I have spent a lot of time on Xbox Live recently. My entire weekend was dedicated to maximising the double XP that was on offer for Black Ops 2. I spent the weekend playing in blissful silence aside from the the sound of explosions and gunfire, of course. I had changed my privacy settings when I first joined Xbox Live so that only players in my friends list could message me or chat to me in a game, all other players were muted.
Because most of my Live friends were playing other games, I thought that it might be interesting to unmute my games for the duration of the double XP weekend. But I thought better of it and left well enough alone. I felt that my decision was vindicated when I had a brief look at the calling cards of a few of the players in the lobby. Given the number of skull, gun, penis and vagina murals on offer, I didn’t think that I was missing out on any witty banter in the game. But regardless of my limited exposure to the underbelly of Xbox Live, nothing that I experienced could come close to the quality of work of these recently banned League of Legends players
On one level I can understand how people might feel protected and insulated by the relative anonymity offered by in-game chat. I can even identify with the some of the things said in the heat of the moment. I recall a recent game of Team Deathmatch in Black Ops 2, where my nemesis was basically serving me up on a silver platter. Each time I was killed the most descriptive expletives flowed from my mouth. When I finally managed a kill, my expletives were even more forceful and it did not really matter to me that he/she could not hear a word of it.
On the other hand there is a sub-species of gamer who seems to think that abuse of any kind is part and parcel of the video game experience. Added to this is the imperative to ensure that the abuse consists of the most vile, racist and sexist content that you have ever heard. Some of my friends find it quite entertaining to speak and swear in Afrikaans when playing against their mostly English speaking opponents from the United States and the United Kingdom. In this way dealing with trolls becomes a game within the game but it is not a sport that I am inclined to join.
As ever Tycho over at Penny-Arcade has hit the nail on the head with his analysis. You really can’t control the things that people say online but you can provide the tools to mute them. The last thing that any game developer would want is for their game lobbies to become a soap box for any kind of verbal abuse. Regardless of how many times someone is kicked or banned from a server, there are ways and means for them to worm themselves back online in another guise. A robust set of tools to mute players and to report abusive behaviour goes a long way to improving your online gaming experience.
My time on Xbox Live has been great since I applied the strict privacy settings. I do not have to worry about weird text messages and voicemails from some aggrieved player who feels that my choice of weapon and/or score streak, deeply offended them. I also don’t have to be subjected to some teen-aged potty mouth speculating about my ancestry each time I shoot him in the face, for some reason it always seemed to be a ‘he’.
My Xbox Live games are a lot quieter and involves a lot less chat, unless I am in a party. But I would really prefer to be able to play a game undisturbed, rather than to have to put up with a troll on a mission. With my global mute enabled, I really couldn’t care less what they mutter into their mics. It is difficult enough trying to police anti-social behaviour in the real world and nigh impossible to do it in the virtual one. Power up your mute button and let the trolls be damned.