How We Speak to Each Other Matters

I have been wanting to write this post for a while now, but wanted to be able to give it the time that it deserves. It is a sensitive topic and can often raise a lot of feelings on both sides. Here we go, recently I have read and heard a lot of information about people being verbally assaulted online while playing video games. Now the stories that I have read about are mostly about women, but that is not what is important. The problem is the amount of comments just saying that this is a common thing, it happens to everyone, and that anyone complaining should just grow a thicker skin.

The problem with this thought is that it does not deal with the problem. No one should be verbally harassed or sexually threatened. It just so happens that more women end up on the receiving end of these threatening comments, but that does not mean that it is okay to say these types of comments to a man either. The problem is what do we do about it?

Do Nothing

So one thought is that we do nothing. Personally this feels like a lazy answer to me. To do nothing in some ways also condones the behavior that is occurring. I mean do we really feel that it is okay for guys to continually ask to see someone else naked, to talk about raping them, or to talk about physically assaulting them in person? I do not really want to repeat the type of language that people talk about hearing, but if you really want to see some of the horrendous things you can go to Fat, Ugly, or Slutty. After looking at those comments can we really say that this is normal behavior? People say that it is just competition and that in the heat of the moment people say stuff they don’t mean.

This comment always seems interesting to me because there are no other places of competition where the same type of language would be tolerated. If people said that in real life situations no one would be willing to keep playing with them. Yet with online we just shrug it off, block them from being able to comment to us, but we keep letting them play. Somewhere along the line we have decided that online the rules of the rest of society do not really apply. Or we just say that to explain away what is happening because we do not understand. So we tend to let people say almost anything they want no matter how heinous.

Legal Ramifications

Moving to the other extreme is legal ramifications to the words that we say. Currently there are some legal steps that can be made. If someone is continually harassing you and begins to stalk there might be a civil suit you can bring or potentially a restraining order. The other piece is that there have been legal ramifications for people making a verbal threat that could potentially cause terror. The instances where this has happened so far has been people make off handed / seemingly sarcastic comments about them being so crazy they would shoot up a school.

Now their choice of words were really stupid and I agree that having the cops show up and search their houses was not a terrible thought. Then when no evidence is found the matter is closed and you move on. It is interesting that these kids making off-handed comments to shoot up a school get arrested with no evidence, but the spoken words and yet someone threatening to rape and kill individuals can have no consequences. It just seems like we are setting up different standards of conduct for different spaces, which really should not be the case.


There has to be a middle ground. A place that is more than just letting the status quo continue, but less than making the words we speak criminal actions. I have a problem with arresting people for saying they are going to do something and not for their actual actions. At the same time we need to teach people that everyone deserves to be treated with respect (look at how we talk in politics now – no respect at all). Online communities have attempted to make rules and codes of conducts, but you get large enough and it can be hard to really police everybody. There is a reason that Xbox Live support takes forever to deal with complaints and will often not respond to situations. There are probably so many situations they are dealing with that they do not have time.

One thought, which I believe has been tried, is to create a rating system to rate players. If you get enough negative feedback, you get banned for a certain amount of time or get muted / blocked from commenting. It would need to be a system that you cannot abuse, but with public comments and private messages it would be fairly easy to track what people are actually saying. Someone reports harassing behavior and if this is a repeated offender, you can create a system of responses.

Another thought is to have some sort of rating system that would group people together based on their ratings. The people with the highest ratings would eventually get grouped together and people with low ratings would be grouped together. This would not solve the problem, but might help others from having to actually deal with the terrible people playing online. They could keep playing and just be terrible to each other.

The big thing is that there has to be a better way to do this. We should not just have to sit back and take abuse from people for playing a game, even if it is a competitive game. So far all we can do is talk about it and try to let people know that there is an issue and that we should not have to stand for this. If the same language is being used on both men and women it does not matter – no one deserves to be talked to like that. What are your thoughts on online language and video game language? Do you think it is a problem or is it something we just ignore and move past?


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