For any of you that have experience of playing online, you will be more than aware that in amongst the hours of playing your favourite games with your friends and people from other countries, you also have to deal with idiots, bigots, cheats and perverts. And it's the last one of that list that inspired this column. Last week a friend of mine brought to my attention an article in the Australian Telegraph that reported on an incident that occurred on Playstation Network online lobby Home in which the writer of the article refers as an example of:"Online gamer's characters are being sexually assaulted by other gamers"
Strong words indeed, especially if you're the parent of a young child who plays online. According to the article the incident that took place took place when a player recounted how his female flatmate was harassed on Home. Every time she moved, the harasser's avatar would try to crouch down behind hers. To the point where she became so distressed from "the online sex attack" she stopped playing for good. The article also states how those who molest other players online could face possible charges.
Now, first and foremost, I am not condoning what the harasser in question did. And I feel sympathy for the girl it happened to. Everyone should be able to go online and not have to worry about being harassed or bullied. To liken an someone's on screen avatar hovering by the rear end of your avatar as sexual assault is verging on the ridiculous. Ultimately she did what most people would do, and switched the console off. A slight inconvenience? Certainly. An annoyance? certainly. Sexual assault? Hardly.
Because, even if you accept the term of online sexual assault between one person's game character and another, then surely it would be something that's in the game itself. I mean if someone shoots your friend through the back of the head in Call Of Duty, you suddenly report the person who did it for murder do you? And last time I checked there's no way to make contact with another person's avatar on Home. So unless you're playing one of those incredibly unsavoury hentai games (the kind Keith Vaz seems to think are available on every super market shelf in this country) then there really no way of sexually assaulting another players character online.
Now, that's not to say sexual harassment can't and doesn't happen. Although it can't be done in the game world , paedophiles were using Second Life to talk to and groom young children. And anyone who's played with voice chat on will know of the inevitable results when a female speaks. And that's when it isn't a barrage of racism, homophobia and just general ignorance. And if someone is going online purely to bully or harass people then they should be reported and punished accordingly. It's fair to say following the online activities of a minor and trying to groom them is a leap away from thinking it's funny by making it look like your game character is almost committing a sex act. I mean, most detractors of video games tend to say that people who have been playing for some time find it hard to distinguish the difference between the game world and the real one. Yet when a journalist wants to whip up a gaming based scare story, then the argument is reversed and that's fine and dandy. Bare in mind the article that is warning Australia about "online sex attacks" even states:"no cases of online rape have been reported to police"
So the girl it happened to doesn't feel she was sexually assaulted and neither does her flatmate that witnessed it think so. Or they would've reported it to someone at Sony at the very least don't you think?
On online social interaction based games like Home, World Of Warcraft or Second Life the people playing are going to reflect the society they come from. So just like you would in any real life situation, you're going to meet good people, bad people, people you'll become friends with, people who will hate you guts for no reason, people who will try to rip you off , creeps and a general scum bags. But at least in the game world you can switch off those you don't want to be around. And that's my ultimate point. Yes, you put many hours of your time into playing a game. And you do invest emotionally in what you do. More so if you've created the in-game character you use. And if something happens that you'd rather didn't happen (or shouldn't happen as far as you're concerned) it can be a disheartening, if not downright anger inducing. But it is just a game. That's all it is. And you always turn it off. And on the other end of the scale, just because you are playing a game online doesn't give you free reign to suddenly turn the online chat function into a "who can be the most offensive" contest or stalk every female you see. We're all online to play games, and we all have the right to play without being verbally abused and harassed