There's no denying that the online multiplayer experience is a major selling point for video games like the just-released Modern Warfare 2. The ability to play with (and against) other players from around the world adds an expanded dimension and a social component that single-player titles lack.
But while the bulk of the mainstream media criticism of these games tends to focus on the violence, gore, and questionable ethics in such combat-centric titles, little is spoken about a growing issue that can affect online gamers playing any title: instances of racism, misogyny, and homophobia (see below for a Current TV video on the latter subject).
Increasingly sophisticated gaming networks such as Microsoft's Xbox Live and Sony's PlayStation Network allow players to communicate with one another before, during, and after gaming sessions via text and voice. Having participated in online gaming for more than a decade, I've heard every last profane muttering and expletive known to man.
But when my attention to online gaming shifted from the PC to the home console, I began to notice a comparatively more hostile environment. For whatever reason, this hostility usually came in the form of racial insensitivity and homophobic behavior.
Fast-forward to the current generation of games, and hearing racial epithets like the "n word" or homophobic slang like the "f word" shouted online is more commonplace than you might want to believe. Meanwhile, women who play in the male-dominated world of online gaming sometimes find themselves the victims of sexually suggestive comments and gender-based taunting.
While this type of behavior and language is actively discouraged in polite society, that mindset is totally disregarded by some in the online gaming world. Odds are that if you play enough online, you'll experience it firsthand.
A quick survey in the CNET office of gamers who play online using voicechat told us that all had had at least one negative experience. And unfortunately, it only takes a single unpleasant match online to really slam you back down to reality.
Perhaps the cloak of anonymity that playing a video game online provides increases the prevalence of these instances. Or maybe the brutal reality is that social issues like racism are more of a problem than we'd like to admit. The fact remains that there are some seriously deranged and troubled people out there, and they are speaking into my headset. … Read more