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Faceless Etiquette

by Bronwyn Fraser

Take a step back, and think before you act. Even before you act the defender against ruthless trolls.

Recently, there's been a spiel in online bullying. Two of the most prominent have been the Jennifer Hepler incident andCross Assault, the online Tekken Tournament. The latter earned an article from Eurogamer, one which I feel needs a response ASAP. The direct verbal attacks on Jennifer Hepler go much much further than bullying and discrimination, but 'kicking back against gaming bigots' will do nothing but start a flamewar, each and every time.

I'm a female gamer. A girl - as such, my voice is of a high pitch, a higher pitch than that mature males normally possess. And should I talk in a chatroom, myself, other women and particularly younger gamers often suffer an instant shutdown by other users of the games chatroom. Not always, but definitely often. Unfair, but what can you do? I play on, and I suppose others who draw attention in chatrooms do too. We learn to keep quiet.

But this inability to restrict anti-social behaviour recently proved its need to change. Some of you may have already come across the disappointing, if not absolutely audacious reaction some have had to Jennifer Hepler - if objectivity is something a journalist should never have, I'm breaking the creed now. If you already know the story, skip down a few paragraphs while I give brief digest to those not so in the know.

Five years ago, Jennifer Hepler, a senior writer on the Bioware team gave an interview to Killer Betties. Even now, women in the games industry are held up as something special because, let's face it, many games are still guys games made by guys. Protagonists are male and, in the case of games where you can change that, often marketed as male. Mass Effect or Dragon Age, each Bioware titles noted for their inclusion of relationships outside heterosexual, feature their male protagonists on their cover.

But that should have had nothing to do with it. It did, but it should not have. Instead it was just yet another label used to offend. Hepler, only being honest, said something that riled that anti-social demon birthed by faceless social interactions whilst supplying the interview:

What is your least favorite thing about working in the industry?

Playing the games. This is probably a terrible thing to admit, but it has definitely been the single most difficult thing for me. I came into the job out of a love of writing, not a love of playing games. While I enjoy the interactive aspects of gaming, if a game doesn't have a good story, it's very hard for me to get interested in playing it. Similarly, I'm really terrible at so many things which most games use incessantly -- I have awful hand-eye coordination, I don't like tactics, I don't like fighting, I don't like keeping track of inventory, and I can't read a game map to save my life. This makes it very difficult for me to play to the myriad games I really should be keeping up on as our competition.

... If there was a fast-forward feature on games which would let me easily review the writing and stories and skip the features that I find more frustrating than fun, I'd find it much easier to keep abreast of what's happening in the field.


This 'fast-forward' feature, coupled with Hepler's honest opinion that she is first and foremost a writer, and does not necessarily enjoy playing all parts of the games she writes for, stirred a verbal tempest of abuse. Possibly the worst, or at least the accumulation of the unjust hate this seemed to spawn, was a photoshopped picture of the talented writer on Reddit, which I will not link to here, which discriminatively singled her out and put a picture of her beside a list of hateful words.

She was not the first woman in the industry to come under the hammer for no reason at all. I am of course talking about the ridiculous case of Jade Raymond.

Hepler's interview was five years ago. Recently, Hepler started a Twitter account. Again, I'm not linking it here - it's been disabled anyway, and nobody wants to see the astounding stream of abuse and hate-messages. But, I'll give you a taste. The people behind the comments, will,  undeservedly, not be named:

 You are a moron you make the whole gaming community look bad

hack writer, only got job cause of her partner

F*** you. You fat jewish c***.

The stars were inserted by me.

Some of the verbal abuse hurled at Hepler blamed their dislike of Mass Effect games on her, a title she did not even contribute to. All for a fast-forward button and the fact that not everybody likes the game side of games?

This gets into a whole argument about the divide between story and gameplay that really does not need to be there, and nor does it need to be in this article so I'll leave it for another time - but the fast-forward is not exactly a ground-breaking innovation.

Hepler was on the ball, however. The successful Red Dead Redemption in 2010 included an option to skip a stage of gameplay should the play fail a certain amount of times. That game was enormously popular, and nobody kicked up a fuss about the fast-forward. In fact, Rockstar remain one of the most popular developers/publishers to the hardcore gamer.

And even if it was for sensitive reasons, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and 3 included an option to skip an entire level.

Remember No Russian?

This is not just about gamers thinking they can just say whatever they like on the internet. This is yet more proof that people are out of control when it comes to social interactions over mass-space and anonymity. Yes, you can say Mother Theresa was an evil magwitch hell-bent on bringing Alduin back from Sovengard, if that's your opinion. Free speech is an important element of a free society, no questions asked. But that does not mean you can say whatever you like, thinking that just because you cannot be cuffed by police for anti-social behaviour it makes it OK to be, or border on, discriminative.

When I went to a lecturer on culture on the internet, ECU's  I was given the following questions to ponder:

I’m not any kind of expert in this area, but perhaps I could respond to this for now by asking you several questions in return.  Is it the case that there has always be hate speech? bullying? harassment of women in the workplace?  If so, then are these are simply human traits rather than particular traits made possible by the internet? Do we only appear to have a new problem due to the amplification made possible by access to particular technology? Is twitter hate mail a form of mob mentality? And if so, have we always had anonymous mobs at times or is this a new problem?

As the lecturer did imply, internet forums are not amplifying aggressive human traits but rather just making them more accessible. I don't believe that those people who, upon hearing my voice as I chat to friends in-game, would normally call me what they do were we face-to-face.  Some may, but most would understand that that's not to be done in a real-life social setting. Yet when they drop into a forum, some internet users suddenly believe that free speech entitles them to say literally anything without fear of repercussion. Even those defending Hepler were not doing themselves any favours,

Tweeting abuse @brandeshepler just makes gamers look like a bag full of dicks. Remember @alyssabereznak you dumb f***s?


And it goes on and on like some humanely faithless downward spiral.

Despite what some are crying this is a bullying issue, this is even a festering strip of misogyny that still survives. But more than that, it's an out-of-control example of the horrendous and uncivil etiquette gamers and internet-users feel is passable because they cannot be reprimanded for their actions. We can file complaints, the offenders can be banned from a website - but this is the internet, their's no shortage of topical sites to be freely contributed to via forums.

And there is nothing to be done. The discussion of video games, and for that matter the discussion of pretty much anything on the internet, will remain a dangerous and violent matter, and I do not doubt that there will be many more Heplers subject to its cruel reach.

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