It Takes A Village Idiot

There has been a lot of discussion lately on sexism, bigotry, harassment, and masochistic behavior by players of online games.


Here are my thoughts:

With online games, we have created an artificial ecosystem system, designed by good intentioned people that never stopped to think about the social and psychological ramifications of creating such a system. Then we made it available to all ages and all types of people and we expect all those players will behave like we would and just want to play a good game.

But what happens when you close a group of people off into an artificial environment without boundaries, nets, responsibilities, or repercussions for what would otherwise be considered negative actions?

  • Stanford Prison Experiment
  • Abu Ghraib Prison

We’ve created an environment that I equate to the “Wild West” meets “Lord of the Flies” and opened it to the entire world.

That’s not to say that I think “all people growing up without outside direction (whether they use online games or not) will end up feral and without empathy”. On the contrary, I think it is also human nature to have empathy for others. The question instead is one of what is socially acceptable behavior.

Adolescents are being taught social cues and personal responsibilities in a closed off society made up of anyone that wants to participate in that society, from good kids to convicts on house arrest. The most socially responsible among us don’t have the same time to invest in these online spaces (a side effect of being socially responsible).

We know that, “It Takes A Village” to raise a child, but what happens when a child puts on a set of headphones and plays an online game for a few hours a day, every day through the very influential and important stages of adolescence? Who are the members of that village and what are the values they are projecting.

As for the vocal members of that village, it should not be surprising that they engage in the very same type of group think that adults do when placed in similar situations, exhibiting “pressures toward uniformity, close-mindedness, and overestimation of the group in its power and morality”

Irving Janis listed the following causes for group think. How many do you count that apply toward online games?

  1. High group cohesiveness
  2. Structural faults:
    • insulation of the group
    • lack of impartial leadership
    • lack of norms requiring methodological procedures
    • homogeneity of members’ social backgrounds and ideology
  3. Situational context:
  • highly stressful external threats
  • recent failures
  • excessive difficulties on the decision-making task
  • moral dilemmas

Combine the human drive for self preservation with ignorance and you’ll see our shared history has been one of clan-based racism, sexism, violence and dominance by those perceived most powerful in the group. It is only in our recent history that society as a whole has worked toward human equality on all levels.

It can be easy to forget in our sheltered corner of the Vermont of 2012 that only 60 years ago, segregation was the norm. In February it will be only 100 years since women had the right to vote in America. There are still large segments of the world that hold many of the values we report as “bad online behavior”.

I find this topic interesting, but I don’t think we should over estimate the role of Tomb Raider or other poorly designed characters. As has been discussed, the portrayal of women by game developers in many of these games has been deplorable of an industry that would like to be seen as cultured, however I just don’t believe it is the root cause of the types of negative behavior.

We’re dealing with a much more fundamental problem that goes right alongside over worked parents, an education system that’s focused on getting the right or wrong answer on a standardized exam, and a trend toward replacing real human contact with a would-be online social equivalent.

I personally like the technology fixes discussed in this video as a starting point.

It might not address all the causes, but it might help to start to fix a system we created and let loose on society.

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