Opinion: American teenagers, abuse and trash-talking killed online chat and team-work

Through the thin walls of a small semi-detached house tucked away in a quiet cul-de-sac in the heart of England, the peace is disturbed by two boys next door screaming abuse down their Xbox Live headsets at whoever cares to listen.

One lad is 14 and his brother is 12. They’re playing Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, a videogame that has an ‘18’ classification stamped on it due to its "strong bloody violence and strong language". The age rating didn’t stop their parents buying it for them though, nor did it stop them from playing Modern Warfare 3, Black Ops and Modern Warfare. This means that the two boys were screaming abuse down their headsets at adults long before the older one’s balls dropped.


Now, they’re mouthy kids at the best of times. Consequently, with a headset and a world full of faceless gamers who can’t answer back by putting a fist right in their cheeky mouths, they’ve discovered that trashtalking, a form of boast or insult commonly heard in competitive situations, is a great way to let off steam after a day at school.

This nightly racket from the neighbours, only counteracted by turning my own videogames up so loud that I drown out their high-pitched screams of “In your face bitch!” and much worse, serves as a regular reminder of the days when online gaming on Xbox and PlayStation consoles used to be much more of a fun, socially enjoyable experience.

I remember fondly the days of playing Ghost Recon during the Xbox Live beta phase, a peaceful time when the immature masses hadn’t yet swamped the online lobbies with their childish jibes and irritating voices. Fast-forward to today and it’s apparent that there are so many people who have had enough of the insults that there’s barely any communication online at all now.

Being able to talk and play such strategically in-depth games with other gamers in the centre of the living room wasn’t just a novelty at the birth of online gaming on consoles; it was the first time that many people had united under one front through their love of videogames and it brought with it an intimacy that many enjoyed.

The twilight years of both Xbox Live and PSN were great for socially-focused, competitive gaming. In the early days of Xbox Live, you’d bump into the same people night after night who were embracing this new world of online gaming. At this stage, it was a fairly tight-knit community and it wasn’t long before relationships were forged and people who had never met each other on the street started meeting online regularly.

Groups of gamers formed clans and created websites to recruit like-minded players and build a base for their strategies; it was like one big family. Clans knew each other well, arranged meet-ups and participated in ladders and tournaments.

I became captain of AlphaSiege UK, which was among the best times I’ve ever had as a gamer due to the social interactivity between our team and other clans. Though we’d get the occasional idiot trash-talking, or stumble across a clan full of kids who simply wanted to cheat their way through matches, these instances were few and far between; it was a joy to be online with both familiar faces and a world of strangers that wanted to chat together about football, random interests and their videogame experiences.

The online lobbies were full of people who enjoyed friendly banter, shared tactics and showcased their knowledge of videogames. Most people wore a headset and most people chatted away in the lobby before getting down the competitive side of gaming. In the first couple of years of online gaming on console, it was an inviting environment for anyone who embraced it.

Take a look right now. Search Google for Xbox Live and PlayStation clans and you’ll find a mass of redundant links. Most teams have disbanded, given up. The real-world clan tournaments dried up (I’m not talking about corporate-sponsored events and teams that get paid to play). Ladder and leaderboard sites have closed or had to change tact and offer cash for rewards to tempt greedy lone individuals. LAN parties vanished into the ether and team work was abandoned. So, what was to blame?

There were two franchises that were prominent in changing the face of ... (continued on next page) ----

A gamer since the days of the ZX Spectrum, Steven Williamson now works as General Manager for PSU. He's supposed to be managing, but if you're reading this, it means he's dipped into editorial again. Follow @steven_gamer
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