Thursday, February 21, 2008

Gamers at their worst

Gamers on Xbox Live are both blessed and cursed by their anonymity. The same information buffers that protect people from stalkers, predators and loonies also cloak them in social camouflage that too many people use to conceal despicable behavior. People say hateful things on Xbox Live that they would never say to another person's face.

I'm sick of hearing people use the "N-word" on Xbox Live, and I'm sick of hearing adults curse at children. These appalling behaviors seem to be growing more and more common, and I'm bewildered as to why that is. Didn't their mothers raise them better than this?

Despite the way the N-word is tossed around by some black entertainers, it is nevertheless an utterly offensive word. I live in a city infamous for being the place where white terrorists -- men who used the N-word easily -- put a bomb in a church in 1963 and murdered four little girls. I grew up hearing old bigots use the word. If you said nothing, tacitly approving their language, they assumed you were a bigot just like them.

When I got old enough to know my own mind and my own conscience, I quit letting that word pass. I drew the line at letting people think I approved of bigotry. My black friends are deeply offended by the word, and it sickens me to think that if they went online to play a video game with me, my friends would hear children, college students and adults tossing the epithet around as if it were nothing and hitting my friends in the crossfire. This reveals gamers at their very worst, and it embarrasses me as someone who loves video games.

I have told people in Xbox Live game rooms that I object to that word. I have left lots of rooms after hearing it too many times. I have filed complaints for hate speech with Xbox Live after hearing particularly odious tirades, but only when I was sure who was speaking. Often it's difficult to tell, if you don't glance at the microphone indicator at just the right time.

Decent people do not use this word in casual conversation, so why do I hear it so much while playing Call of Duty 4? What is going on? I heard an American call a British youth the N-word yesterday. It was a small international incident that made me ashamed of my countryman. Racism is not patriotic, boys. Call of Duty 4 honors soldiers who fight to defend the rights of others, not to trample their rights.

Parents who let their children play Mature-rated games such as Call of Duty 4 need to be aware that even if they judge the game itself to be OK, the online chatter is what can be most offensive in video games.

The N-word is not benign. It is poisonous. The more you spread that poison around, the more lives it will taint.

I am also outraged by adults who curse at little kids. Just last Saturday afternoon, I heard a guy who sounded like he was perhaps in his twenties trash-talking a child just for being a child. "You (F)ing 8-year-olds," he grunted at them. It made me angry enough to rebuke him immediately. It was Saturday afternoon. That's when you'd expect kids to be playing. I called him a jerk and told him not to talk to kids that way. I hope his own dad would have done the same, if he'd heard him.

Would you talk to your own kid brother that way? To your nephew? Imagine a little boy's face if you said that to him.

I've done my share of cussing. Sometimes a cuss word is the only word that fits. I usually keep my microphone muted, but there are times when a rain of random grenades, for example, might goad me to blurt out a expletive online, despite my efforts at self-censorship. But there is a difference in an adult uttering a curse among other adults, and an adult cursing not only in the presence of a child, but at the child.

And using the N-word in front of children is the worst. If you've never read Martin Luther King's Letter from The Birmingham Jail, you should. In my formative years, it was a serious eye-opener for me. More than anything, it showed me how racist behavior such as the N-word hurts children. I read this passage about 30 years ago, and it has stuck in my mind ever since:

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. ... Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; ... when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness"--then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.

Gamers have enough problems trying to get the mainstream off our backs, trying to convince people that we're not all slackers and that video games are an art form, and a mature medium of entertainment.

It's in our own best interest to do better than this. I've heard crass talk and vile, racist insults more than enough now on Xbox Live, and now I'm angry about it. I'm not against cussing. I'm against being mean to people, and especially being mean to children. It's a matter of common decency, and not making your mother ashamed.

I challenge everyone of like mind to take a stand. If you stay quiet, they assume you approve of what they're saying. And the poison spreads some more ...

1 comment:

Steven said...

Sythbane, Thank you so much for your strong stand against this terrible affront to all people. Cussing is an art form for some people, but the 'n' word is not cussing; it is hate spit through clenched teeth. Delete it. Oppose it. Racial hatred is corrosive to the soul and hardens the heart of those who practice it, if only verbally.