Think about the thing that every game you've ever played has in common: You're always either the most powerful character, or working towards becoming that character. Games provide the sensation of being really important, of being someone that everyone has to listen to, and they provide it in concentrated, crack-like doses: The very first thing fellow Cracked Writer Robert Evans and I did when we got our high-definition version of Grand Theft Auto V was park on the 405 and unload RPGs into dozens of faceless commuters because fuck LA traffic. But the difference between the healthy gamer and the addict is that the addict isn't getting this kind of "I matter" fulfillment anywhere else.
"[Gaming addicts] will tell me, 'I say things, and no one listens. I make jokes, and no one laughs. I make advances, and no one responds.' Then they go into an online environment, and suddenly they can get the biggest reactions. ... The consequences are gone, so they go for the biggest reactions. That can be violence and hatred."
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Online, being a dick is like meth for your self-esteem.
This is part of why the dickishness overshadows everything else about gaming. I'll give you an example: One of the best games ever made, in my opinion, is Spec Ops: The Line. It's downright haunting, is guaranteed to keep you up at night after you've played it, and it's the most unflinching and brutal criticism of violent video games I've ever seen -- despite the fact that it is a violent video game. I'll hold it up as definitive proof of the video game medium's artistic relevance any day of the week, and really brilliant people agree with me. But I didn't play it when it came out. I didn't even hear about it until I saw it on Steam for $19.99, despite the fact that I follow video game news as closely as I can. Why? Because Spec Ops: The Line debuted in 2012, and in 2012, all the video game community wanted to do was throw a temper tantrum about a Kickstarter for a YouTube series called Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, which is, to this day, more famous for the fucking outrage it caused than anything it's ever actually said. For once, this isn't because the media is biased against games or sensationalist; this is because threatening to murder somebody is a bigger news story than any video game, no matter how profound and brilliant and unique and transcendent, and I seriously can't compliment Spec Ops: The Line enough. Everyone go buy it.
And that's the connection between gaming and shitty online behavior: the feeling of power, importance, and of mattering, which is created whenever they see big results. And screaming about rape, genocide, or just stringing together a nonsensical slew of slurs is the best way to do that. That's why gamers complain about developers ignoring them, or social critiques of games -- the idea of even one game hypothetically not appealing to them reminds them that they, individually, are not the most powerful force in the universe. Which is part of why ...