Today, video game website Joystiq and writer Justin McElroy stirred up quite an online furor. This isn’t really hard to do as gamers sadly tend to fly off the handle about almost anything but this one struck me as something worth talking about as I’m rather shocked how in the minority my opinion seems to be. The article is here but I don’t think you should give it the traffic so here’s a quick synopsis: A middle-aged man in the UK was playing Call of Duty: Black Ops online. One of the people on the other end of voice chat was a 13 year old kid who constantly taunted and spewed hateful phases at the man (something all too common). The man got frustrated to the point where he somehow tracked down the kid’s address, went there and choked him until his parent intervened. He has since admitted to assault.
The story doesn’t go into any details of how the man found the kid’s address or the all too common questions of why a 13 year old was playing a 17+ rated game and why his parents were letting him spew his verbal bile and didn’t seem to care until the victim got physical with him. What it does do is take this disturbing situation and turn the assailant into a folk hero. It makes comedic light of the situation and boiled down to basics says: “The kid was an asshole and it’s nice to finally see one of these idiots get what they deserve.”
Since its publication, the Internet has exploded and largely in defense of the story. To appease those of us who took offense, they have since added an editor’s note at the bottom, snarkily stating how it was clearly a work of satire and that essentially, the critics have no sense of humour. Well, I do have a sense of humour but I fail to see what is funny about a site that wants to be taken seriously minimising and applauding some abhorrent actions by a clearly disturbed indivdual. Just because you were attempting humour doesn’t mean you weren’t in poor taste. I’ll admit, I don’t participate in many forums and Justin McElroy is a friend of the one forum I do use frequently and he also hosts a podcast I don’t care for but which many hold in high regard. His defenders may just happen to be in greater numbers where I happen to hang out. Still, it disturbs me how many rushed to defend his article and attempt to tear down its critics. This wasn’t someone who stood up to a bully that was ruining his life, this was a mid-40s man who tracked down and choked a 13 year old kid who trashed talked him in a video game.
I don’t have kids, I don’t really like kids and I’ll be the first to admit that obnoxious, abusive, racist, homophobic douchebags of all ages are a plague on most online venues where anonymity is permitted. I also am firmly of the belief that by and large, many young people today are entitled, spoiled brats that are largely lacking in discipline and accountability. I get where Mr. McElroy’s frustrations are rooted and where one may raise a lip in smirk upon hearing of this kid getting the shock of his life. However, to champion the actions of the guy who attacked him is to support the radical opposite position which is no better. People being mean online doesn’t cause you any physical harm and it’s a situation you can always opt out of. Don’t like having to hear the sewage stream that is public voice chat on consoles? Use the mute button, take off your headset, play only with friends, report dickish players to the service’s curators. Everything this guy did in response was wrong and nothing the kid did to him justified the response. I hate the experience of playing games with strangers online but nothing this man did will make that any better tomorrow.
For years now, those of us who are passionate about video games have been fighting the societal and media stigma that we’re all just a bunch of immature manchildren who waste our time with games because we never grew up. We’re only just now starting to have the shift in societal perception needed to overcome that. What must our critics think when they read articles like Mr. McElroy’s? Do they see us praising a hero who did what we all have secretly thought of in the back of our minds at some point? Or do they see a community of people screaming to be taken seriously while raising their fists in support of a disturbed individual who attacked a young kid because he said mean things to him? If we’re going to condemn the idiots who scream hatred into their headsets as not representative of most gamers, then we also have to be adult enough to condemn those who respond with unreasonable extremes.
Mr. McElroy, I don’t care if you thought you were being funny and I don’t care if your editors think the same. Your article was in poor taste, it wasn’t funny and it did nothing but stir up artificial controversy. It provided no aid or benefit to gamers and only served to make our struggle for mainstream acceptance just a little bit harder. You and your defenders took us all a step back today.