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When I was younger, I had a teacher who asked the class a very interesting question. She asked us whether we thought people were intrinsically good, with a few bad tendencies, or intrinsically bad, with a few good tendencies. I remember this question so well because nobody knew how to answer it. It was really the first time I had thought about a concept of life rather than something that was definite. As I’ve grown up, that question has remained unanswered in my mind.

Until now.

You’re probably wondering what this has to do with online gaming. Well, I’m going to tell you by relating it to something that happened to me recently.

Halo: Reach is one of my favorite games to play, and I consider myself to be pretty good at it. One day, not long ago, I was playing online and I was in the matchmaking lobby. The teams were picked and the countdown to the beginning of the match started. During the countdown, two members of my team quit, effectively making it a 4 on 2 game. Ok, whatever, I have confidence in my Halo: Reach ability so I wasn’t worried. When the game ended, the final score was 50-32 in favor of my 2-person team. It was a good result.

That’s when things started getting out of hand. I began to get a barrage of messages from a player on the team we had just beaten. He kept saying that I was a “fucking hacking piece of shit” and that he was going to report me “for being a faggot” and a slew of other things which I’m not going to repeat.

I restrained myself from answering his messages and after I got into another game, the messages stopped and I assume he forgot about it.

I began talking to my friends about what happened and many of them told me about similar things happening to them. It’s a pretty common occurrence in online games, especially games like Halo.

I began to think about that and it made me realize something. In online gaming, everyone, for the most part, is anonymous. Nobody knows who you are and you can pretty much say and do what you want within reason without fearing any kind of consequences. It’s a blank slate.

With the reputation that online gaming has for trash talk and anger, this means that when we were thrown into that blank slate, instead of making it a comfortable community where you can meet new people and have fun playing a game together, we took it to a level of harassment that causes most people (including myself) to mute the online chat for good. With the benefit of anonymity came the detraction of arrogance.

Now, obviously I’m speaking in generalities here and there are some games online that have a great community. But for the most part, it’s a culture of harassment and anger. Why do you think there are so many jokes about it?

Today, when I think back to the question my teacher asked us all those years ago, and when someone asks me that same question today, whether people are intrinsically good or intrinsically bad, judging by the culture of online gaming I’m unfortunately inclined to say the latter.

What about you?