Game designers, abuse enablers?
Why do people act like such jerks online? Generally, if you act out your worst impulses in real life, there are serious consequences. If you slug a co-worker because they look funny at you, you’ll probably lose your job and end up in jail.
Of course, not everyone acts sadistically when there are no consequences for bad behavior, but online enough people do to the point that it can severely disrupt a game when they do. Video game violence is naturally very different from the real thing. However, many gamers have remarked upon the surprisingly strong emotional responses that arise from these virtual murders and abuses that are so commonly accompanied with abusive trash talk and counter trash talk. Sexually themed abuses are also quite common, with "corpse-raping" and abusive language being common reasons for banning in games like UO.
Many PKs happily post about the sadistic pleasure they receive from ruining someones’ day. How does this make any sense? Unwittingly, developers of these open PvP games design game systems that mimic the environment of childhood. Players of a higher level are the omnipotent "adults," and characters of low level are essentially powerless children who are barely able to even kill a magpie without being brutally pecked to death. Aggressive players who have almost certainly experienced some kind of significant abuse in their childhood unconsciously recognize this system, and know how to exploit it to give them the emotional returns that they crave. They level their characters to absurd heights or boost their power via cheats or clever exploits, ensuring that their victims will be as helpless as they themselves were as children before their seemingly omnipotent parents.
The PK projects their feelings of vulnerability – that they have repressed all their lives – onto their victim, which they can then symbolically destroy within the game. In turn, the perpetual victims themselves receive relief from their childhood anxiety by putting themselves into situations in which they will be abused repeatedly, as it unconsciously repeats the circumstances of their history. The fact that it’s a game and that it’s sufficiently cloaked in layers of concealing rule systems and fiction helps players to conceal the fact that they are repeating their childhoods from themselves, and of course from the developers.
The cycle of abuse only really works if the people involved in it feel like they have no options to get out of it. Children can’t leave their abusive parents, but gamers are free to flee a game where abuse runs rampant to another one in which the model doesn’t perpetuate it. When free choice is introduced, healthier people will pick an environment in which they won’t be used as punching bags for the unconscious desires of other people.
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