Concerns Of Racism In Multiplayer Video Games

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Video games are big business in part because some of them allow players to engage in warfare with other players virtually. Jeff Bakalar, who writes about video games for the online magazine CNET, says there are many instances of homophobia, racism and misogyny.


Video games are big business in part because games like "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" allow players to engage in warfare with other players elsewhere in the world, virtually. It's called online gaming. Sometimes players are on headsets talking to one another and some of what happens in that virtual theater of war caught the attention of Jeff Bakalar. He writes about video games for the Web site CNET. And he joins me now. Welcome, to the program.

Mr. JEFF BAKALAR (Reporter, CNET): Hey, Robert, thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: And we've heard about all the considerations that go into rating games, but you say part of the potential problem with gaming is what the players themselves do. What's going on?

Mr. BAKALAR: Unfortunately, the online experience is not always as benign and friendly as you might imagine. There's actually a lot of instances of homophobia, racism and misogynistic attitudes going on online. And unfortunately, it isn't as discussed as much as the actual game ratings themselves.

SIEGEL: You're not talking about what comes from the game. You're talking about what the players say as they are playing the game.

Mr. BAKALAR: Exactly, it's all about the actual online interaction of players in this virtual world.

SIEGEL: But it almost seems to me that what you're describing is an atmosphere that gives rise to, let's say the verbal equivalent of a bar fight without any physical risk. People start getting abusive and insulting in their disappointment of what's happened in the game. And on the other hand the person they're insulting could be 5,000 miles away.

Mr. BAKALAR: Exactly, I think, that's a great analogy. There's no physical consequence when you are sitting on a couch talking into a headset and the person that you could be offending or verbally assaulting could be thousands of miles away.

SIEGEL: Now, I think a lot of non-gamers right now are, they're wondering in an environment in which the game consists of killing people, it seems almost quaint to worry about what people are saying as they're killing. This would be an uncivilized environment.

Mr. BAKALAR: Yeah, I definitely think the content of the game lends itself to that sort of aggressive behavior. But you do find this sort of thing happening in sporting games and in other games where there's a heavy sort of competition. In the heat of the moment people become very passionate and unfortunately it does sort of lend itself to these sort of negative results.

SIEGEL: Well, if the problem is not so much with the video games, as you see it, as with the gamers, is there anything that the video game companies can do or are doing to try to discourage this?

Mr. BAKALAR: There are things and the most popular online Internet service, which is called Xbox Live does have an entire section of their department devoted to combat that sort of behavior online. And I was able to talk with the head of that department for Microsoft's Xbox Live and players can take action against those people who are violating their terms of service - whether it be misogynistic tones or racist what have you. There are rules in place, there are provisions that allow you to report these incidents that happened.

SIEGEL: But I'm not quite sure I follow because I'm not a gamer. If I'm playing a game and there's some player whom I only know of as a polar bear and he is spewing a racist invective at me or another player, can I call in the ref somewhere at Microsoft at that moment in real time and say - whoever this is, this polar bear shouldn't be allowed to play?

Mr. BAKALAR: You absolutely can. However, that sort of mandate will not come down until the powers that be at Xbox Live investigate the situation. So, there really is no sort of instant gratification, sort of, the ban comes down right away. It's something that the heads at Xbox will have to take into consideration after they've reviewed all elements of the incident. So, to answer your question, no there's no way to do it in real time. You can file the complaint in real time, however it won't be addressed until some hours after.

SIEGEL: Jeff, thank you, for talking to us.

Mr. BAKALAR: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: That's Jeff Bakalar, who writes about video games at the Web site, CNET.

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SIEGEL: This is NPR.

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