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Free Market Solution to Video Game “Hate Speech”

By 7 February 2011 2 Comments

I would think that most of us would agree that there are certain less than acceptable ways of talking in the public square.  Now even less than acceptable language, even that of the coined “hate speech” variety of communication is still protected speech.  The philosophy of deterring certain types of speech through government regulation is something that I and many of my colleagues feel is a 1st Amendment violation. Most notably are the Fairness Doctrine which continues its journey via Mark Lloyd, and the Internet version suggested by Cass Sunstein creating “Internet sidewalks” of opposing viewpoints across the Web.

While the issue of regulating speech and the philosophy of policy like the Fairness Doctrine are not something I condone, the prospect of a free market solution for something that certain groups or even society as a whole deem inappropriate is fair game.

Enter Fat, Ugly or Slutty. (Some language at the site may not be safe for work.)  FatUglyorSlutty.com is a site designed to combat online video game communication that may be seen as deplorable by the community.  The site is run by three individuals, two of which are female, whose experience with online gaming was not always pleasant.  A mostly male audience perpetually labeled the girls as either “fat and ugly, or a slut.”  In the sites “About” section, the administrators feel that the often hurtful communication is most likely due to a combination of two psychological theories:

  1. Online Disinhibition Effect – A condition in which real life identity is viewed as different from online identity resulting in a user not behaving with the same inhibition they may operate under in the real world.
  2. John Gabriel’s Greater Internet F*^#wad Theory – This theory, which has been referenced to on Digital Society before was developed by Johnathan “Gabe” Gabriel who is of course Penny-Arcades Mike Krahulik’s comic alter ego. The theory essentially states that a “Normal Person + Anonymity + Audience = Total F*^#kwad” (You can find the comic here, language warning in play.)

The idea of Fat, Ugly or Slutty is that online gamers that engage in name calling, sexism, racism, bigotry, or unacceptable speech will be chided by their peers.  Fat, Ugly or Slutty posts screen shots of various forms of speech that the recipient found to be unacceptable.  To me this seems like an appropriate response, and feels very much like the public stocks of days gone by.

Public stocks were used in yesteryear in small towns often to keep from losing valuable members of the work force.  Now obviously stocks could be abused and the system could become torturous.  But the principle was that an individual was essentially embarrassed and humiliated instead of receiving a physical punishment or being thrown in jail.  Either of which could have removed the individual from the work force of a small community for a long period of time which would have ultimately been more destructive to the community than the action that the individual was being punished for.

There are several reasons that it occurs to me that this is acceptable:

  1. Ultimately a player maintains their anonymity and are not punished in the “real world” where the action did not occur.
  2. The community has a choice in the matter.  If the comments go public, or reach a greater audience than that of the initial occurrence via the website in question, the community determines whether the comments were offensive.  The intelligence of the masses does not always play itself out, but it at least offers the chance of a fair shake.
  3. The commenter is scarred and/or humiliated straight instead of being regulated into check.  If the community that the commenter resides in finds the comments to be out of line, then they will let the player know about it by dropping him/her from their friends list or even isolating the player from online team based events.  The concern of being ostracized from ones online gaming ecosystem is a true threat that most game players would take very seriously.

Fat, Ugly or Slutty is a very unique social experiment in gaming culture.  In my personal experience, and that I’m sure of many of our readers, online gaming communication is often synonymous with conversation in a high school gym locker room.  In a similar vein as the results of making locker room conversation more public, Fat, Ugly or Slutty poses the possibility of forcing game players to think twice before they speak.  An acceptable Free Market Doctrine.