By Jacob Toman
This is the second article in a three-part series discussing our interactions with people online, which is a huge part of our modern culture and a critical aspect of our ministry to gamers. Our goal in this series is for you, our readers, to be better equipped to interact with others online in a Christ-like manner.
In the first article, Jacob (G&G Lead Missionary) and Michael (G&G Content Director) each tackle several questions relating to social media sites, specifically Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
This second article, written by Jacob, focuses on gaming-centric interactions (over programs like Skype, Teamspeak, Xbox Live, or PlayStation Network).
The third article, written by Michael, will focus on email, as well as on the wider marketplace of ideas, namely forums and comment sections.
You’ve seen it on every ESRB rating in the fine print on the backside of every game box...
“Online interactions NOT rated”
User generated content is incredibly unpredictable. Imagine for a moment, trying to rate the people you know in your sphere of influence and give them an appropriateness rating...
Online interactions allow for individuals to communicate, without immediate face to face consequences. This has led experts in the field communication to use the term “toxic disinhibition” to describe observable behavior via circuit breaker radio as early as the 1970’s. What was true for CB radio users is true also for internet communication today: anonymity changes human interactions.
Gamers online communicate almost exclusively through digital methods of communication. These interactions come through text and voice based messages. We will examine both text and voice based communication categories with special attention to situations within games themselves, and outside of specific games but still within a gaming context.
Text Based Interactions
Most games available via PC have a text based chat system that allows players to interact by selecting a chat box or activating a chat window. Once active, a player can send a message from themselves to another individual player, or a larger group of players within the game itself.
Often times games separate chat functions between public chat (which all players in a zone or server can see), a specialized chat (for guilds, areas in game, or particular private groups) and an individual chat (between 2 individuals). These various forms of chat are accessible and available both in-game, and outside of game. First let’s examine some chat capabilities within game using the examples of Minecraft and World of Warcraft, two major titles in the PC gaming world. Each of these titles represent a different approach to text chat interactions.
Players in Minecraft have the ability once they’ve connected to a server (be it online, or local area network) to hit the “enter” button on their keyboard and begin typing in messages that will go out to the entire server (unless the server has been otherwise modified). This assumes a great deal about the players involved in the Minecraft realm.
Minecraft assumes that all players on the server ought to be able to communicate with as little restriction as possible. In this way, Minecraft puts forward a free exchange of information for it’s users. This doesn’t mean Minecraft is devoid of organization; a server host can add all sorts of stipulations and restrictions for text chat. Minecraft starts with the assumption that all players should be able to communicate via text, and then allows for more regulations to be added based on a server host’s decision.
In contrast to Minecraft's rather libertarian approach to users and their text chat, is World of Warcraft.
World of Warcraft employs a much more complex & controlled system for text based communication. I’m reminded of two verses: the wisdom of Ecclesiastes 3:1 and and also the command of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:40
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens”
“Let all things be done decently and in order.”
World of Warcraft is a good reflection of both of these verses. Every type of chat is sorted and categorized inside World of Warcraft. Below is a list of commands for chat in World of Warcraft.
No matter who you want to talk to, and what you want to talk about, World of Warcraft has devised a specialized text chat system for your conversation.
Minecraft is mostly a collaborative game, played by users seeking to grow in the game together. World of Warcraft assumes chat is mostly available between players of the same factions. As such, most of the text chatter in Minecraft and World of Warcraft are collaborative, which is a stark contrast to text chat in competitive gaming.
In most competitive games text chat is separated between team vs opponent chat. These two chat types are often marked by differing colors to differentiate between them.
Voice Based Interactions
While communication in text format can often be left open to interpretation due to the lack of contextual cues like tone, inflection, and accent, voice chat allows multiple users to hear all these cues from one another. This marks a key distinction between voice chat and text chat. Because of voice chat technology, the opportunity for nuanced communication online grows exponentially.
Several types of programs are available for voice-based chat in PC gaming, and most online multiplayer games on consoles offer in-game voice programming. There are a few distinctions to make between voice chat sessions. The two primary distinctions are voice based interactions in game, versus voice based interactions outside of game.
Nearly every major multiplayer title for console gaming has a built-in voice chat program. On consoles these voice chats are a part of the game itself, whereas on PC chat programs are often third party utility tools. There are several chat programs that are available via PC, and different gaming communities have different preferences. Below are listed 4 of the top voice chat programs.
Since Skype comes pre-loaded onto any Microsoft Windows operating system, almost every PC gamer has access to Skype. Skype has also recently moved aggressively into the console industry allowing for Xbox users to Skype via console. Two critiques of Skype is it’s high demand on computer resources while active, and its microphone “always on” ability means any background noise, wanted or unwanted, will be transmitted. Skype’s video chat and availability makes it the go-to third party voice chat program.
Ventrilo is by far the most traditional voice chat program for hardcore PC gamers. It uses the least amount of resources of these 4 major options, has a clean interface, and allows users to customize input and output sound levels. This is helpful since varying microphone quality can sometimes change the volume of different users. Having low demand on resources means Ventrilo is attractive to hardcore gamers who are running highly demanding games. Push to Talk allows for microphones to stop transmitting unless a user presses a specific button, intentionally opening up their microphone to send a message.
Teamspeak3 allows for a massive level of customization and exists somewhere between Ventrilo and Skype. Offering both push to talk or open microphone, as well as having a high amount of server customization means gaming communities can make their own choices on an individual basis concerning the level of detail desired. Teamspeak3 doesn’t demand as many resources as Skype, and also allows for conversations to be directly record and saved through Teamspeak3.
Raidcall is 100% free for users and server hosts (whereas users either need to host their own persistent server or pay for hosting with Ventrilo or Teamspeak3). Raidcall offers the persistent online nature of both Ventrilo and Teamspeak3, which is contrasted to the instanced based calling system of Skype. Raidcall allows for less customization than Ventrilo or Teamspeak3, and uses more resources than Ventrilo.
The subject matter of game chatter is widely different depending on the game. In most of the games that I’ve played, the subject matter will vary between either discussing directly related in-game topics or miscellaneous other topics. There is some difficulty in categorizing or describing these other topics as it could range anything from discussion about a current event (politics, culturally relevant entertainment, news, personal matters, religion, etc), a question, or an opinion. Imagine trying to describe the scope and subject matter of what your church community discusses together. Most likely the broad spectrum of topics you discuss during a meal, fellowship time, or during a gathering are similar in scope and variety to what gamers discuss.
There are two general rules that are applicable for users of voice chat within most gaming communities:
Thou shalt not blast music or disrupt the ability of others to communicate
Thou shalt be banned/blocked/removed from communique if rule 1 is broken.
These two rules are fairly well known among the PC gaming community. Since much of PC gaming voice chat happens via third party programs, the ability to customize or make authoritative decisions is available. Often on console the only recourse should someone interfere or behave in a way that disrupts communication is to mute them or mute the voice chat entirely.
When players are inside a game that requires fast twitch reactions and coordination (first person shooters such as Call of Duty, Halo, Counter-Strike, League of Legends, Dota2, etc.), chat out of lobby ranges from miscellaneous chatter to arranging gameplay. Inside games that are more collaborative in nature, discussions may widely vary as the in-game challenges are not often under the pressure of a deadline or goal (such as World of Warcraft, Minecraft, Terraria, Civilization, etc).
As mentioned earlier, voice chat programs give users the ability to either mute individuals, or entire conversations. Similarly, most games that include text chat offer an ability to either censor key words (dictated by the server host or publishing company) or mute users’ chat. There are three forms of censorship that are available in most multiplayer experiences:
These three functions serve to either prevent a user from seeing a text chat, hearing a voice communication, or receiving messages from a particular other player. Many gaming communities are defined by how they censor communication, particularly in regards to swearing. Games themselves offer these three as an option should a player decide they’d rather not deal with the obnoxious banter of other players.
There is a good reason for the little disclaimer the ESRB puts out “Online interactions NOT rated”. Much of life isn’t rated, and even in the parts of life that are heavily regulated sin can be introduced at any time. Much of what should be guarded against in online interactions is the same as what should be guarded against in face to face interactions. At every moment Christians live on mission.
In thinking about interactions online I’ve been reminded of two particular passages: Ephesians 3:29 and James 3:3-6.
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
As God provides opportunities to game online I encourage you to exercise wisdom in what platforms you choose to interact on. Online interactions, both in text chat, and through voice chat programs, area a part of life; they aren't rated, and they aren't a joke I encourage you to challenge your own online interactions and those of your children, your friends and family. Online interactions are opportunities to bear witness to Christ.