[16 October 2013]
PopMatters Multimedia Editor
This is a bit embarrassing, perhaps, to admit, but I’m very taken by the implications of a scene about virtual sodomy early on in Grand Theft Auto V. In fact, I found it kind of enlightening.
In the sequence, one of GTA V‘s protagonist’s Franklin, is given the assignment of repossessing a vehicle for his boss from the home of another GTA V protagonist, the very wealthy, retired bank robber, Michael. During the scene the player, as Franklin, finds that he has to creep through Michael’s home in order to reach the garage that the vehicle is housed in. More specifically, he has to creep past the room of Michael’s son, Jimmy.
Jimmy is distracted. He is playing a bit of online multiplyer, some kind of knock off of Call of Duty. He is fragging players left and right, and on mic, all that he can talk about is rape, rape, and more rape. He thereatens rape, he claims that he isn’t gay, he declares himself a rapist, and he rapes, rapes, rapes. If you stop long enough to listen to his diatribe and peek in the doorway, the game goes so far as to show a sequence on Jimmy’s television of one soldier sodomizing the other. In other words, this all too common expression of aggression and accomplishment in online gaming, “I raped your ass,” is embedded in the faux game itself. It is a satire, of course, of the caustic and over-the-top tone of competitive multiplayer play. But is also rather chillingly links the attitude of Jimmy and players like him to the medium itself.
It’s hard to say if GTA V is suggesting that “rape talk” is encouraged by these games or if these games have come to conform to the tones and attitudes of such players, but it got me thinking about a question that I have often asked myself while playing games like League of Legends, “Why is the current crop of gamers so fascinated with sodomy?”
For some reason the way that GTA V presented an image to match the attitude alongside all of the talk made me feel like, perhaps, I finally understood the connection. Multiplayer online playgrounds often mimic the social structure of prison.
“Pwned.” That’s what it’s all about, right? Owning someone (as “pwned” is a corrupt spelling of “owned”) is the goal in online gaming. Competitive gaming is about power, hierarchy, leader boards, and all the ways of establishing a pecking order among players. In the most reductivist terms possible, online gaming is, for many it would seem, a means of making someone your bitch.
There is something primal in the attitude and its expression. This is alpha male bullshit played out virtually with boys proving their mad skillz by a show of virtual strength that precedes “ownership.” That which you can beat down and hummiliate is yours to do with as you will. Or at least that’s the feeling it provokes or maybe provides.
Sure, all sports, virtual ones and otherwise, are some kind of expression of us vs. them, showing the strength of your school, your state, your nation through a bit of physical conflict bounded by rules. Somehow, though, in the gaming world, the sense of belonging to a team, being sportsmanlike, that drawing a boundary between us and them erodes into an expression only of individual identity and prowess for many players, me vs. them. This is a space in which they feel threatened by everyone around them (note the legendarily caustic and toxic tone within randomly assigned teams in games like League of Legends and DoTA—these guys go off on their own teammates probably more often than they do the other team),, and, thus, they somehow feel a need to express their dominance and unassability to everyone “on the field.” They want to rape everyone’s asses before they get theirs raped.
At various points, I have wondered about the connection between geeks and gaming and this defensive (and then very aggressive) attitude. Geeks often are the outsiders, often are the ones that feel like it is me vs. them. They don’t go out for the team. After all, they were usually the ones that were picked last. Honestly, that’s me in a nutshell.
I’ve even said to some of my fellow League of Legends players that I think that, perhaps, some of these guys needed to “go out for the team” at some point (which despite being picked last for the team myself, I still was forced into doing by my father), that that is what they are lacking, that is why they lack sportsmanship. They have never existed in a space in which physical conflict was bounded by rules and thus they don’t know how to act in such a world.
However, League of Legends has over 3.5 million registered accounts (at least the last time I checked – it’s probably higher now). They can’t all be freaks and geeks, right? Of course, spaces in which the rules of decorum are allowed to erode or by necessity erode (like prison) do tend to get polluted by any who adopt a might-makes-right attitude. Cultures breed the values of the loud, the garrulous, the seemingly unafraid, and adopt their attitudes if that’s what it takes to survive in those spaces.
I don’t really have a solution. Really, I just have more troubled thoughts about power plays, and I feel pity for both victims and perpetrators. No one can ever feel safe in a world, again, virtual or otherwise, where they constantly feel threatened, constantly feel the need to flinch or to attack.
I don’t want to be owned, but I don’t want to own you either. There has to be a space to just play.