latest snafu to be made public was when a member of Capcom’s fighting game show, Cross Assault, publicly harassed his female competitor, and when mildly reprimanded, went on to claim that sexual harassment was an integral part of the fighting game community.
Now I’ll admit that trash talk is par for the course where most sporting events are concerned, whether it’s fans of rival football clubs watching a match, or people playing some competitive racing game on the console. However, even with sledging, there’s some of it that’s harmless and some that’s decidedly not. When you rummage around the insult bin and fling various epithets concerning gender, sexuality or race, you’re tapping into something far more powerful than friendly rivalry. Sadly, these days, it seems that scraping the bottom of that bin is becoming second nature for a large group of people.
This is the reason why the ratings group ESRB have the message ‘Online interactions not rated’, since what another online player says to you could easily be far worse than any of the content in the game itself. Drop into a multiplayer session of Call of Duty and you’re likely to soon have your parentage (and more) called into question by some players who, ironically enough, usually sound too young to be playing the game in the first place. The aggression often escalates if a player is identified as female, which is why a lot of girl gamers play with the headset mic off by default and sometimes even stick to using male game characters to avoid unwanted attention.
For all the good it has brought us, the Internet also empowers the cowardly and the spiteful among us, who use the anonymity it provides as cover to launch their hateful missives. It’s understandable that in online games like MMOs, where forming clans is actively encouraged, players become clannish as a result. But going out of your way to ruin another’s game experience or trying to inflict emotional damage on them outside of the parameters of the game — well, that doesn’t strike me as the work of a well-balanced individual. Some may run for cover under the umbrella of ‘freedom of speech’, but that only implies that you are legally free to say whatever you want, not that you should not suffer any consequence for it whatsoever.
It’s about time we broke the self-perpetuating cycle of exclusion and took some steps to make gaming a more welcoming space for newcomers. And quit it with the pigtails; the cooties are a myth.