[Content warning: This post contains slurs of all sorts quoted from a match of Call of Duty that I played. They are shocking and awful.]
I start hearing him in my first match of the evening. I’m playing Ghosts, I get the last kill, and before the lobby everyone watches the killcam. I blow him up. He calls me “a camping little nerd.”
He’s on my team this time, and he’s talking constantly. He’s dying a lot and you can tell that it is getting to him in a way that doesn’t make any sense to me. I start laughing a little because it is just so on-face ridiculous to me that anyone would get that worked up. He says things like “camping fuckers” and “they’re walking right through my guns.”
“Apparently you can shoot through the ground now!”
“I can shoot them in the head [garbled] right up out of nowhere and kill me!”
I’m doing my best to ignore him because I’m doing pretty well and my only option is to pause for a few seconds and mute him. That’s precious time that I don’t think I have. I end up regretting it.
As soon as he starting talking I had him pegged. There’s a kind of played, especially in the Call of Duty, who will have a bad game and constantly push it off. The other players, the game itself, “hacks,” the designers of the game. The world outside of this kind of player is an abuse sponge that only exists as something to be blamed for perceived flaws. I dip into this sometimes, especially in the heat of a match, but it always stays in my head. Generally, though, I’m on the other end of the spectrum. If I’m not good at a game, I’m quick to blame myself and assume that it is a problem with me. Videogames are psychoanalysis machines.
He is talking nonstop about how bad the game is and how bad the other team is and how bad his weapon is and then there’s a five second lull. Then he says “goddamn crouching nigger.”
Then there’s a longer pause. He’s the only person in voice chat. No one else on the team has spoken this entire time. Everyone keeps playing. No one shouts at him or says he’s wrong or comments on it. And the pause holds.
There’s five minutes left in the match and he starts spewing some of the most horrible invective I have heard in a game. He’s doing worse than before and our team is behind. He blames the “faggots” on the other team. When he finally gets a kill his tone flips to the victorious lilt. He calls them bitches. He says he’s fucking these bitches.
And no one says anything and the match ends and I turn the game off immediately, sit quietly, try to decompress from the activity that is created to help me decompress.
Should I have quickly stood up, run to a drawer, found a microphone, plugged it in, and said something? Would that effort have been worth the effort? Most likely yes, if only for the fact that there were six other people on the team who might have appreciated or needed it. It is a specific kind of moral failing on my part.
The chain of events feels so familiar–the slow buildup, the slur, the realization that there’s no accountability for the slur, and then the escalation beyond that. It’s a pattern of so much “gamer culture” and the verbal violence that runs through its veins.
This one match is a crystallization of so many things for me: there’s a desire to blame a nebulous Other for a problem. The problem doesn’t go away. The problem becomes a cipher for violently exorcising every thought and feeling that one has. It allows the person to both have extreme catharsis and, paradoxically, to double down.
This match feels like a tiny map of videogame culture.
[Also please read “Bow Nigger.” You’ll know why.]
Interesting, it reminds me of an account of a soldier in the Bosnian war who spent the majority of his time on the frontline trenches of the besieged Goražde listening to personal insults being flung back and forth between the very close sides, in that space the psychological offesnsive almost becomes as important a tactic as maintaining the physical objective.
The way this transplants into videogame culture is competitive violent games like Ghosts are so often zero sum games. Desperation turns to hardening and aggression in a play of total domination, that is the only outcome acceptable in the game. Restraint is a privilege of those in a more comforabtle position of power (in game lets say skill) and as they say if you are fighting by the rules, you are not fighting to win. Trenches dug.