The stereotype is that kids are raucous in competitive online games. Switch that chat off before you're verbally assaulted for being rubbish, Granddad. But what if the slipper were on the other foot and it were actually kids being targeted and pushed around - and simply for sounding young?
"The first time I ever felt 'harassed' was when I made a simple callout about someone switching to a hitscan DPS so that we could help counter a Pharah, and the person got so mad at me they said they would track me down and kill me."
That's a 13-year-old Overwatch player called Razy, talking to me in an email.
"Recently I have been feeling as if I show any emotion (happy or even confusion) people get mad at me as if I did something to them."
He's been on the receiving end of adults throwing their weight around, and it was one incident after another that pushed him into appealing to the 610,000 subscriber-strong Overwatch subreddit - and causing quite a stir when he did.
In his post, titled "Children Playing Overwatch. My Thoughts," he wrote:
"People are constantly yelling at mainly me and my friend for we have squeaky voices. We tend to say sorry about our voices before the match starts... the problem is people take this as an excuse and yell at us with things such as, 'What are you 10? Stop playing Overwatch f*.' Or, 'Dang if only we didn't have a pack of f***** eight-year-olds.'
"It's starting to get annoying and I feel all of my matches since i got near Diamond [competitive tier] have become a scream-fest on why I shouldn't be playing the game."
Razy didn't expect the reaction he got; 1276 comments later and the response has been, he said, "overwhelmingly positive". The community has offered advice (mostly to report people as well as mute and block them), sympathy ("you seem like a cool kid; keep on keeping on, and don't let the selfish s***ters get to you") and even used his post as a platform to share their own similar experiences.
Those experiences range from being almost identical to Razy's:
- "I'm 14, and in the same boat as [Razy] and I'm also in Diamond! I'd like to tag along if you don't mind," wrote Elwain66.
- "You just brought up so many memories of playing online as a teenager. Half the time I straight up muted my voice comms, the other half I pitched my voice down using the voice changer on the PS3 just so I wouldn't get flamed while trying to communicate," wrote FireBurstRazorBack.
To morphing into a common problem that young women with higher-pitched voices run into:
- "I'm 16 and still get harassed. Since I'm a girl, I tend to have more of a lighter voice, so I often hear people jabbing insults at me like I'm an eight-year-old," wrote Aktombi.
- "I'm 17 and a girl too, and I have a hard time turning my mic on for that same reason. You get called a child, a little boy, really vulgar names and questions, a number of insults that kind of just put you down. They're always easy to counter and laugh at. But it makes you feel stupid," wrote GoddessOfIsaac.
It's a shame and it's out of character with the image Blizzard wants associated with Overwatch, though this kind of thing is hardly unique to one competitive online game. But there are tools to mute, block and report players, and Blizzard can only do something about someone when that someone has been flagged for being bad.
Question is, how often are people reported? Razy admitted to letting most things slide and only reporting a handful of people. "I won't report someone if they say something like 'kys [kill yourself] kid' or swear in chat," he said.
Then again, Razy's experience isn't necessarily typical of all young players' experiences.
- "I'm 14 [years-old] at around [skill rating] 1700 and have a completely different experience with going on voice," wrote chaseofspades11. "I have never had anyone make fun of me or say really anything particularly mean about my voice."
So the determining factor may simply be skill rating; the higher you are, the more abuse you may get. Indeed it seems as though the Diamond tier that Razy fights in (3000-3499) may be the worst offender. "There's definitely a level below the top where people want to be placed higher than they are while also thinking they're better than everyone else below them," wrote Manning119. Only Master and Grandmaster tiers in Overwatch are higher.
Personally I've never even encountered a young person in voice chat, let alone noticed a young person being chastised by others. Then again, I fight in the more leisurely Gold tier 2000-2499. Have you noticed anything similar?
As for Razy, he sounds like he's cheered up a bit since he wrote the post. "The game still feels the same," he said, "I didn't expect anything to change. I have, however, come across a few people who saw my post and it's exciting feeling like I have 'Done Something'. Many people sent me private messages asking for me to play with them. I've had a fun time meeting so many people."
Have a nice weekend you lot! And be nice!