A Short note on DOTA 2 and online culture

I played a game of DOTA 2 last night where one of my teammates had named himself (I’m going to go ahead and assume it was a he) “WHORE,” all caps included, and another called us all “faggets” as soon as he loaded onto the map.

This isn’t okay.

Now, if you’ve come upon this with little knowledge about how people communicate in online video games you might think that’s a fairly obvious statement. Since my decision to resurrect my interest in DOTA 2 a couple of weeks ago, I have yet to go two online games in a row without reporting a player. This has usually been for use of offensive language (typically gendered slurs or effusive use of “retard”). I cannot say I have much confidence anything will really happen. It’s a disgrace. How does someone create a username “WHORE”? How is that okay?

If I come online and write a blog post complaining every time I have an unpleasant experience playing DOTA 2, things will get ridiculous in a hurry, but it continues to concern me that nobody seems all that bothered. Video games are not the only area with this problem; Google’s ongoing refusal to even attempt to address its poisonous YouTube community is pathetic. However, only in video games is it apparently gripped on to tightly as part of online culture. I wrote once about Starcraft star Greg “Idra” Fields, a talented player infamous for getting upset and abusing his opponents. Standard advice offered to new DOTA 2 players is to make good use of the mute button. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy it’s there, but why are we okay with this? Why is it simply part of the price of admission? It’s not a coincidence that so many people online took the position during Gamergate that people upset by death threats made against them online were overreacting, or who argued implicitly or explicitly that this was simply a part of having a public life online.

This even happens while I’m spectating games in the DOTA 2 client. I enjoy watching professional games in client because I can interact with the UI myself if I like to check various statistics, how individual players are performing, what they are doing, and so on. It’s fantastic and it’s clearly the future of watching all kinds of sport. Unfortunately, by default the client includes a public chat room of various people watching thrown together. It is not the spastically frenetic mess of Twitch chat thanks to the closing of the chatroom to a relatively small number. It mostly doesn’t save me from people being deeply unpleasant. I can, at least, turn the feature off, but it’s a sad indictment of the social capacity of such a service in the first place.

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The unpleasantness in such situations is not always the use of offensive language. It is often people being incredibly unforgiving of the casters or the production. This is an intriguing extension of a phenomenon I have come to know well in MOBAs, particularly in DOTA 2, where someone with little to no justification in criticizing you will assume the mantle of expert. It’s not helped by the fact that the audience feels close to casters and other producers in a way that they do not to Joe Buck or Al Michaels. Somewhat confusingly, this sometimes also leads to the potential for forgiveness of completely unacceptable behaviour by broadcasters themselves on the basis that using offensive language or acting like an inappropriate teenage boy during a live stream going out to thousands of people is somehow okay. The whole thing is draining.

I play games for fun, Valve. I understand DOTA 2 is intense, and I’m willing to deal with that, but I don’t understand why I must be exposed to unpleasantness as part of the price of playing the game.

Brexit

Into the abyss we go, smiling and waving flags…

So, they really did it. The Brexit vote started off as a needlessly risky concession David Cameron made because he saw little risk; in the end, he probably didn’t need to extend the promise to hold the referendum in the first place and momentum grew behind the Leave campaign beyond his wildest nightmares. He may ultimately receive some credit inside some Conservative circles for helming an impressive expansion of the party in the face of Labour collapse, but today his legacy as Prime Minister looks extremely weak.

It all exposes how utterly half-assed the opposition to Scottish independence was, for one thing. The argument for Scotland staying part of the United Kingdom was based entirely on rational concepts of being “stronger together” and all that, but ultimately many of those who complained about Scots voting ideologically went out and did that very thing yesterday. Pragmatic arguments for leaving the EU were extraordinarily thin on detail or outright mendacious, leaving the only remotely credible argument not involving unseemly disregard for immigrants and their job-stealing ways to be a somewhat ramshackle complaint against neo-liberalism and the EU’s democratic deficit. These latter issues are valid concerns, but they tend to lose a bit of weight if you argue, say, that Greece’s position is not entirely Germany’s fault. Scots voted to stay for rational reasons, although they disappointed this romantic Celt quite a bit. The English and Welsh decided to pretend leaving the EU really will fix all of Britain’s problems.

There may not be much of a Britain left soon. I must say, I’m incredibly skeptical of British identity as a meaningful concept beyond layers of English pride and Ulster Loyalist siege mentality, but it doesn’t seem like anyone wants to fight very hard for it. I find it hard to believe a united Ireland is happening any time soon, but Sinn Fein’s call for a referendum is a lot more credible today than I would have dreamed possible only a couple of years ago. The big stumbling block would be the significant gap between social services available in the Republic of Ireland and those made available by the UK government in Northern Ireland, but with Johnson in charge and the Labour party busy killing itself slowly who knows how long that will remain true? Speaking of which, David Cameron’s incompetence in all this is surely surpassed only by that of the purported leader of the opposition. Jeremy Corbyn either tried to have it both ways or is completely unfit to be leader of a major political party. I’m prone to believe the latter.

The only thing I am willing to predict is that any prediction I would make would surely be wrong. It wouldn’t surprise me if an independent Scotland welcomes a united Ireland into a Northern European Celtic State, and it wouldn’t surprise me if enough Britons come to their senses in time to pull back from the brink. Who knows? The whole thing feels like a petulant tantrum in national chauvinism, which is rather difficult to take considering how patronizing so many were when it came to the apparently bizarre idea that a large contingent of Scots don’t particularly want to be part of Britain. What many voters yesterday failed to realize is that Britain’s position in the world comes largely from its role as a conduit between America and Europe, and as a major financial centre. Both of those roles are now at risk.

What of the promises made to the typical Leave voter? Will Britain simply close its borders? Will it take the 350 million sterling a week the Leave campaign claimed left the country every week and hand it all to the NHS as promised? The best case scenario for Euroskeptics is that enough compromises are made in the next decade that the average voter decides they are happy with the result. Brexit can’t solve the problems those so eager to leave claimed it would, and it created a basket full of more.

DOTA 2, Theory and Practice

I have a book to write, classes to prep, a family to hang out with and, in theory, a social life to try and keep alive. So, I’m reviving my interest in DOTA 2.

I played DOTA 2 rather briefly a couple of years ago, won more games than I lost, and generally gained a little insight into why the game is just so popular. I can’t quite recall why I stopped, but I vaguely remember it being centered on a stranger spending ten minutes of the game complaining about me specifically and my decision that I had better things to do with my time.

And the time, the time it takes… Dear me. With everything going on, I would be mad to get back into DOTA 2.

I am going to play my (almost) first DOTA 2 game with humans in more than two years later this week.

Perhaps, if I was being generous, I could argue that this adventure could become an experiment of sorts. I’m just not sure what experiment would amount to:

  • married dad tries to play DOTA with predictable results
  • area man quits Internet after multiple evenings of abuse from strangers during his free time
  • video game fan of thirty years finally figures out what a “hard support” is

The desire to play more DOTA is partly the resumption of a long held desire and partly a need to fulfill a certain obligation. I do like MOBAs, in theory at the very least, and I long ago decided DOTA 2 was the best one. I also enjoy watching competitive DOTA 2. I want to write more about DOTA 2, and the fact is that I will be able to that better if I play the game regularly, admittedly if what I choose to call “playing” amounts to occasionally figuring out how to ward properly in pub games.

I did the same thing what feels like a long time ago now with my dissertation. The plan to write on baseball had no roots whatsoever in any interest I had in the game, and so I had to give myself an education. I went from having the mild distaste for baseball every decent European has to being very happy yesterday that the Texas Rangers went twenty games over .500. Seeing as I actually enjoy DOTA 2, I have a head start.
The trick, of course, will be to shut out people who try to make the game less fun. This is the problem with DOTA. I fully understand that it brings a competitive experience that is very difficult to match in other games, or at least one that can be reached with less investment than you might think. I get that. However, if I’m having a rough game and letting down the team I probably feel badly about it already. That, or I promised my wife we were going to watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones after this. Either way, really.

The funny thing is, it’s difficult to just rise above it. I know there are mute buttons but it’s tough when a teammate decides to spend a significant chunk of time complaining about every decision you’ve made in the last five minutes. I find this more difficult to deal with than an idiot being abusive, honestly. Finally, I think I’m getting better at recognizing that a lot of these people are just bizarre. I have a grammatically rough “almost” up there in parentheses because I did play a game a few months ago. A reasonable person tried to get us all together on voice chat, a young boy panicked and died a lot, and two other teammates basically went off in a huff and did their own thing. And we won. It was incredibly weird. I plan to mute all microphones before I even start.

So, we’ll see. We’ll see where all this takes us. We’ll see where I find the time. Let’s go. Summer of DOTA.