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Xbox Live: Society's sewer, or society's mirror?

5:11 PM on 12.04.2007 // Jim Sterling
  @JimSterling

To say that gamers don't have the greatest of reputations is putting it mildly. We're portrayed as violent-minded, introverted, disturbed malefactors and a lot of the perception is, to be fair, quite justified. The release of the Halo 3 homophobia video proved to highlight a very real problem on Xbox Live, that of classless, brainless individuals who have found a home for their hateful and bigoted opinions.

However, does the abuse, chauvanism, homophobia and racism of Xbox Live expose a problem with "gamer culture," or does it rather serve as a magnifying glass for culture at large? While many people choose to use the likes of those found on Xbox Live to mock and chastise the gaming community, how many of them are willing to turn those accusing fingers back to the sector of society that they believe they exclusively belong to?

Is Xbox Live really society's sewer, or is it rather society's mirror? Hit the jump to find the answer.

It's a fact -- if you play on Xbox Live with any degree of regularity, you will hear the term "n*gger" spouted by a number of individuals. Likewise, expect to hear "f*ggot" plenty of times as well. These aren't jokingly said, either, as the infamous xxx GayBoy xxx found out when he used that gamertag to sign into Live and found himself the subject of vitriolic hatred hidden amongst the gags. That video, and the prolonged knowledge of what happens over Live has, for a long time, served to portray gamers in a bad light, and rightfully so.

While not the most prominent online gamer, I will happily sink a few hours into Gears of War or Call of Duty 4. However, unless I'm playing with people from Destructoid, I won't go anywhere near my headset. Why? Because the people on Live are idiots. They're abusive, they have nothing worthwhile to say and when they're not talking about "qu*ers," they're throwing racial slurs at one another. Yes, it's true -- most gamers are absolutely appalling people. 

However, many would erect a fence around the problem, claim it's a defect in "gamer culture" and leave it at that. I instead propose that this is an issue that's far greater than gaming, it's just that Xbox Live happens to bring us closer to the heart of the situation than we're comfortable with.

At the end of the day, we gamers are people as well. When the Xbox 360 is switched off, most of us go out and have lives, go to work, socialize, etcetera. We do not inhabit a subterranean netherworld below the cities of the "normal people." When a gamer steps away from the keboard and the controller, he's not a part of this mythical gamer community -- he's a member of the community, period.

Turning that on its head, it's been a long-held belief that the average person who plays Halo online is the stereotypical male known as the "frat boy," the partying, drinking, pink shirt-wearing college guy -- in short, about as diametrically opposed to the hardcore gamer as you can get. These people, while imbeciles, are also people. They are people playing Xbox Live -- not gamers, regular joes with regular lives.

However, when you put the Internet in the hands of a regular person, you do an amazing thing. You give that person anonymity, and a realm where opinions can be expressed without consequence. In short, you grant diplomatic immunity to everyone, and what is the one thing that humans have proven when they're free from consequence? They let their true, sour, corrupt little selves be known.

What I'm trying to say is that the racism, homophobia and misogyny that you see on Xbox Live has never been, nor ever will be, exclusive to Xbox Live. It's just that Live is a realm without fear of reprisal, where every vile aspect of human nature can be let loose from the cage of societal moral sensibilities. In a sense, Xbox Live is one of the few places where you can see the truth about our civilisation and how far we really haven't come. 

We like to believe that racism has been stamped out, that gay people are more accepted and that sexism is a thing of the past, but it's not like that and it won't ever be. The only thing that's changed is the level of fear that people with such bigoted opinions now possess. I live in South East London and I work night shifts -- I can tell you from my own experiences that the problems we think have been all but eradicated still flourish behind closed doors and on the streets under cover of dark. I've worked and dealt with sexists, racists and homophobes for years, but the only place where such vileness is being immortalized on a large and public scale is -- you guessed it -- online haunts such as Xbox Live. Places without fear.

It is this fear that also drives society at large to pretend that these problems are exclusive to subsects of people rather than humanity as a whole. We're scared to admit that most of us haven't really evolved since the dark ages, and so it's easier to find something else to blame, someone else to look down upon, rather than accept what human beings are actually like. It's easier to call the mass murderers and serial killers of history "monsters," view them as boogiemen and freaks until we forget that, yes, these so-called monsters were human too. More than that, they were a reflection of humanity's darkest capabilities.

Just like Xbox Live -- a reflection not of gamers, but of people, and of their potential for hatred, for bigotry and for ignorance.

As gamers, there is little we can do to resolve this issue as Xbox Live is, due to it being an extension of the Internet, too large and active a place to properly tame. Rather than just sit back and complain about it, however, Destructoid encourages you to take a stand. If you don't like being reflected poorly by the miscreants and morons who infest Live, report them. Nobody likes being a snitch, but then no decent human being, rare as they may be, likes a racist either. I certainly will enjoy reporting each and every moron to Major Nelson and his banhammer-wielding cohorts from now on. Will it truly cleanse the root of the problem? Of course not, but one less bigot on Live is a good thing.

To answer the question posed at the beginning of this article, Xbox Live serves as neither society's sewer nor its mirror. It is society itself, and it's perhaps time that someone grabbed a plunger.



Jim Sterling, Former Reviews Editor
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Destructoid reviews editor, responsible for running and maintaining the cutting edge videogame critique that people ignore because all they want to see are the scores at the end. Also a regular f... more   |   staff directory



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