Bethesda has banned a group of Fallout 76 players for life after a shocking in-game homophobic attack.
The following contains language some may find offensive.
The move relates to an incident in which a group of Fallout 76 players targeted and harassed another group of players, saying over the proximity chat: "we have come to eliminate all gays."
Fallout 76 employs a proximity-based chat system which means, by default, you can speak to and hear other players when you're near them. This is by design - Fallout 76 is a multiplayer-only game that is meant to spark interesting player interaction.
The group of high-level players proceeded to follow and kill the other group of players over a period of about 10 minutes. Their ringleader, who goes by the username NathanTheHicc, is heard saying "queer down" and "decontaminate the aids".
One of the victims, AJ from Chicago, took to Twitter to publicise the incident with disturbing video footage that has been viewed over 16,000 times.
Called themselves the "gay eliminators" "cleansing the wasteland of the queers" "know what we did to your people back then, we killed them" THIS is the stuff said to us tonight when playing Fallout. @bethesda @BethesdaStudios @Fallout #Fallout #Fallout76 pic.twitter.com/zwPuz7AbsG— AJpls (@AJpls_) November 16, 2018
In a follow-up interview with Eurogamer, AJ said the harassment began slightly earlier, when NathanTheHicc approached the group to ask for a Disease Cure item.
"The three of us were having a good time and talking to him and then one of us commented on his character or his characters outfit being cute. He replied, 'I don't fuck with that homo shit' and left."
10 minutes later, NathanTheHicc returned with friends to harass AJ and his group. Fallout 76's player versus player system employs an anti-griefing mechanic that means if you don't fight back, your attacker does negligible damage.
"The game notified me that if I didn't fight back, they would do limited damage so I didn't fight back and hoped they would just get bored and leave," AJ said. "They stuck with it and even joked about how 'this is the strongest queer I've ever seen'."
Eventually, NathanTheHicc and his friends killed AJ's character. "We changed servers after we respawned," AJ said. "Just so it wouldn't happen again."
AJ took to Twitter to highlight the incident, he said, because there's no in-game player report function in Fallout 76. Bethesda community managers sent AJ a link to Bethesda's website-based player report function, but AJ found it didn't work properly.
"The tweet was forwarded to some community managers for the game and they were very kind and helpful," AJ said. "We were given a link to report the players but had issues with it. The site asked for a video file of the incident but the accepted file types weren't video files. So we couldn't send one. For me, the page would not even load. It seems very difficult to report players."
NathanTheHicc then uploaded footage of his initial encounter with AJ and his friends to his own YouTube channel. The video is titled: "Cleansing of the queers."
Over email with Eurogamer, NathanTheHicc confirmed Bethesda had been in touch to say he was banned for three days and said he was told "this would be our only warning".
NathanTheHicc, a senior in high school from the US, said: "My version of the incident is more or less the same as the public has taken it, the only differences being the fact that I don't hate gay people. It was just a late night of having fun and after the first encounter (seen on my channel) we felt it would be fun to offend them somehow. You can call that evil but I think it's just playful immaturity.
"I do not regret the incident. I will not apologise given the opportunity. I don't plan on doing anything like this in the future but to be fair I didn't plan the initial incident, I just found them and decided to go through with it."
NathanTheHicc won't get the chance to repeat the incident, however, because Bethesda has now banned him and his friends from Fallout 76 permanently.
"We gave an initial ban of three days while our CS team looked into the matter further to verify the individuals involved and what took place," a Bethesda spokesperson told Eurogamer. "After additional review, we have now permanently banned the players we've identified."
AJ told Eurogamer how he felt at the time of the attack, saying he worried how it might have impacted younger players had it happened to someone else.
"In the moment, I was just in shock," he said. "It was disgusting. The three of us stream and put ourselves out there on the internet and are not strangers to homophobic comments but this was so extreme. We talked about what happened, made sure we were all okay, and kept playing. The rest of the night I just felt drained. It was a weird feeling.
"I got really angry too. These guys were running around targeting people and what if they targeted a kid playing that was struggling with their identity? What if they said all those things to someone that was playing solo and didn't have anyone to talk to? That can really mess someone up. Playing a game to escape reality and then that happens. That's why we need to be able to report these people and why companies need to do something about reports."
Fallout 76 isn't the first video game to come under fire for not having an in-built player report function. Back in August 2017, Blizzard was criticised for not including a player report function in the console versions of multiplayer shooter Overwatch. It was later added to the game.
The Bethesda spokesperson said Fallout 76 "empowers players to permanently block other players", pointing to the reporting tools on Bethesda.net and the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. "We will not tolerate this kind of behaviour by any of our players, nor towards any of our players. We will continue to investigate claims of misconduct or abuse - along with Microsoft and Sony - and take action when necessary."
"Reporting in-game is necessary," AJ said. "Simply blocking someone from a session is only temporarily protecting yourself, but not stopping anything from happening again or to other people. For 76 specifically, non-PvP servers would be great. Maybe things would have been different if they were not able to kill us. Despite all the bugs and glitches, the game is fun when you're with friends and can casually explore and play."