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August 19, 2013 | by  | in Arts Games |
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Trash Talk

For a lot of people, trash-talking is part of the fun of playing multiplayer games. Being able to shout at your friends with sometimes real, sometimes put-on rage while trying to get the edge is always a great outlet for all that pent-up adrenaline you get while playing competitively. Sometimes, it’s a matter of incoherent anger-noises, other times creative and oddly poetic insults, and others, malicious and even sort-of sickening suggestions.

Online multiplayer has the added bonus of anonymity, which can make a lot of trash-talk lose the delicious gooey light-hearted centre that can make it kind-of acceptable. Xbox Live is a renowned hive of scum, villainy and seething hatred, though this holds a little less true in my experience, at least with New Zealand users (let’s all have a pat on the back for not being online dick-bags!) In most competitive online games, though, your mother, face and skills are more likely to be insulted than if Jimmy Carr became the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket (note to self: stick to video-game references from now on). There’s still a bit of unpredictability and spur-of-the-moment-ness to Xbox Live insult-chatter because it’s spoken, and as much can’t be said for typed trash-talk.

When you type a comment, it (presumably) takes a little longer to reach the world than speech does.  There are a few more beats to think and word written trash-talk, and this is what makes it a little more unsettling—it’s not so much a sudden emotional outburst, but a bit more calculated. Of course, it’s still a direct reaction to what’s happened in-game, but the permanency and the thought that needs to go into it are the issues. It’s much, much easier to shake off spoken trash-talk than to have to read someone bitterly and hatefully berating you in a MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) like League of Legends (Riot Games, 2009) when you’re learning the ropes.

What brings me on to this topic is not crying myself to sleep over being insulted by strangers like it might sound, but a couple of court cases currently in the American media.

Last October, a Texan 19-year-old called Josh Pillault was arrested for comments he made while playing the online game RuneScape (Jagex Games Studio, 2001). Responding to a player that told him to kill himself, Pillault wrote that he would do so and “take out a local high school”. This other player made federal authorities aware of the conversation, and the teenager’s home was raided a few days later. Though Pillault has had no history of violence, crime, mental instability or even access to the materials needed for an attack, the teenager pleaded ‘guilty’ under advice in the hopes of a lighter sentence. For his online comment, Pillault has been in prison since October and is facing up to ten years further and $250,000 in fines.

Eerily similar is the case of 18-year-old Justin Carter of Ohio, who was arrested in February for comments made while playing League of Legends. In response to another player calling him “crazy”, Carter remarked he was “crazy” enough to “shoot up a school full of kids and eat their still, beating hearts”—followed by “lol” and “jk”, suggesting it was a joke. A Canadian woman saw these comments, tracked down Carter’s address through Google and contacted the police, who charged the teenager with making terrorist threats. This was of course only two months after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012, but Carter’s follow-up comments certainly suggest they were made jokingly, if in poor taste. Fortunately, an anonymous donor posted Carter’s $500,000 bail bond earlier this month, but the charge carries a potential prison term of eight years from sentencing.

The American justice system is not New Zealand’s, and it’s difficult to imagine similar cases happening on our shores and to our overly caffeinated, internet-saturated teenagers. However, it’s important to know that those looking in from the outside of gaming might not understand the context or the value of trash talk. The take-home point of these cases is watch yourself and your tongue a little more, and that the gaming community needs to remember it’s just that—a community.

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