Online gaming experiences turn racial

Ron Rokhy

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Rag head. Bomb maker. Camel jockey.

These are just some of the racial slurs online gamers use to provoke each other.

“It goes back to the beginnings of man,” said CSUN anthropology professor Christina Campbell. “As long as there’s been people interacting with each other who look different, there’s been xenophobia. As populations have gotten larger, there’s been more opportunities for racism.”

Now, people are anonymously spreading intolerant views through the Internet – especially in the online gaming world.

Xbox Live, the most popular online gaming community, is 35 million users strong and some players experience extreme racism.

THE GAMER

Some gamers, like Will Lane, said the ability of gamers to hide their identities with fabricated usernames makes it easier to get away with racist remarks.

“Xbox Live gives racist people an avenue to lash out, it gives them the opportunity to say things they wouldn’t in real life,” said Lane, an avid 26-year-old gamer who frequently experiences racism over the $50-a-year service. “I think being a racist online is cowardly. It’s like standing behind an unclimbable fence and throwing rocks at people.”

Lane said he experiences the most racism over “Halo: Reach,” where people are quick to yell slurs at him. He said the best way to combat this is to  ignore them or use Microsoft’s complaint system.

“I’ve been called everything over ‘Halo: Reach,’” Lane said. “The ‘n-word,’ ‘blackie,’ ‘c**n,’ ‘colored guy’ – everything. It’s a shame, though, because this takes away from the fun aspect of gaming. Now, I rarely communicate with other players, I either ignore them or report them.”

Stan Charnofsky, CSUN educational psychology and counseling professor, said the main reasons why people are prone to act or speak racially over the Internet are anonymity and past traumas, which cause them to stereotype.

“If you do it anonymously, no one can get back at you,” Charnofsky said. “It shows how biased and treacherous people can be, and it’s sad to see.”

“It takes a wounded personality to do this kind of thing, all it takes is one traumatic event and people start to generalize.”

THE RULES

The complaint system allows players to file grievances on others. If a user accumulates numerous grievances on their record, they get warned. If the behaviour continues, they’re suspended.

Severe racial remarks will result in a permanent ban, according to Xbox Live’s code of conduct.

But because Lane has never seen a repeated offender get into trouble, he doesn’t have much faith in the system.

“I usually encourage people to use the complaint system, but it rarely works,” he said. “I’ve never seen anyone suspended. If Microsoft was serious, and it really seems like they don’t care, they’d allow users to forward messages to moderators for review.”

THE EXPERIMENT

More than half of 14 to 24-year-olds said they experienced some form of digital abuse, according to a recent study by the Associated Press and MTV.

So, to find out just how loosely Xbox Live enforces its rules, the Daily Sundial conducted an experiment.

An Xbox Live account was created, under the name “MiddleEastMan34,” and Gears of War 3 was played for 30 minutes without any communication with other players.

After the matches ended, the account’s inbox was flooded with mail. Most of them were short, generic quips such as “you suck” or “go back where you came from,” but three players took it up a notch:
“No one can makes bombs like you,” one player said.

“Lol……get a life……better yet, get a job, raghead,” was sent the following day by a different gamer.

Lastly, another player sent a hate-filled voice message too vulgar to print.

After reporting them to no avail, Microsoft was contacted. They had no comment as to why people reported for severe verbal abuse were not reprimanded as per the company’s code of conduct.

Xbox vs PC games

Steam is a PC-based engine with 30 million users, and, according to its terms of use, accounts may be immediately terminated for not only harassing other users, but also for cheating and sharing accounts.

Games are routinely patrolled by moderators and automated machines, neither of which are featured in Xbox Live.

Ryan Cowan, 18, a CSUN electrical engineering major and an ardent PC gamer, said he rarely experiences racist remarks over online PC games.

“I get the occasional ‘n*****’ here and there,” he said, being African-American himself. “But it’s rarely directed at me. Sometimes people will go off on random tangents hating on black people, but it’s never directed at one person, it’s just put out there.

“Sometimes I wonder to myself ‘Where did that come from?’ But overall, I don’t encounter it much and generally feel comfortable playing,” he added.