Psychological battles are part of the game

The highly competitive world of online gaming has laid waste the generic politeness we were all taught as kids, such as “Good game,” “Nice try” or “Better luck next time.” To either congratulate or demean other players online, one can use the chat option by typing or even talking in real time to other gamers, often telling them how insignificant, lame or “noob” they are. Psychological battles are played throughout the game to demoralize opponents, players often going so far as to tell a stranger from halfway around the world that they have no friends, are fat or deserve the ever-popular clichéd mother insult.

When playing StarCraft, I remember the first time someone beat me so badly that he told me he “owned” me. Shocked and appalled, I thought to myself, owned—as in less than nothing or as a reference to slavery. I was angry at myself for losing and even angrier at them for saying such a thing. Why would someone verbally abuse someone else over such a thing as petty as an online computer game?

Science-fiction- and fantasy-based online games typically draw players from their early teens to their mid-20s, mostly male. In the online world, anything goes, and the devoted schoolyard geek will own the school jock nine times out of 10 when it comes to a war between animated avatars. Still, it was years later that it dawned on me that my generic opponents were much younger than I. While age has nothing to do with skill set, in-game manners do.

This frustration at being owned ensued until I improved my finger speed, learned “hot keys” to create shortcuts within keyboard-given commands and thought out new tactical surprises, which in turn allowed me to “own” others. I owned players left, right and center. I got so good and talked so much trash that I was banned from certain chat rooms and servers. I was talked about on gaming forums and hunted by other elite gamers.

Owning, and winning, became so important to me that the game stopped being fun. Online gaming became a tool to demoralize other players. For just an irrelevant instant after a win, I could claim a spot in my mind and theirs as being more skilled at a game that benefits absolutely no one and nothing in the universe.