Paging Dr. Schadenfreude

“Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe.” — Frank Zappa

My favorite blog lately? Why Was I Banned?, a hilarious compilation of screengrabs from the “Account Suspensions and Bans” forum at Xbox.com. It’s a concept ripe for Tumblrization: Cull the official forums for the most pathetic complaints by the most egregious offenders, and cheer as Xbox moderators bring down that banhammer once again. The site is a refreshingly transparent look at people getting justly rebuked for their bad behavior. And after my experiences in random matches, it's entirely welcome.

Here's the thing: The game that put me off playing with pubbies on Xbox Live wasn’t GTA IV, Modern Warfare 2 or Halo: Reach. It wasn’t an M-rated military shooter or an open-world crime drama. It was Ghostbusters: The Video Game.

One multiplayer mode in Ghostbusters has you and three fellow ‘Busters working together to trap ghosts for fun and profit. Ghosts of various types will spawn around the map, and your team earns cash and experience points for each successful capture. Figuring coordinating with my teammates would be polite, I busted out my little-used headset.

I wish I hadn’t. (Be warned: Bigoted and graphic language ahead.)

Thanks to two particularly uninhibited proto-humans on my team, the first ten minutes of the match were devoted to the relentless badgering of the fourth player—a soft-voiced child who’d had the temerity to admit to being nine years old. “The f*** are you doing on here, little f****t?” they cajoled. “Shouldn’t you be sucking on your momma’s t**?” This, between exhortations to chase down pudgy floating ghosts, or “those fat little n*****s.”

Hope the kid knew how to use the mute function. I didn’t.

I don’t know that I was particularly shocked by the mindless cruelty I was hearing. This was, after all, a public match on Xbox Live—a service not known for its erudite, respectful clientele. Revolting and dismaying as they are, rampant racism, sexism, and homophobia are all par for the course in any given random match. Still, when my genteel request that my teammates “tone it down” netted me three separate private voice messages informing me I was a “p***y,” “f****t,” and/or “f***ing c***,” that was that. I was done with pubbies forever.

I “reported” the jerks, of course, but thanks to the inscrutability of Live’s feedback feature, I had no idea if my comments made the slightest impact. I can’t imagine I was the first to complain about these guys. For all I knew, they’d be able to keep spewing their noxious crap indefinitely. Generally, I’m not the vindictive type. But something in me really, really wanted to see these idiots get taken down. Hard.

And that's why I'm glad Why Was I Banned? exists. The thread about the blog here on the site (thanks, lostlobster!) collects some of the choicest morsels. Modders confused by how their green-skinned avatars and profiles advertising custom lobbies could’ve possibly warranted lifetime bans. A videogame savant baffled by his gamerscore being reset after he unlocked 1,764 achievements in one day. One particularly morbid player who didn’t understand why a profile talking about “painting a house with baby blood” merited a suspension.

The moderators, for their part, are endlessly entertaining in the matter-of-fact tone they often adopt in their responses to these glaring violations of policy and sense. Consider the entry that inspired Why Was I Banned?: the poor parent who inquired about his child’s ban only to receive a one-line response—“Your son was exposing himself on camera in Uno.” In Uno. Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.

Then there’s Why Was I Banned’s spiritual sister, Fat, Ugly or Slutty?, whose title neatly captures the three categories females daring to reveal their gender on Xbox Live can expect random creepsters to dump them into. (You know, because women who game are obviously at least one of those things.) In case you thought unprovoked misogyny and sexual harassment of all stripes might finally be dying out in this new century of gaming, Fat, Ugly or Slutty? provides a sobering (and, thankfully, often funny) counterpoint. Be aware, though—the stuff on that blog isn’t just NSFW, it’s also a psycho-sexual Pandora’s Box you might regret opening.

The only thing sadder than the fact that sites like Why Was I Banned? or Fat, Ugly or Slutty? need to exist—and yes, they very much do need to exist, especially the latter site—is the fact that they have such a surplus of material to work with. Although the sites’ authors are handy with a bon mot, they could really just post screenshots without comment and still be just as effective. The powerful thing about these blogs is the way they satirize the darker aspects of online gaming by simply holding up a mirror to it. The stupidity speaks for itself. Too often, game content already does enough damage to our reputation as upstanding citizens. We don't need idiotic player behavior reinforcing that stereotype. And reading these entries feels in some way like fighting back on behalf of decent gamers everywhere.

Satire always has an argument at its core. I think the argument here is pretty clear: Act like a jerk, and you deserve the humiliation that’s coming to you. In this era of bailouts and bonuses for Wall Street miscreants, I can understand the appeal. Unlike a credit default swap, it’s easy to understand why an abusive comment in a multiplayer match is a bad thing. And unlike the TARP legislation, there’s no need for debate about the proper response to the problems created by cheaters, scammers, and hateful players on Xbox Live. If you break the rules, you have to pay the price. Simple as that.

Yet something still bothers me about the act of enjoying someone else’s humiliation or pain, as deserved as it might be. As I chuckle at the latest screencap of some loser justifying his clearly racist gamertag or sending an uninvited come-on to a female avatar, I feel a tinge of guilt. I don’t want to be laughing at someone else getting punished. I want them to not do the things that merit the punishment in the first place. I want for there to be no need for these blogs to exist. And maybe that’s the real imperative behind the satire in these sites: Please, players, behave so well that you put us out of business.

Comments

Great article. I couldn't agree more with the final paragraph.

Great article, really enjoyed it.

I feel a tinge of guilt. I don’t want to be laughing at someone else getting punished. I want them to not do the things that merit the punishment in the first place.

That is exactly how I feel.

I can't really say much else except "+1"

As an aside, I recall one instance (of very few) in which I was playing GTA IV online. I was surprisingly engaged in a relatively deep conversation about what it means to be a Blood or a Crip, with a black gentleman from Canada who himself claimed to be a Blood. While others in the game kept on with the "f****ts" and the "n****rs", he and I were discussing the significance of aligning one's self with a gang known for violence and brutality in Southern California, especially when one was living so far north of his gang's origin.

That conversation almost redeemed the regular garbage that my XBL headset spews into my ear when not on mute. Almost.

Beautiful article. And it's great that the GWJ Community exists so that we generally don't have to deal with pubbies if we don't want to.

Well done, indeed.

The most depressing part of those blogs for me are the comments that try to justify the original.

There may have been a time when I felt guilty about laughing at the jerks. That time is long gone as time has blackened my cold, dead heart. I would prefer that these people didn't exist, or would learn normal standards of human behaviour, but I feel no guilt or shame for laughing at their humiliation.

I almost wonder if the behavior and the shock when the behavior is addressed in "Why Was I Banned" is a symptom of the perceived (by my wife and I at least) sense of entitlement that we see in the younger generations.

Nevin73 wrote:

I almost wonder if the behavior and the shock when the behavior is addressed in "Why Was I Banned" is a symptom of the perceived (by my wife and I at least) sense of entitlement that we see in the younger generations.

I enjoy complaining about "kids these days" at least as much as the next person, but you needn't step into "younger generations" to experience privilege.

Wow. Amazing article. I am breaking my own rule of trying to keep out of online discussions about FUoS because this was just fantastic. I had to register to tell you how great this was.

I haven't seen anyone make the connection that you did in your final few sentences. I've long known that it's the ultimate irony of running the site; we tell everyone to report bad behaviour with the hopes it will curb some of it, when this actually would eventually put us out of business.

I've seen traffic come to FUoS on GWJ before and really enjoyed reading the articles/comments surrounding it. Great group of people here, thanks so much for taking an interest.

Despite having superior bandwidth and good latency from my ISP, I've never been able to make out a single word said by anyone on the Xbox live voice feed. I regard this as a good thing, since every time I've tried it's been clear from timbre and cadence that it is nothing but a continuous stream of lizard-brain profanity.

My working assumption is that people in general are not that awful. Rather - no one but jerks, or people who can stand jerks, play any game publicly. This is for my sanity - I have to assume that the speakers on xbox live are a small subset of the world around me.

So, I've never played any networked game on the Xbox for more than about 10 minutes. I realize that in principle I could add "friends". I have no friends who own Xboxen.

The thing that's clear to me is that there is a need for Xbox Live and other systems to allow interfacing with social networks at some level other than individual friends. Steam groups are a good start, but even these are poor substitutes. What SHOULD happen is that when I join GWJ, I am automatically signed up for general GWJ groups on all major multiplayer systems, with our own custom laws for muting, demoting, promoting, and banning people. I think insufficient thought has been given to this in contexts outside of specific games (like WoW).

Thanks for the article and links!

As I've mentioned before, my by-far worst-ever online experience was a public match in Snoopy Flying Ace, where somebody simply screamed obscenities into the mic the entire time and was shouting on an address, saying everybody should come over so he could kick their a$$.

I had a really good experience playing with pubbies with the first Left 4 Dead and a not quite-as-good experience with the second, but I'd say by and large that's because it's a cooperation-based game first, and you're going to attract a theoretically better crowd.

I've had generally better experiences with World of Warcraft, largely since there isn't a voice chat option, but I can't imagine how much crap gets stopped before their filters pick it up.

GREAT article. We did some articles and a podcast specifically in reference to this poor behavior and discussing fatuglyorslutty. It's an absolutely ridiculous trend; I'm not sure of any good way to stop it (we like the idea of RealID, but one of our female writers pointed out she would be uncomfortable with it) other than to report it and to speak up (like you did.) Cheers. GiffTor/Justin Gifford @ horriblenight.com

Tanglebones wrote:

I've had generally better experiences with World of Warcraft, largely since there isn't a voice chat option, but I can't imagine how much crap gets stopped before their filters pick it up.

It has usually been a good experience, but I have had a time or two when I've had to just step away for a while because of a conversation or two that just turned my stomach and made me want to throw up. But Blizzard, for their part, is fairly good about logging everything, and they don't have a problem looking at the logs and throwing temp bans around if people are being reported for abuse, filter or no.

I also usually turn off trade chat. It's not worth listening to, and over 90% of the trolling and random abuse happens in there anyway.

Great post. Sites like WWIB and FUoS have made it possible for me to avoid the lure of buying a game system with online play...excluding my pc and steam. For me it's because the primary user of any game system in this house is 8 years old. The games that I'm ok with him playing are available on the Wii or Steam, or a couple of kids web-based games like Free Realms, where voice chat isn't possible, and even text chat is restricted by age.

See, I know the kid is going to come into contact with 4chan type language/l33tsp34k/racist/homophobic/neolithic nitwits...but I'd like to put it off as long as possible.

SpacePPoliceman wrote:

The most depressing part of those blogs for me are the comments that try to justify the original.

This.

I think the people who are banned generally had it coming to them, but the sheer outrage in their posts (even the typing looks angry), the sense of of being unfairly victimized by the cruel overlords at Microsoft - apparently a nasty collection of faceless monsters who don't want anyone to have any fun - is what I find most interesting/depressing.

I know no one generally reads the ToS before they agree to it - I don't either - and I understand that people tend to act stupidly in groups, especially if they feel they are anonymous, but for all the people who have brains enough to mod their profiles and unlock achievements they didn't earn, how can they not understand that their actions can be traced back to them?

Doesn't doing all that illegal stuff take some know-how and a moderate amount of intelligence?

Thanks for the kind comments, all.

gtz wrote:

I haven't seen anyone make the connection that you did in your final few sentences. I've long known that it's the ultimate irony of running the site; we tell everyone to report bad behaviour with the hopes it will curb some of it, when this actually would eventually put us out of business. ;)

I'm sure we both long for the day when your site is no longer necessary. I can only imagine the backlog of submissions you must have stored up. It's impossible, I know, but it'd be fascinating if there were some way to break down the nasty comments you feature by age and location of commenter. Might make for an interesting, if potentially disturbing, demographic study.

gtz wrote:

I've seen traffic come to FUoS on GWJ before and really enjoyed reading the articles/comments surrounding it. Great group of people here, thanks so much for taking an interest. :)

I think you'll find it's a wonderful community here. Welcome!

Mimble wrote:
SpacePPoliceman wrote:

The most depressing part of those blogs for me are the comments that try to justify the original.

I think the people who are banned generally had it coming to them, but the sheer outrage in their posts (even the typing looks angry), the sense of of being unfairly victimized by the cruel overlords at Microsoft - apparently a nasty collection of faceless monsters who don't want anyone to have any fun - is what I find most interesting/depressing.

It is remarkable, isn't it, the hubris of people who will defend their right to be massive jerks to the bitter end? One wonders how much better our lot would be were they to shunt that righteous fury into, say, volunteer work.

Nathaniel wrote:

I have to assume that the speakers on xbox live are a small subset of the world around me.

Agreed. And I think it's important to remember—although in no sense does this excuse the behavior—that the vast majority of these people would never dream of saying the kinds of things they say online face-to-face. In their indignant responses, I think you can read that false bravado so common to the Internet Tough Guy. But I'll let people better qualified than I explore the dangerous reaches of their psychology.

I'm fine with laughing at them.

Fantastic post. I tend to stay away from the lands of pub matches unless I have some friends to take with me for these very reasons. I agree with many of the comments above that your summary paragraph is great and should be taken to heart by a lot of people. It's far too easy for people to hide behind the anonymity of the internet and it's time people started taking responsibility for themselves.

Since I've started exclusively playing games with people I know at least marginally online, I've done a lot of thinking about the difference between playing with randoms and playing with friends. A lot of times, I'm as foul-mouthed as anyone you'll meet on the internet - obviously I don't go in for racism, misogyny or homophobia, but if you took one of those clicker-counters and ticked it every time I used a profanity you would get up to the hundreds in a single game easily.

The thing is, I think the context of playing with people you know changes the whole experience enough that the meaning of what you say is completely different. It applies to everything about the game, too, not just communication - going into StarCraft 2 and losing to people I've never met is completely unappealing to me, because with them being faceless opponents the entire focus for the loss is me looking at what I did wrong almost as if it were a single-player game. If I play against someone I know, then it feels like a proper contest with two people in it, in which either one might win or lose.

So that's why I like having my friends swear at me, but hate it so much when it's just some kid in a first person shooter lashing out at anyone around. It's all about context.

Oddly enough, the negative reputation these players have given to Xbox Live has created a bit of a self-perpetuating cycle. I've generally avoided multiplayer games, but I've lately been interested in exploring that aspect of gaming. However, the unpredictable nature of my schedule, and the late hour I play at, means that more than likely I'll have to play with random players, and I've refused to do it. I'm a decent person who won't spout filth over the mic, but Xbox Live has such a reputation for poor player behavior and absent moderation that I've elected to not make myself a part of it. If comments I've seen here are any indication, there are other decent people who could improve the tenor of Live but have been scared off by Live's reputation and/or bad experiences with other players in the past.

Great article, and thanks for bringing the blog to my attention. I wonder whether there's a GWJ banning equivalant? I think not...

duckideva wrote:

See, I know the kid is going to come into contact with 4chan type language/l33tsp34k/racist/homophobic/neolithic nitwits...but I'd like to put it off as long as possible.

I still think 13375p34k is kinda fun.

On another note - Clemenstation asked me the other day if I ever received messages/harassment, as I have a girlie name (I think he called it a bitch name, because he is cruel, and then he made fun of my mother. He then sent me a picture of himself playing Uno in the buff).

Oddly(luckily!) - I have not received one sexual message ever, except to be offered to get me to 5th prestige. Prior to this question, it had never really crossed my mind that I might get harassed by internet slobs because of my name, and it really made me more conscious of what the ladies have to deal with.

Sorry girls, I wish this was something you didn't have to deal with.

SallyNasty wrote:

He then sent me a picture of himself playing Uno in the buff

OMG YOU TOO?

SallyNasty wrote:

I have not received one sexual message ever

What about Neil? our beautiful Fable 3 baby...

All kidding aside, I have 2 daughters, and I am dreading the day they 'go live'.

I was on the Gears 3 Beta the other night, stuck between Goodjer friendly timezones, and there was a bunch of pubbies I joined.

Being GMT +8, I get East Coast Australian's up late, and the Asia Pacific region.

There was a group of 'fellow' Aussies set up as a rough team, and then there was me, a couple of guys speaking what sounded like an Asian dialect, and two other randoms playing without mics making up the numbers on the other.

We started to Gel as a unit, and pretty soon, we started owning the other guys. Within seconds of our first round victory it began.

"Are yous f*cking c*nts f*cking Chinese"?, "Ahhhh so", "Can I order a number 69"? plus other stupid Chinese flavoured jibbering.

I have never fault more ashamed of sharing dirt with people than I did right then. The two guys on Mics pretty much left straight away, which was met with "f*ck off you yellow b*stards", then me and the other two guys left, but not before identifying the offensive players, and sending negative feedback.

That's the worst I've had it so far, but I imagine once the floodgates are open come release, I won't be anywhere near that space without a crew of people I know.

The only good online gaming I've found has been boosting sessions on True Achievements and times I've hooked up with this community online.

I admit I sometimes put on fake accents and pretend to be a religious redneck when I play online, but refrain from using anything that would sound like hate speech. It makes zombie killing a bit more entertaining.

The impression I get from game forums in general is that the gamer population is significantly trending towards being as misogynistic and racist as XboxLive suggests. This is why I will never play a game with random strangers on any platform ever again.

My satisfaction in hearing bans of such gamers isn't driven by revenge, but by a hope that the service will eventually become clean enough to play. I hold no grudge against the racist and the misogynistic in the gamer space, but I'd really rather not have to play with them, so any and all actions that restrict their online activities is good news to me, as growing trend of such heralds the day when public gaming will finally be a good thing.

So Ghostbusters, something we all grew up with, can't even be enjoyed by a 9 year old kid?

That's depressing. You'd think if you avoided the major games then things would be better. Hell, I remember when Shadowrun first hit shelves. There was a lot of cool people to talk to then. But man, even a game like Ghostbusters?

That's messed up man.

I gotta wonder who let their 9 year old kid play on XBox Live.

I'm sorry, but the INITIAL reaction was how I might react. I'd definitely be sitting there wondering why I'm playing with a nine year old. I used to play an MMO and one of the guys in our guild had all his children in the guild... It was... I dunno. I found it just mildly uncomfortable. Maybe it's a bit too "dudebro", but things like my guild I'd like to think as sorta like the local club or something like that. It'd be kinda f*cking off-putting if I sat down to play some poker, eat some pizza and drink a few beers when a seven year pulled up a chair.

I don't actually have an Xbox, but technically, aren't you supposed to be 13 in the EULA or some sh*t for Live?