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.

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