Thatgamecompany’s PS3 exclusive Journey released just over a month ago to universal acclaim. When I saw something about Jenova Chen, the title’s Creative Director, I was intrigued. What would the creator of such a unique, powerful video game have to say about the culture of gaming? In an interview with EuroGamer, Mr. Chen made the following controversial comment:

“There’s this assumption in video games that if you run into a random player online, it’s going to be a bad experience. You think that they will be an asshole, right? But listen: none of us was born to be an asshole. I believe that very often it’s not really the player that’s an asshole. It’s the game designer that made them an asshole. If you spend every day killing one another, how are you going to be a nice guy? All console games are about killing each other, or killing one another together. Don’t you see? It’s our games that make us assholes.”
Journey creator Jenova Chen. -EuroGamer

I don’t agree with Jenova’s statement and couldn’t help but mutter, “what the hell,” when I read it. I should be clear that I don’t have anything against Jenova Chen or his quality work, because everyone is entitled to their opinion. In fact, I was looking for a different take on things, and I certainly got it from Mr. Chen’s interview, but his opinion has compelled me to respond.

For starters, I don’t automatically assume that meeting someone online is going to be a bad experience. Sure, it’s annoying when you’re playing an online game that requires cooperation and somebody doesn’t have a headset (which I’ve gone on about before.) I may also scoff at somebody’s low level when I’m playing on an exceedingly hard difficulty that they shouldn’t be attempting.

Regardless, I find that when somebody does have a mic we usually get along well. We talk strategy or team work, I find out where they’re from, we make some jokes and the experience is typically good. The times when I do run into an annoying somebody? I (thankfully) have a number of options in order to prevent them from hindering my experience.

Muting, kicking, or calling them out and challenging them one on one are just a few of those options.  If they are on the other team, I gladly let them talk all the crap they want. I just give it back to them threefold after I beat them. I figure they deserve it and likely expect it at that point anyway.

Jenova does acknowledge that we’re not all born to be assholes, which I agree with. I don’t agree that game developers and video games turn people into assholes. Think back to history where there were plenty of people who didn’t know a thing about TV or video games and were none to pleasant.

Look at how people treated prisoners or criminals, subjecting them to torture, rape and slavery just to name a few. Ever hear of the method of execution known as hanged, drawn and quartered? (Think Braveheart). That’s a particularly barbaric bit of business there and just one example. In fact, I could write several articles on this subject, and I have already, but I’ll leave it at that.

Console games where I’m killing someone’s online cartoon avatar or enemy AI doesn’t make gamers into assholes. Back when I used to play Call of Duty, I actually enjoyed the competitiveness.  It was a nightly social event and my real-life friends, as well as people I’d met over Xbox Live, all came together to have a good time. We worked together, helping each other with bits of shared gaming wisdom.

The experience was akin to playing hockey with my friends.  I’d get that rush of excitement after a really good win, and our work together honed our skills to a military precision where we knew each other’s moves. We got to a point where, in a few clipped words, we could bring the pain to almost any enemy team. Sure we ran into people that would boast talk a lot of garbage, but wasn’t a problem. We kept our cool and showed sportsmanship no matter who we played online.

I should note that we even occasionally ran into the opposite kind of team where, after a match, we’d congratulate each other and comment on the awesome moves and kills each team pulled. I think you get a mixed bunch any time you play, just like any random group of people you might see on the street. Some might be immature with low self esteem and foul mouths, and others are there to have fun, make friends, and play/compete in a friendly manner.

Do you think competitive games, by design, turn gamers into jerks? Please let us know in the comments or tweet us @GameJudgment.

  1. Jaymes says:

    I disagree with your assessment completely. I argue, and I do realize this might make me sound like a certain fundamentalist christian *ahem*, but when people aren’t punished for poor behavior in games, it makes them more likely to do it in…well, meat-space.

    It’s this shallowness and lack of respect that’s harming gaming, and giving it a bad light. Maybe if people were more well-behaved, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, but no, that’s something that can only be done in the year 1950, which would be impossible.

    While it is tempting to lay the blame on COD, like some have done, I feel it’s due to changes on how people behave in general, maybe it’s so deep-rooted, it can’t be fixed.

  2. violents says:

    I agree with this article, games do not make the asshole. And the first comment said it best. Anonymity and competivness will make for some huge shit talkin douche bags. Unfortunatley Chen is very wrong, some people are just assholes, be it low self esteem or a need to feel like your a big man cause you can make someone else feel as bad as you do. Some people you meet online are big losers in real life and that game world is the only place they can garner respect from anyone, unfortunatly it can go to your head real quick if you never get validation from any other facet of your life.

    And teamwork is dead since COD hit the market, in that game you can run and gun and still be a good player, in BF3 you need to play the objective and communicate with your team/squad to win and to many people play it like its COD. Developers need to find a way to stress the need for mics on games like this so you can talk to your team.

  3. Kory Baldwin says:

    I think anonymity is the single greatest reason we see poor behavior online. The fact that everybody has an avatar and an online name that protects who they really are lets typically well behaved people feel they can “let out the bad” they normally control in other social situations. Combine said anonymity with activities that are competitive in nature and you have a recipe for douche-baggery.

    There are, of course, some truly awful people, but they are more rare than it may seem online.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see much better behavior if Xbox Live, PSN, Steam, etc…showed REAL NAMES and photos of the players.

  4. Abhishek Indoria says:

    “It’s our games that make us assholes.”
    Uh…what?! :P
    Also, in the last paragraphs you mentioned teamwork. I should notably mention that apart from a few games and a few people, no one plays cooperatively online. They’re just looking to increase their KD ratio or whatever. I see this almost every day on Battlefield 3. You’re very less likely to see someone helping the team out, but when you do, you’re correct, the experience and the thrill of the game increases tenfold.

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