They are the seven little words that speak volumes about the game you just walked out of EB with. They seem innocent at first, perhaps you’ve never even noticed them before, but those 7 words in the ESRB box merely hint about what is going to happen the first time you make that leap from single-player isolation into the dank waters of multiplayer gaming.
Multiplayer gaming is a concept that looks great on paper. You’re taking something you presumably already enjoy (i.e. the core game) and sharing that enjoyment with similar, like-minded individuals. You seek the same thing when you take in a movie at your local theatre. Everyone is there to go and enjoy a cinematic experience, right?
Well…maybe not. Maybe some of the people at that theatre are there to talk on their cell phone, or with a friend in the seat next to them. Perhaps they’d rather lob their confection of choice at the screen, or terrorize hapless patrons with gummy bear carpet bombs. It’s not that most of these people set out to ruin your good time, they’re just bored. Or amused more by your discomfort than the film. Or perhaps the simplest answer, they’re just unpleasant people. Either way, the likelihood that you’ll experience a film in silence with a theatre full of orderly moviegoers is very small.
I don’t seek to complain of the lack of manners in our society; that is for older folks who pine for “the good old days”. What I do wish to examine is why the online gaming community fails in its one ultimate goal; to provide a safe, entertaining atmosphere for people who wish to extend their enjoyment of a product into a social setting. One might argue that human nature itself is the unsolvable problem, but I tend to reject that explanation. If we all know that every online game community is made up of say, 40% jerks, why is it Xbox Live fails to provide a system of effectively filtering these people from those who simply want to enjoy the game? The current system of “Reputation” is useless. It seems like it might work at first glance. Your online profile starts out at 3 stars out of a possible 5, suggesting that Microsoft is willing to give you the benefit of the doubt that you are in fact, not a jerk. The problem is, the rate at which your stars go up or down seems far too quick. By my 3rd day on Live I was at 5 stars, yet I hadn’t said much to other players or made friends, it was just some random person giving me a reputation increase. While I certainly appreciated the boost, it didn’t say much for the system as a whole. Conversely, I encountered the first in a series of profanity-spewing, racist frat-boys who insisted that I was a (adjective removed in the interest of professionalism, Ed). I suppose I would have been more accepting of this label if I had say, cut the fellow in half with the lancer in Gears of War, but what had triggered this outburst was the playing of a wild card in Uno. So what are my options at this point? I can mute him, but isn’t that defeating the point of playing against people, instead of the computer? I could leave the game, but what if I’m winning, or just don’t feel like finding a new game because of one guy? There’s the Reputation system, but we’ve talked about that already. So what’s left? It breaks down to this – I can tell Live that I don’t want to play this guy again when I search for random games, and as far as I know it will make sure that never happens again. Isn’t the damage done at that point though? I had already received my new title of (horrible bad words removed again, jeez, Ed). In other words, there is no warning when I join a game that the guys in the room are misogynistic, homophobic, racists or think Ben Stiller is funny, and for some people, that is a deal-breaker in the online experience.