A Philosopher's Blog

Gaming & Groping I: Motivations

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Technology by Michael LaBossiere on October 31, 2016

On the positive side, online gaming allows interaction with gamers all over the world. On the negative side, some gamers are horrible. While I have been a gamer since the days of Pong, one of my early introductions to “the horrible” was on Xbox live. In a moment of deranged optimism, I hoped that chat would allow me to plan strategy with my team members and perhaps make new gamer friends. While this did sometimes happen, the dominate experience was an unrelenting spew of insults and threats between gamers. I solved this problem by clipping the wire on a damaged Xbox headset and sticking the audio plug into my controller—the spew continued, but had nowhere to go.

There is an iron law of technology that any technology that can be misused will be misused. There are also specific laws that fall under this general law. One is the iron law of gaming harassment:  any gaming medium that allows harassment will be used to harass. While there have been many failed attempts at virtual reality gaming, it seems that it might become the new gaming medium. In any case, harassment in online VR games is already a thing. Just as VR is supposed to add a new level to gaming, it also adds a new level to harassment—such as virtual groping. This is an escalation over the harassment options available in most games. Non VR games are typical limited to verbal harassment and some action harassment, such as the classic tea bagging. For those not familiar with this practice, it is when one player causes their character to rapidly repeat crouch on top of a dead character. The idea is that the players is repeatedly slapping their virtual testicles against the virtual corpse of a foe. This presumably demonstrates contempt for the opponent and dominance on the part of the bagger. As might be imagined, this act speaks clearly about a player’s mental and moral status.

Being a gamer and a philosopher, I do wonder a bit about the motivations of those that engage in harassment and how their motivation impacts the ethics of their behavior. While I will not offer a detailed definition of harassment, the basic idea is that it requires sustained abuse. This is to distinguish it from a quick expression of anger.

In some cases, harassment seems to be motivated primarily by the enjoyment the harasser gets from getting a response from their target. The harasser is not operating from a specific value system that leads them to attack certain people; they are equal opportunity in their attacks. Back when I listened to what other gamers said, it was easy to spot this sort of person—they would go after everyone and tailor their spew based on what they seemed to believe about the target’s identity. As an example, if the harasser though their target was African-American, they would spew racist comments. As another example, if the target was the then exceedingly rare female gamer, they would spew sexist remarks. As a third example, if the target was believed to be a white guy, the attack would usually involve comments about the guy’s mother or assertions that the target is homosexual.

While the above focuses on what a person says, the discussion also applies to the virtual actions in the game. As noted above, some gamers engage in tea-bagging because that is the worst gesture they can make in the game. In games that allow more elaborate interaction, the behavior will tend to be analogous to groping in the real world. This is because such behavior is the most offensive behavior possible in the game and thus will create the strongest reaction.

While a person who enjoys inflicting this sort of abuse does have some moral problems, they are probably selecting their approach based on what they think will most hurt the target rather than based on a commitment to sexism, racism or other such value systems. To use an obvious analogy, think of a politician who is not particularly racist but is willing to use this language in order to sway a target audience.

There are also those who engage in such harassment as a matter of ideology and values. While their behavior is often indistinguishable from those who engage in attacks of opportunity, their motivation is based on a hatred of specific types of people. While they might enjoy the reaction of their target, that is not their main objective. Rather, the objectives are to express their views and attack the target of their hate because of that hate. Put another way, they are sincere racists or sexists in that it matters to them who they attack. To use the analogy to a politician, they are like a demagogue who truly believes in their own hate speech.

In terms of virtual behavior, such as groping, these people are not just using groping as a tool to get a reaction. It is an attack to express their views about their target based on their hatred and contempt. The groping might also not merely be a means to an end, but a goal in itself—the groping has its own value to them.

While both sorts of harassers are morally wrong, it is an interesting question as to which is worse. It could be argued that the commitment to evil of the sincere harasser (the true racist or sexist) make them worse than the opportunist. After all, the opportunist is not committed to evil views, they just use their tools for their amusement. In contrast, the sincere harasser not only uses the tools, but believes in their actions and truly hates their target. That is, they are evil for real.

While this is very appealing, it is worth considering that the sincere harasser has the virtue of honesty; their expression of hatred is not a deceit.  To go back to the politician analogy, they are like the politician who truly believes in their professed ideology—their evil does have the tiny sparkle of the virtue of honesty.

In contrast, the opportunist is dishonest in their attacks and thus compound their other vices with that of dishonesty. To use the politician analogy, they are like the Machiavellian manipulator who has no qualms about using hate to achieve their ends.

While the moral distinctions between the types of harassers is important, they generally do not matter to their targets. After all, what matters to (for example) a female gamer who is being virtually groped while trying to enjoy a VR game is not the true motivation of the groper, but the groping. Thus, from the perspective of the target, the harasser of opportunity and the sincere harasser are on equally bad moral footing—they are both morally wrong. In the next essay, the discussion will turn to the obligations of gaming companies in regards to protecting gamers from harassment.


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12 Responses

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  1. ajmacdonaldjr said, on October 31, 2016 at 8:28 am

    Do you think power has anything to do with this? Seeking to dominate people? Pretty much everything involves power these days. Winning a game, defeating an opponent, winning an election, groping women, etc…

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 31, 2016 at 6:39 pm

      That is a common hypothesis; but I am generally wary of the one explanation to rule them all. The stereotypical Freudian would say it is all about sex; now we have the power theory. The easy and obvious answer is that people vary in motivations and these can be quite mixed.

      • ajmacdonaldjr said, on October 31, 2016 at 11:44 pm

        Power is certainly worth mentioning in an article about gaming and groping. In fact, it may be useful in deconstructing the phenomena you describe: “verbal harassment and some action harassment, such as the classic tea bagging” How many gamers (in the real world) are powerless people who (in the virtual world) become powerful when engaged in online gaming? I would venture to same almost all of them. I’m sure people your age, with a healthy mental attitude, can enjoy gaming as an enjoyable activity. But I think most gamers, who are younger and more likely to be socially and mentally unhealthy, are the rule, and not the exception. Real world weaklings who become online bullies.

  2. DH said, on November 1, 2016 at 8:00 am

    I think this is a much larger issue, and the gaming world is merely another arena in which it is played out. It’s called “bullying”, and the anonymity enabled by the Internet has paved the way for its proliferation. All you need to do is read the “Comments” sections posted beneath Internet news articles to see how quickly things descend into abusive and unproductive exchange. Another example is alluded to in your own piece – the re-purposing of the word “Teabagger” to apply to those in the Tea Party who, rather than desiring to squat repeatedly on their political opponents, merely feel that they are Taxed Enough Already.

    One of my research areas is in Education Technology, and as part of that we investigate “serious gaming” as an online, interactive, multiplayer experience targeted toward group collaboration, problem solving and experiential learning. We have discovered a significant amount of pushback from the traditional brick-and-mortar educators because of the very real problem of the kind of cyber bullying you discuss. The playground fences have merely opened to include a broader field.

    The larger issue, of course, is the discussion of the Natural State of Man, or the State of Nature, or whatever you want to call it. Most of us remember the opposing viewpoints of Hobbes and Locke on this issue – the (highly simplified) question over whether Man in his natural state was competetive and warring outside of the constraints of society – or whether he is kind and generous, and it is the artificial competition imposed by society that creates this condition. I might argue that the anonymity referenced above takes people away from the scrutiny of their peers and allows them to show their true nature without fear of social reprisal. The issue is also discussed by Madison in his famous Federalist Paper #51, “If Men Were Angels”.

    There’s an old joke about Baptists – and if you’ll grant me a little bit of leeway here I’ll retell it – that if you go fishing with a Baptist he’ll drink all your beer, but if you take two Baptists you’ll have it all to yourself. Perhaps the online gaming world just needs more Baptists.

    • wtp said, on November 1, 2016 at 9:45 am

      Another example is alluded to in your own piece – the re-purposing of the word “Teabagger” to apply to those in the Tea Party…

      You’re new here so let’s put this in a little bit of perspective. When the childish snickering from supposedly mature adults on MSNBC, CNN, etc. like Rachel Maddow and Anderson Cooper were mocking the Tea Party with this tea-bagger crap, not one word from our host who feels one of his main duties is to “preserve humanity”.

      What I suspect the genesis of this article is is that Mike was playing one of these childish games, purely for philosophical reasons I’m sure you understand, and some punk kid character teabagged him. NOW there is a problem.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 1, 2016 at 6:53 pm

        Actually, I play video games because I like competitive activities and committee meetings fill me with a deep and abiding need to blow things up.

        Everyone gets tea-bagged at one time or another. The main reason I don’t like it goes back to what I was taught in Little League-if you beat someone, you shake hands and say “good game.” You do not flip them off, insult them, or tea-bag them. It is a matter both of pride and respect. I have pride, so I don’t act in shameful ways, even in video games. I respect my competition, so I don’t act in disrespectful ways. Even in video games.

        • wtp said, on November 2, 2016 at 10:32 am

          Well, like I said…

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 1, 2016 at 6:44 pm

      True, harassment in games is just an extension of harassment in the real world. I just finished the next essay in the series and it has some suggestions about addressing groping in particular, but not harassment in general.

  3. ronster12012 said, on November 1, 2016 at 9:05 am


    Firstly a point about your use of the term “hate speech”. Would you care to define it, please? I cannot take it seriously as it is so selectively used. I may take it seriously and not just a sign of virtue signaling and conformity when I see it defined objectively and applied impartially, though I may be waiting a long time……

    I read the link then realised that I had read it earlier….some chick whining that she was ‘groped’ in cyberspace.
    Does anyone take this nonsense seriously? She had just presumably killed many virtual people and somehow thinks that she is being violated. A bit too princessy I’d say…she needs to harden up a bit if she wants to actually be equal to men, not just expect to be treated as equal when she clearly is not.

    On to the ‘harassment’ thing. Easy solution, special moderated games for snowflakes and real games for everyone else. If you can’t handle the heat, stay out of the kitchen. It is that simple.

    A perfect analogy would be me deciding to join a rugby team and then complaining that they hurt my feelings…..lololol. It is a perfect analogy as I chose to play knowing what the game consists of therefore I have no right to complain. Additionally, in real games there are a lot of insults etc flying around, as all games are at least partly psychological. Annoy the opponent, wind them up, unsettle them….all part of the game. Men understand this, women want special rules yet think that they are ‘equal’ ffs..

    In a broader sense, this discussion is really about women demanding the right to invade all male spaces.
    Not only demanding the right to invade but demanding that those male spaces be changed to suit their preferences. All in the name of ‘infuckingclusiveness’ or some other retarded shit , no doubt…

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 1, 2016 at 6:46 pm

      I was using “hate speech” in a non-precise way; in this context it would be the expression of hatred via speech. I don’t assign any special status to this in the “PC” sense in this essay.

  4. TJB said, on November 1, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    Deep philosophical question: would you rather be virtually groped or teabagged?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 1, 2016 at 6:57 pm

      I’d have to go with the virtual tea-bag; although I’d probably just laugh if some fool was wasting time groping my virtual junk in battle. Then I’d stick a fusion grenade to their face and laugh some more.

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