Everything Right and Everything Wrong With Gaming Culture

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This past week, I reviewed Apple TV+’s newest show Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet for Plugged In. The show piqued my interest for a couple of reasons. Namely, because as someone who spends some free time playing video games, I want to see a broader representation of the modern-day gamer beyond the stereotypical “cute and lovable uber-nerd” depicted in programs like The Big Bang Theory. But Mythic Quest also caught my attention because it made me think about some of the deeper impacts of online gaming on our culture today.

For starters, playing video games isn’t something that’s limited to adolescent boys or a group of sci-fi obsessed guys—granted, it never was—and this is something that Mythic Quest addresses. From the creators of this fictional game to its millions of players worldwide, we see characters of every gender, age, ethnicity, economic status and nationality. Yes, the show features the cliché pre-pubescent boy making millions by streaming out of his parent’s house. But it also features a chill, laid-back gamer-girl who’s just psyched that her job is to play video games all day.

Mythic Quest also stresses some of the more positive aspects of online gaming: The friendships you can create online, for instance, and the stress relief the game itself allows. . Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (or MMORPGs, as they’re commonly called) are designed so that even if you do manage to defeat the final boss, there’s still plenty of things to do while you wait for the next expansion to be released—and those things are largely built around the community.

As Ian Grimm, the creator of Mythic Quest within the show, says in the first episode, he didn’t just set out to create a game. He wanted to create a world. And that’s essentially what an MMORPG is—an alternate universe. In these virtual worlds, you can customize your avatar, create and join guilds (smaller communities within the game), set out on quests and hunts with your teammates, build and sell valuable tools and equipment, have conversations, even get married.

Back in the 1970s and ‘80s, when video games were first becoming popular, this wasn’t within the scope of possibility. Multiplayer gaming was a matter of going to an arcade, setting the high score on a game and then stepping aside so your friends could see if they could beat that score. But with the integration of home computers and the Internet, multiplayer gaming has become a phenomenon that virtually anyone can experience.

Unfortunately, with all these good facets comes a slew of negative ones. And Mythic Quest, in its problematic, profane way, addresses these issues as well.

Although you could argue that games are given ratings and often come with profanity filters for the chat box, it feels like foul language and inappropriate content are inescapable this otherwise escapist environment. Poppy Li, the lead engineer of Mythic Quest, creates a shovel in the game so that players can shape the environment of the virtual world. However, she is soon hounded by her coworkers who are worried that people will use the tool to draw inappropriate images (a valid fear since a 14-year-old boy does exactly that when they allow him to beta-test it). And it isn’t a far stretch from what players are capable of creating in real life games such as Minecraft.

Now, personally, I don’t go for games like Fortnite or Call of Duty, but they represent another perfect example of how people—particularly children and teens—are exposed to much more mature content. Players of these games often use headsets to communicate, not a chat box. And sadly, these games don’t come with the technology to bleep out the swearing of other players.

Mythic Quest also touches on the multiple ways people can be bullied in online gaming. The company comes under fire when they realize that multiple hate groups (namely a white supremacist group) have created guilds within the game for the sole purpose of spewing their hatred. And after a streamer (someone who records his- or herself live as they play the game) is outed as an employee for the company, players start killing her avatar every time she respawns so that she can’t play anymore.

Thankfully, most games come with community guidelines to prevent things like this from happening, and have the ability to punish or ban players who run afoul of them. Blizzard’s In-Game Code of Conduct (which governs the gameplay of the ever-popular World of Warcraft) specifically states that players are responsible for how they express themselves and are not allowed to use language that could be offensive or vulgar to others. It also says that “Threatening or harassing another player is always unacceptable, regardless of language used.” Final Fantasy XIV amended their own “Prohibited Activities” last February to create harsher punishments for bullies in an effort to create a “safe environment.”

I’m not saying you need to ban your child from video games like Fortnite. But we need to be paying attention. If you enjoy playing these games yourself, watch the backs of your fellow players! If you’re a parent worried about your child’s welfare, it might be worth it to pick up a controller and join them in the game, so you can see for yourself what your son or daughter is being exposed to. It might even prove to be a nice bonding experience.

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