Community Building (a.k.a. Don’t Be A Jerk)

If you missed it (like I did), there was some hullabaloo yesterday when a guy by the name of Aris Bakhtanians had a partial meltdown where he defended a few ideas including:

  1. Sexual harassment is a part of the Fighting Game Culture
  2. People who play fighting games are an elite club, and
  3. Deal with it, if you don’t like it, too bad

There’s a pretty good rundown here for you (and there’s a sort-of-apology available from Aris here.

In my pre-Intenret days (the 1990’s), I played a lot of fighting games, but I never really got to anything that could be considered a competitive level. I did notice that there were a few faces that I would see around my local arcades (back when my town actually had arcades) pretty regularly that were way better than I was. People who could play the fighting games like they were musical instruments. People who were so into the games that they would hang around the arcade and watch me play, newbie that I was, and offer tips on how to play better. Looking back, it’s pretty amazing that we created this ad-hoc community with a welcoming atmosphere without even knowing each others’ names.

I’m willing to admit that maybe this was a product of me living in the Midwest rather than on the West Coast. But around that time I also got into the XBand scene, which let me, for the first time, play fighting games against people from all over the country. I still never really got great at the games, but most of the people that I met who were better than me were more than happy to offer up pointers if I would just ask. It was hardly the ‘nobody will like you until you prove yourself’ scene that this guy is making it out to be.

But why is it different?

I can’t say for sure, but I have a few guesses.

My local fighting game community (and, by extension, the entire arcade game community) was (with a few exceptions) never really a group of friends. We were acquaintances with a shared hobby. Most people that I know, when they’re around people they don’t know well, rein in their behavior, slowly testing the waters, and gradually figuring out what’s acceptable.

But as you get further along in the ranks, you find that there’s less turnover. You find that you see the same people all the time, those barriers that held your behavior in check start to crumble since you’re just playing with your buddies. And since your buddies are okay with homophobic remarks or racial slurs, then they’re okay, as long as they’re just joking.

And somewhere during that process, these people have become what I like to call “microcelebrities”. They have gotten to a position actually start paying attention to the things they say, but their filter is long gone. And their audience, which is now huge, will latch on to any stupid thing you say.

I have no doubt that most every other sport or professional endeavor is largely the same. That there are tasteless comments being made in locker rooms all over the world. But those comments stay in the locker room. You don’t see someone on commentary for an NFL game trying to guess the breast size of the person reporting from the field.

Another point he made was that he loved the fighting game community because you have to prove yourself to get in. Like it’s a kind of elite club, and if you’re not coming into it on a high level, don’t even bother.

To draw a parallel, let’s say you have an interest in geology and want to get involved in the geology community. But when you go to a gem and mineral show, everyone starts out hating you, and you have to prove yourself somehow to be a part of that group. It’s ludicrous.

“But that’s different,” I hear you saying, “fighting games are a form of competition and geology isn’t!” Fine, replace “geology” with “tennis” and “gem and mineral show” with “tennis club” and it’s equally absurd.

The defense to most of this, of course, is that the fighting game community is full of 15-year-olds, and that’s just how they act. This was probably more true 15 or 20 years ago than it is now, but any of those 15-year-olds who are still playing are now in their 30’s. And, like it or not, we’re the adults here. We have to lead by example and let newcomers know what is and isn’t acceptable. We need to encourage participation by casual fans instead of making them feel unwelcome at the outset, and we need to stop alienating females.

A lot of us have been playing games for over 25 years. It’s up to us to lead by example. To treat other gamers with respect, and to call out those who step over the line. I’m not suggesting that everyone become a paragon of virtue or the Moral Police, just don’t be a jerk. Think before you speak, and help out if you can. It’s easy to forget that we were all newbies once, and how useful it is to have an old-hand guide you along some of the bumps in the road.