How I yearn for the golden days of multiplayer gaming. You and a couple of friends, sitting on the edge of someone’s bed or on the floor, staring into some tiny television set while you waited patiently for your turn to come up, joking and laughing and eating pizza together. Sure, there were the occasional tiffs — even a few thrown controllers now and again — but the gaming itself was for the most part civilized. There was an unspoken code of conduct, a cherished and sacred bond no gamer would dare violate. And then came the internet.
Online gaming ushered in a whole new era of gameplay mechanics and an elevated social structure for gamers worldwide. Suddenly, you weren’t the weird, quiet kid in school with a strange, alien obsession. Now you could share your passion for gaming with other lovers of the industry, on a global scale. But with this new age and style of gaming came a new set of social parameters. The unspoken code of conduct was mortally sundered, as gamers learned that on the web, they could say anything they wanted to say, and be anyone they wanted to be. And just like that, multiplayer gaming was changed forever… and for the worse.
What was this unspoken code I keep mentioning? Essentially, it was a loose set of laws that every gamer in those days knew, whether they realized it or not. A set of parameters that limited a person’s behavior, oftentimes enforced by their own physical stature and their unwillingness to verbally assault their friends for fear of a black eye. But it wasn’t simply fear that kept that code intact… it was a mutual respect. An understanding shared between fellow gamers, and no one else. This wasn’t a pastime that everyone could enjoy. It required talent, keen eyes, quick hands. And you were judged, in a friendly and inviting way, based largely on how much you knew about a wide assortment of games, preferably on multiple platforms; the more secrets you could reveal to your friends, the more respect you’d earn. But no one was ever criticized for being new to gaming… everyone had to start someplace, and the more people there were in this socially-exclusive club, the more socially acceptable the hobby would become.
That code is largely deceased today, and it died a horrible, gruesome, awful death. But why? If most gamers knew the code, why did it lose out to the internet? The answer is quite simply, really: there was no longer a method or a reason to enforce the code. Gamers were socially interacting on a global scale. That meant they’d most likely be playing with people they would never, ever meet, and could say whatever they felt like saying. If they were judged, what harm could it do? In the early days, voice chat didn’t even exist; you could type whatever horrible thing you wanted to say, tell everyone you were built like Arnold Schwarzenegger, and no one would be any wiser.
So where did this sudden burst of hostility come from? Mostly, it was social awkwardness, in the early days at least. Gaming didn’t start to become chic until the early years of the twenty-first century. It was only starting to become acceptable in the late-nineties; prior to about 1995, it was still cooler to call someone a nerd for playing games rather than actually play them yourself. They were considered toys for children, a social stigma they still carry with some older, out-of-touch folks. Of course, lots of younger people played games, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, but some simply refused to acknowledge how fun they were around others.
All of this animosity built up quite a bit of rage, often expressed through brutally slaying AI, or in friendly couch-competitions. It wasn’t until the advent of the internet that gamers could vent their frustrations in words, without fear of physical retribution. And since people were coping with all of the complexities of online gaming for the first time — the technical issues, people not knowing their way around the game, frustratingly complicated keyboard layouts, and worse — that aforementioned rage was compounded and compressed until it exploded onto the screen in a horrific form of text-based verbal diarrhea, spewed onto unwitting bystanders… fellow gamers.
And it only grew worse from there. Gamers quickly grew bored with simple trash-talking, and reverted to more barbaric forms of embarrassing each other. The nefavious “hump,” later referred to as the “teabag,” dates back to at least the original Rainbow Six, and may have been present in earlier online games than that. Insults became more graphic, and soon, trash-talking had become as important an element of online play as the scoring and map layout.
Today, trash-talking has gone from a method of venting social frustration to a simple caviat of online gaming. It’s no longer nerdy or otherwise socially-exclusive to be a gamer; it’s finally a part of the norm. But that old habit of insults and empty threats refuses to die out, no matter how terribly archaic it has proven itself to be.
This series hopes to impact that. Our goal with presenting a gamer’s code of chivalry, over the course of many articles to come, is to unite gamers that hope for an elevated level of social engagement while playing online. We’ll present articles that aim to rewrite the online social sphere, rightfully antiquating the days of pointless trash-talking. We’ll work toward establishing rules that encourage helpfulness and friendly gaming. Will these articles make much of an impact? Not likely. But in the very least, the people who read these articles, and take something valuable from them, can try to be better social gamers as a result of what is read and discussed in these pieces. Our fingers are crossed that at least a few people gain something from these, because the state of online gaming is pretty sad.