Beyond the Screen: Digital gamers face real-world dangers

Individuals exhibit aggressive behavior while gaming, believing they are safe from punishment from behind the screen. Photo by Jillie Herrold

In her first week of streaming her gaming online Ariane Guirguis received $600 as well as a slew of harassment.

The $600 was from viewers who wanted to help fund the senior psychology major to buy a new computer. But anonymous trolls, variously surprised by and angered by a woman penetrating their male-dominated space begged her to meet for dinner, made lewd and misogynistic comments, insulted her appearance and made her feel threatened.

“’You’re so ugly, you shouldn’t stream. You look like a frog,’ people would say,” Guirguis said.

After David Katz began shooting at a Madden NFL 19 eSports tournament in Jacksonville, Fl., on Aug. 27, killing two competitors, and injuring 11 other people, a harsh new light has been shone on violence in eSports and in the gaming community. Players wonder about the propensity of aggression and mental illness in other players (Katz had a history of mental illness, though many experts contend the mentally ill are no more likely to be violent than sane people), whether the arenas in which they play in tournaments have adequate security, and what they’re risking by exposing themselves online not only to fans, but increasingly competitive players who are playing not just for glory, but sometimes large purses. Women players have been enduring toxicity as targets of violence for years and hope that this tragedy brings attention to the problems within the community.

The tournament happened at Good Luck Have Fun Game Bar at Jacksonville Landing, an outdoor mall. The event lacked security or pat downs.

“Unfortunately, this was a matter of when, not if. Esports event security, in general, has been extremely poor over the years. We should’ve stepped it up long ago,” said Christian Tamas, Director of eSports programs for Twitch streaming.

The Jacksonville shooting was “a tragedy,” Guirguis said. “But I’m not entirely surprised just because being part of the gaming community, there is a lot of toxicity between the players.”

D20Minus20, a YouTube account, posted a 38 minute long video on YouTube making fun of Guirguis’ stream on Twitch. The men in the commentary make fun of Guirguis’ appearance, home, gender, technology setup, and of course, gaming capabilities.

The commentators of the video asked Guirguis to show her breasts for money and when she refused the $1 offer, they called her a Jew.

Guirguis cannot hear these verbal comments while she is streaming; she can only see what is typed in the chat. Throughout the video, people in the chat tell her to flash the camera her breasts and that she should be on Chaturbate, a live porn website. Yet at the same time, the commentators in the youtube video insult her physique.

“Why is her main dance move wiggling what little tits she has,” said user, Vimeeb.

Dr. Megan Condis addresses the discrimination of gender, color and sexuality in the gaming community in her book, “Gaming Masculinity: Trolls, Fake Geeks, and the Gendered Battle for Online Culture.” The presence of women threaten the identity and privilege of straight white male gamers and the culture they have created, according to Condis. Threatened men evince disdain for anything feminine and use demeaning language in attempt to regain power.

When players make their living off tournaments and streaming, they’re not playing “for fun anymore. It is their job,” and people can feel fiercely territorial about the source of their incomes, Guirguis explained. Competitive gamers can receive sponsorships and win big at tournaments. The 2018 World Electronic Sports Games global prize pool is $890,000. The tournament that the shooting occurred at was a qualifier for the $25,000 prize in Las Vegas.

Losing a game or being trash talked by other players threatens one’s sense of pride in a very personal sense, especially because competitive players spend so much time practicing.

This environment can bring out heated emotions from individuals who feel frustrated from achieving their objectives, Guirguis said.

Written threats can escalate into physical acts but much of the grudge-taking starts online — even if it doesn’t end there. Cyberbullying, trolling and doxing — the release of personal information about another person with malicious intent — are all ways individuals seek vengeance on others through the internet. Trolling is referred to as going out of one’s way to make provocative or offensive comments online, usually to elicit a response. Women are frequently the victims of both trolling and depraved doxing scenarios: Saboteurs sometimes broadcast their addresses online, impersonating their victims and suggesting they long for someone to rape them. Or they may tell law enforcement their targets have bombs or hostages they are planning to kill.

“Anonymity kind of brings that, like, troll personality out,” said Weber Cheng, a junior business major. “There’s generally no real consequences.”

Though technology exists to mute or report other players, trolls suspended from the game, can always buy new accounts, Cheng explained.

However, some have crossed the line from banter to physical attacks.

Online gaming personality DrDisRespect had the windows of his Porsche shot out this September and a week later was shot at twice in his San Diego home while streaming.

Guy Beahm, known on Twitch as DrDisRespect, is known for being competitive and toxic toward other players, which may have influenced the perpetrator(s) to shoot at his home.

Other online personalities have received threats of violence, had private information released or had viewers “swat” them by fake calling the SWAT team on their home. December of 2017, Los Angeles resident Andrew Finch, 28, was killed by police who mistook Finch as dangerous after a hoax call. Tyler Barris, who made the call, did so over a $1.50 bet on Call of Duty: WWII.

There has been debate over whether the violent video games have correlation with real world violence. There is not conclusive evidence to support either side.

“A lot of the arguments are that video games cause violence, but then you have this happening at a Madden tournament, which is just football. That isn’t something that should ever have violence involved with it,” said Zach Jagoda, junior computer science major .

Jagoda and Cheng are co-presidents of the Gaming club, “Well Played: Gaming at Chapman.” The club has over 350 members on Facebook. The club mostly interacts through team gaming meetups online, but they also have on campus meetings and competitions.

Cheng stated he wants to get public safety to stand by at the club’s on campus events for precautionary measures. Jagoda said that the shooting in Jacksonville was a topic that he was going to discuss with the club.

Mass shootings in general are becoming deadlier and more frequent. According to an FBI report on “active shooters” from 2000 to 2015 found that the number of incidents more than doubled from the first to second half of the period. Four out of five of the deadliest shootings in America have happened within the last five years.

Condis expressed that the gaming community has the responsibility to “punish toxic harassing behavior” and hire more moderators to look out for these warning signs. She also said that abusers should lose more than just their account.

 “No one should be losing their life over a game,” Guirguis said.

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