Male-dominated spaces – or at least spaces that appear to be male dominated – rarely appeal to me. Gratuitous displays of dick-waving and quickness to anger aren’t particularly displays that I am keen on seeing on a day-to-day basis: I am far more content to get by through being civil to others and best and merely allowing people to get on with their own business at worst. Competitive video games, particularly ones with real or simulated violence – a hideously and unfortunately male dominated space – seem to bring out the worst in people: every mistake that one makes is a personal slight; every victory for another is a reason to mock and deride. While I don’t by any stretch of the imagination think that this problem is particular to DOTA or any other MOBA – the stereotype of loud homophobic, racist and sexist children on Xbox Live is based in reality to an alarming extent – there does seem to be something about the community that lends itself to a particularly unfortunate set of people being drawn to it.
The old adage of the emptiest vessels making the most noise is something that readily applies here: there is, admittedly anecdotally, a strong tendency for people displaying weaker performances in the game to pick others up for the smallest of errors in their own play. While this may be symptomatic of frustration at oneself, I cannot for the life of me fathom the thought process that makes one become vocal about their own inadequacy in a given context. To me, the only reasonable reaction to one’s own poor performance is to accept the fact that one is performing poorly, humbly apologise to your teammates for any errors that are one’s own and continue forward looking to make improvements. Such insightful commentary as “omg this [$hero_being_played]” can be expected on a good day, with “fucking noob” on a bad day. Yes, losing in a competitive context can be frustrating, but what is to be gained from laying into your teammates, who also happen to be the exact group of people who can help you turn the tide on a situation that may look difficult?
Where one is being berated for one’s own poor performance by one’s team – perhaps “deservedly”, though receipt of abuse is never “deserved” – motivation is less cloudy, though just as incongruent with the objective of winning a game. The game, as a team game, relies upon the idea of working together in order to acheive mutually-benificial objectives, just as killing an enemy hero or destroying an enemy tower or building. Spending time typing out messages to point out to someone in as cruel a manner as possible that they aren’t playing particularly well at this exact moment in time is hardly going to improve any aspect of the game experience: your own play will suffer while you engage in the sort of mental and elocutionary gymnastics described above, with no taking up of the slack by people who are playing better than those who are getting berated.
The thing that I still cannot rationalise to any extent is the use of all-chat (a method of communication that displays messages both to your own team and to the opposing team) to air one’s grievances with one’s own team: where a game is particularly one-sided, it is not uncommon to see someone say something along the lines of “finish fast, [$hero_being_played] is a noob”. Of course, in such situations where it has been made abundantly clear that one team is unlikely to win, one doesn’t have to consider the effects of this distraction on the team’s performance: the conclusion has been forgone by this point. This does, however, destroy one of the things about the game that I find so valuable: the transitory sense of camaraderie that one can feel with a group of strangers, united by a common g0al of the slaughter of high-fantasy characters using a mix of magic and brute force. While trite, this is something that playing games online should be about: utilising the experience and skills of a (at least geographically) diverse group in order to attain mutual goals. Knowing that a supposed teammate is likely to turn on you should so much as walk in the wrong direction shatters the illusion that people can be united in such a way through video games, and serves to disenchant me, at least, with the entire concepts of the game in spite of the attention to detail at every level of its design.
Of course, much of this can be avoided by only playing with “known friendlies”: people who you are certain will be constructive in any communications they have with you if you are performing below the best of your ability. This, however, undermines this point I made above – and something that forms part of the core reason I play games online at all – the experience of psuedo-anonymous engagement with people all a range of creeds and colours with a view to achieving something together. I do have friends I play games with, and I enjoy doing so, but variety and trying new ways of doing things with others is something that is rarely without virtue. To no small extent, that variety of engagement with different types of folk is what determines the dominant strategies in the DOTA metagame, and is therefore borderline necessary for effective play.
Maybe this is indicative of a wider cultural malaise: an inability to accept responsibility for one’s actions due to this generation having been so massively coddled in the wake of whichever media storm has whipped parents up into a protective frenzy; maybe this is just the fact that competition brings out the worst in people of certain disposition – a disposition that seems to be incredibly common in the video gaming community. Whatever the cause, it is incredibly unfortunate that people feel it necessary to take out their own issues one others over something so ridiculous as their performance in a video game. While motivations for playing games differ, there tends to a common thread of wishing to enjoy oneself, and perhaps even to acheive mastery. In the context of a team, uch mastery could never be achieved but for effective communication with one’s teammates: something that the DOTA community is sadly incredibly poor at.