I’m over both the PAX pox and the slightly sullen feeling I have after PAX. After three condensed days of distilled awesome it’s hard to just return to the normal routine. Not to mention I had so many things going on between appearances and performances and stuff. I’d like to write you a looooong blog post about it. But I don’t have to! There’s video!
Thursday night was the Kris and Scott’s Scott and Kris Show LIVE. A Dammit Liz production, K&SS&CSL (Scott would appreciate how much “&SS” looks like “ASS” in that acronym) was at The Triple Door theatre in downtown Seattle. It’s one of my favorite places to perform. How’d the show go? Why don’t you watch and tell me?
Friday was my only day to walk the show floor. I’m super excited for X-Com, Borderlands 2, The Last of Us, and a ton of other great stuff. I can’t stress enough that if you think PAX is just about the panels, it’s also totally about the amazing things on the expo floor. Can you tell I love PAX? If not it’s best summed up in my repeated uses of “totally” “super-excited” and “awesome/amazing”. I’ll slow it down now.
Saturday was a busy day for me so I will just list stuff out here in video form. I gave a speech called “Beyond Wheaton’s Law: Being Excellent to Each Other Online” which I don’t have video for, but I will post the text at the tail end of this post.
I rejoined my seat as co-host of Major Nelson radio, the podcast I’ve always had so much fun doing and now we only do it live for PAX since I left Xbox. But it was a blast to get to have fun with my friends, and special guest stars Dr. Jeff Norris from NASA JPL, and Randy Pitchford from Gearbox software. Here is the audio only version and here is the video version.
Probably my favorite talk of the weekend was the interview I did with Chet and Erik of Valve software. Chet and Erik and I go waaaaayyyyy back to the days when they used to write a site called Old Man Murray. We cover a ton of topics from where they get their initial thoughts on story for a game to their hatred of cut scenes. Also watch out for Erik revealing a funny plotline dropped from Portal 2.
I also reprised the interviewer role I had at PAX East with Robert Khoo, President of Business…stuff with Penny Arcade. Robert and I have a pretty good stage rapport and cover a ton of topics from PAX Australia, to his thoughts on if someone ever had to succeed him in his role. Video of the interview is here.
Bonus? Watch this rousing speech from Dr. Jeff Norris about the future of space exploration.
Finally here’s the text of the speech I gave on online behavior. It went really well and the crowd seemed pretty pleased by it judging by the feedback I got.
Beyond Wheaton’s Law: Being Excellent to Each Other Online
Greetings PAX. My name is Stephen Toulouse, otherwise known as Stepto which is my nickname online. In fact I often joke that I only get called Stephen if I am at home and have done something wrong. I’m not going to bore you with slides today because I worked for Microsoft for 18 years and can tell you that I believe firmly that power corrupts, and PowerPoint corrupts absolutely. I’m so happy to be here. PAX, for me, is home. And every year since they have allowed me to speak, I get the most nervous, the most anxious at presenting to you. Because you are my people. Long before I was presenting to you, I was you, in the audience, listening to someone I wanted to hear from.
It’s pretty nerve wracking in its own way, but it’s so much more awesome when you find a topic you really thing people need to hear more about.
I think it’s fair to say that the conversation about online douchebags…wait you know what? I don’t work for Microsoft anymore. Let’s call them what they are: Fuckwads. In tribute to Mike’s Greater Internet Fuckwad theory. That theory states that good person+ internet audience+ anonymity= bad online behavior, misogyny, homophobia, racism i.e. fuckwads. Fear not all-age audiences this is probably the last point at which this talk will delve into R rated material.
This topic in general, the fuckwad problem, seems to have a brighter light on it at the moment. A brighter light than it has ever had.
I have perspective on this. Throughout my life I’ve transitioned from physical world interaction, to physical video game interaction, to incorporating online interaction, to incorporating online video game interaction. During the advance of the Internet I was at Microsoft for 18 years. For the explosion of online console gaming I was at Xbox for 6 years.
There’s a temptation, on my part, to tell you from my long “get off my lawn” history, what the problems are. And what the solutions are. Instead I’m going to tell you some stories, give you some thoughts, and ask you a few questions.
I titled this talk Beyond Wheaton’s Law: Being Excellent to Each Online. The reason for that title is something that I’ve noticed over the past couple of years.
Shit’s getting harsh online.
Maybe that’s not accurate. Maybe that’s just me. I think its worth talking a little bit about how we got here. For some of you in the audience, this part might be the get off my lawn part. I beg you, please bear with me.
You see, I grew up in the world of arcades. I grew up with a park close to my house. My exposure to gaming was always centered around the physical. When I got frustrated at how stupid the joystick controls were for Q-bert and wanted to rage smash the screen when he fell off the edge even though I specifically hit the stick at the angle to prevent that because seriously screw that game…well there were consequences. If I yelled at a team mate in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for being a complete idiot for rushing ahead as Donatello when his attack is SPECIFICALLY a range attack, or told them they were an ugly bag of mostly water for hanging back as Raphael when his attacks are short range I KNOW RIGHT?
Who plays like that? These…other humans who don’t know that a turtle with a staff jumps in to help the short range attackers or the turtle with the short blades gets up and close. THAT’S JUST SCIENCE!
Point being, if I freaked out? Beat the crap out of the machine? Punched the guy WHO MAY OR HAVE NOT BEEN NAMED ANTIONIO over the misuse of Donatello when all I had was a dollar to play on…
Well there were consequences.
Perhaps I would have, in a fury, punched the machine that an arcade relied on to earn money to pay the people’s wages that ran the place? There would probably be a real life consequence for that. Or yelling at my friend Antonio? Yeah he was bigger than me, and wasn’t afraid to snap his wrist at the end of an uppercut into my stomach so it hurt even worse.
I grew up, in my own way, with the counterbalance of consequence.
The same thing is true of physical games right? My personal favorite game growing up, our go to game in the neighborhood, our “we didn’t playtest this” of physical games…was Wall Ball.
All right who here knows the rules of Wall ball?
All right let me explain it to you Wikipedia style. I looked online for the description of wall ball and it started with “First, find a big, flat wall.” Oh ok. “With no windows” it continued.
The next phase was “Throw the ball!” Holy jeebus this is some serious chess like game here!
All right here’s the point. You throw the ball at the wall, if the ball hits the ground before the ball hits the wall you have to run and touch the wall. It sounds simple if you’re the first thrower but keep in mind it’s a running game so the first person to throw the ball hits the wall easily but it’s harder for the other players. Here’s the official description:
The other players try to throw the ball against the wall before the player touches the wall. If the ball hits the wall before the player, the player is out. If the ball is caught in the air after it hits the wall and not the ground, the person who threw the ball is out. If a player touches the ball but does not keep possession, that player must touch the wall before the other players can throw the ball against the wall. If the person does not touch the wall before the ball, the player is out.
We played with one variant rule. After five times of being “out” you had to spread eagle on the wall. The highest scoring person got the ball. Oh did I mention the ball was a tennis ball?
The highest scoring person threw the ball at a distance of the full length of the court, which was usually a half basketball court, if they missed you they lost the game. If they hit you, they had to run and touch the wall before anyone else on the court got the rebound and hit the wall with the ball. If they didn’t touch the wall in time, the person hit with the ball previously got all their points.
Now that I have described for you the tennis ball version of Thunderdome, I want you to think for a minute about trash talk in this game.
At any moment you might find yourself, through no fault of your own other than lack of skill, spread eagled against a brick wall, with someone of relatively important strength about to launch a tennis ball at perhaps your most vital parts. Thoughts race through your head: What, if anything, have you mentioned about the sexual proclivities of their mother? Did I mention you’re spread eagle? It doesn’t matter then gender. I’ve asked about this. No woman wants a high speed tennis ball in the groinal crotchital area.
This brings me back to consequences.
Be it in the arcade area, or the physical game area, there were consequences for actions. There were painful, potentially future childbearing repercussions to dick like behavior.
That’s where I came from. That was, oh what’s the phrase now? My new jam.
I never really thought of being snarky without a repercussion.
How many of you logged into a BBS. Oh sorry hang on hang on….steady…steady…a “Bulletin board system?”
Ok some of you. This guys, this was the first time humans really had a chance to send a message saying “is anyone else here?” online to almost *one hundred people*
Here’s where things started to turn.
It was here that human communication in a broader sense, moved from being something that was one to one, or one to a few who might be able to affect correction for behavior, into an audience too large for that to happen.
Ah…how well I remember the great drama wars of the late 80’s. Where dozens, whole dozens of people would completely flip out over the insensitive use of a word or phrase. Ah yes, The good old days. BBS’s grew in size, and in the late 80’s and early 90’s started to incorporate online games. I know kids. It’s crazy, but it’s true. We played complex multifaceted games one ascii line scrolling across the screen at a time, thanks to the amazing technology of the 2600 baud modem.
From those halcyon days of Tradewars and other door games, we moved onto the online services. Gimme a shout if you remember Prodigy. I remember prodigy. It came with my modem card. One free month, and one paid month, then you got billed by the minute. 296 dollars later I learned my lesson about online interaction. You couldn’t afford to be a misogynistic douchebag online. It was far more money than you could ever afford.
Sure you could grief a game. Sure, you could be a jerk. But the very opening of human communication was beginning to show itself. It was beginning to make a person who knew enough to put a card in a computer slot that there was a larger world out there, polite and ready to talk. It was a pre- dudebro world. And it was glorious. And expensive. So when you got banned and they took your money anyway, there was a real consequence to your actions. Again, consequence.
Before long the BBS world and the online service world gave way to the Internet world. Oh the Internet was always there. Lurking, waiting. And it had its trolls too. But when it really broke out it was obvious that the smaller communities and walled gardens were done for.
I’ve always said my generation didn’t get our flying cars we were promised. Instead we got the Internet, which is actually a better trade given how most people drive.
That’s been mostly a good thing.
But somewhere along the way it became a bad thing.
Over time the Internet got cheap and available 24/7. And with the Internet something happened, something disappeared. Consequence.
There are times when I hear someone saying something online and I think “really?” When did that enter their heads that that was ok? I’m not talking a random off color joke or funny exclamation here. I’m talking violent speech. Hate speech. Sexist speech. Homophobic speech. Racist speech. It being over the Internet doesn’t make it ok. In fact, nothing makes it ok.
A second thing I’ve noticed a bit more of lately is somewhere with the application of anonymity came not just the idea you could be a jerk and get away with it, but also the idea that people have a right to something they have not earned. Not just because they want something they didn’t earn, but because they feel entitled to it.
I talked earlier about physical games and sportsmanship. When I was a child, the most competitive thing I ever did was participating in Swim meets. I only did it for a couple of years and I wasn’t very good. My number of green "participant" ribbons severely outnumbered any other ribbons I had on my achievements board. But one meet I really trained, and I really practiced and through that hard work I ended up taking home a red second place ribbon. That ribbon meant more to me than just about anything in my childhood at that time.
So I learned behavior and I learned accomplishment. And those things became important to me.
I look at those Gamerscore cheaters out there, or those people trying to hack up fake 10th prestige ranks in Modern Warfare and I wonder…why? What world do they live in that that became not just ok, but something they demand? Someone asked me once after I gamer score reset them why I did it? They actually tried to explain to me that their fiddling with some hex values in a tool on their PC to make everyone think they had played hundreds of games was their right, and we shouldn’t do anything about it. They laid claim to an accolade they did not earn and, in a bizarre perversion, were proud of that.
It was as if instead of one bright red ribbon I was proud of, standing out amidst a deep field of green ones, I simply stole the box of ribbons and filled my board with blue first place ones then asked my mom to be proud of me. I would have gotten a smacking like no other. I’m serious she would have popped me so hard my head would have left a red shift.
I get that there will always be cheating, and I get that I’m probably not the person who’s going to be the first person ever to understand all the aspects of it and make it go away.
But. I’m so proud of my Little Rocket Man achievement in Half Life 2 Episode 2. I carried that Gnome all the way across Episode 2 even on the car level with the helicopter chasing me. I can’t imagine flipping a bit somewhere and granting myself that just to brag that I had it.
I don’t think the problems of cheating and racism and misogyny and homophobia are getting worse. I think instead our population is becoming so diverse that we are no longer tolerant of the intolerant. Whereas before people shrug and say “that’s the Internet”, the Internet has become our backyard. It’s become our immediate social circle. We no longer schedule time during the day to go engage the Internet, it is with us 24/7.
So now I like to think we’ve turned a major corner. That we are willing to stand up and say no, that’s not ok. We’re willing to blog about it and provide evidence. We’re willing to hold systems accountable for the tools they provide us and the ways in which we interact on their systems. We’re willing to gather that outrage together and demand action. The problem is more visible than it has ever been before, and now we’re ready to confront it like we never have before.
And confront it we must. We must.
Because please know this, If there’s one last bastion of ignorance out there that still questions the integrity and honor of us as gamers, it is due to the behavior of that small subset of people online, not just on Xbox LIVE but any online gaming service, that makes people feel unsafe or disgusted or just plan sad for the future of our world and our species.
There are three key things we can do.
First off, vote with your dollars. I’m often mystified when people tell me they love Call of Duty but hate playing it online. I try to imagine the person that sits there holding the disc in their hands, thinking to themselves “Wow I love the multiplayer on this game, but I hate the people playing it.” and they pop the disc in anyway. Vote with your dollars, do not pay for services that make you feel unsafe. It’s a big Internet out there. There’s lots of ways to have online interaction.
Second, education and communication.
If you’re a parent, please please talk to your children about sportsmanship and fair play, and online safety. I don’t just mean watch them and make sure they don’t cheat in a game or game with unsavory people, I mean please talk to them about the importance of those things as concepts. Why they matter.
Please be involved in your child’s gaming even past the age where you feel they must be doing ok, because hey they’re smart kids and surely couldn’t be causing any problems. I promise you some of the worst behavior we sometimes see occurs right around that age group when a parent might feel more confident in not being as involved, in the 15 to 17 year old range especially. But also please make use of our parental controls as well for younger gamers to help enable and restrict their activities as you see fit. If you’ve given a console to a child and they set it up, I can promise you they or their friends will occasionally do or say some pretty bad stuff. Some of the hardest discussions I have to have in my role at Xbox start with "Actually, I’m afraid little Jimmy did indeed threaten to rape one of my employee’s grandmothers till she flies across the room"
And if you’re an adolescent or college student or young adult, first off, please obey Wheaton’s law, and don’t be a dick. But more importantly, it’s ok to point it out to your friends who are breaking it, that that just isn’t cool. We need more of you to let that buddy who’s screwing up the entire battlefield match by continually taking the only Blackhawk, waiting until it’s filled with teammates then smashing it into that lighthouse out near the ocean that that type of behavior is Not Approved. I know there are fantastic people all over our service and that the bad guys are a tiny fraction. But I know how youth and anonymity can lead to ….questionable choices. Please be an example to your friends where you can.
Third? It’s time for us to move beyond Wheaton’s law and be excellent to each other.
We’ve had a good time talking humorously about the ins and outs of online behavior, I wanted to finish off talking about the heart of what I am trying to convey with that third point.
It’s a story I have told before, but it bears repeating right now. I was playing BulletStorm one day, any BulletStorm fans here? How many of you played Anarchy, online? Anarchy is really tough, it’s a multiplayer mode to the game. And what is involved in that is actually working together as a team. It’s very much like Horde mode or Firefight in other games where basically players have to defeat incoming waves of enemies. The thing that makes BulletStorm more interesting is that it requires the team to work together on specific challenges or you don’t pass the level. You can kill all the enemies on the level and you will not progress because you have to work together as a team on the team challenges.
So I started playing the game and I was completely new, and there were other new people but there was one guy who was awesome. I mean, he was killer. But you could see that our inability to be as good as him was holding the whole experience back. We finally hit a brick wall on the fifth wave of one level, we just couldn’t get past it. And this guy could have done a lot of things. He could have made fun of us, he could have rage quite. And instead he just said “stop". everyone go over to this corner of the map and watch me.”
The next wave teed up and he spectacularly killed the first 8 enemies by using special moves and powerups. Things we were not doing. He pancaked a bunch of them up into the air and proceeded to kill them all in a different way. All the bodies hit the ground and there was a moment of stunned silence. And then he said “And that’s how poppa does it”
And we all went “oooooooooooooooooooo!”
For the next hour he taught us how to use special moves and how to use the level environment to rack up style points to pass the levels. And he was teaching us how to actually play as a team. And as I played with this guy, I felt like I was really having a blast not just because I felt that BulletStorm was a fun game, but because here was this person who was taking the time to help all of us to become better so that we could succeed and progress.
I spoke last year about sportsmanship. I spoke last year about how it is upon us as gamers to spread that word about sportsmanship. And fun. And fair play. And I talked a little bit about obeying Wheaton’s law, which I think we all should do.
And I wonder if it isn’t time as well, I wonder if it’s not time to go a little bit beyond Wil’s suggestion and not just not be a dick or discourage dick behavior, but maybe be excellent to each other.
That BulletStorm guy? He was being excellent to everyone…
I don’t have a better way to put it. I don’t have a thing I can say that is original or more concise.
But now I’d like to hear your thoughts. Thank you.