After a hard day wrangling wild tribbles, breaking them to the saddle, branding them, gelding them, herding them to market—or simply slaving away over a large pot of tribble stew—I like to put up a pot of tea, open a tin of biscuits, and treat myself to a nice quiet relaxing evening. I play StarCraft II, because there’s nothing on this planet as satisfying as kicking the crap out of some insolent little snot with a testosterone problem.

What draws me to StarCraft and other multiplayer games is the strategy and logistics of the game. You have to plan, build and counter what the enemy is doing. You have to consider costs and consequences. I enjoy being a part of a team that can plan and execute, counter and adapt, and invent on-the-fly appropriate strategies and tactics to take advantage of the conditions of the map.

In fact, that’s what I like most: the experience of real teamwork. Most games allow communication between players—even if you don’t have a headset, you can still type messages back and forth and develop online friendships. Team play lets you experience being part of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Other players play for other reasons, of course. Some are methodically determined to build up their league scores, their tally of achievements, or simply master the different skills necessary for winning. Some play for the social aspects, and some just play because they like the game. And me—after winning 500 games in Nexus Wars (an uploaded game mod), I get to use the ultimate avatar as a builder. It can be very intimidating to the noobs.  (We were all noobs once. It’s part of the game.)

What I don’t like about multiplayer games is that some players behave badly. Apparently, the anonymity of the Internet is an incentive for some people to let out their inner bully. Some players act as if trash-talking an opponent gives them some advantage. Actually, the reverse is true. Trash-talking an opponent increases his desire to beat the excrement out of you on the playing field.

Speaking for myself, I like it when someone on the other team puts on an attitude, because that makes the endgame even more fun as my gleaming void rays slash away at his last base, and when it finally explodes into a pile of glittering rubble, I get to taunt, “Where’s your attitude now, Earth-boy?!”

It’s that anti-social aspect of games that can spoil the fun for other players. Griefers deliberately work against their own teams to cause them to lose—the first time I saw this in Warcraft III, I was on the team that got griefed and (as the griefer hoped) it infuriated my team while the winning team laughed their asses off. That was a while back. If it happened again today, I’d simply nuke the little bugger and quit the game.

A few months ago, during one late-night session of StarCraft II, one terminally immature player started trash-talking the only female member of the team. She got justifiably fed up and quit, causing a loss for the team.

Actually, there are quite a few women playing online games, and playing quite well, but many women gamers have chosen gender-neutral names because the only skill that some of the younger males have developed is misogyny. (I consider misogyny a particularly stupid kind of hate-speech. If a man has trained himself to disrespect women, his love life is going to be restricted to his right hand. Unless he’s ambidextrous.)

Fortunately, Blizzard has added a much-needed feature to At the end of a game, when you look at the score screen that lists how well each player did, you can click on a player’s name to either add him to your list of friends or report him to Blizzard for bad behavior—including harassment and cheating. You can also block further communication with that player.

Personally, I’d like to see this list expanded. I’d like a whole list of options like:
• I want to be on a team with this person in the future.
• I do not want to be on a team with this person in the future.
• I want to play against this person in the future.
• I do not want to play against this person in the future.
• I never want to see this person again.
• This person needs to be slapped. Hard.

I don’t have the same wide range of gaming experience as a lot of other folks, so I don’t know what situations exist in other venues. But the Internet is not known as a domain of good manners. It’s clear that any multiplayer game is going to attract a few players who behave so badly in-game that they spoil the experience for others. That makes it necessary for gaming companies to act to protect their product and minimize any player’s ability to harass and offend.

To their credit, Blizzard has some word-filtering in effect. The seven deadly words that you cannot say on television are also banished from StarCraft II—and a few more. Such words disappear behind a cartoon-like string of symbols: !@#$.

What does it say about a company’s respect for its customers if they prohibit some terms and allow others? Was it intentional or an oversight? I think it’s most likely an unconscious oversight. Most major companies have become very receptive to the issues of minorities and women, so it’s probably because the programmers responsible for implementing the word-filtering just weren’t sensitive to those issues.

Ironically, as much as I’m opposed to censorship in art and literature and film, I’m still in favor of word-filtering in a gaming environment. It works. It nudges people in the direction of good manners. When you see words filtered out of your messages, you stop using those words. And that has to have some effect on your thinking and your behavior elsewhere as well. So the prohibition of one word while allowing another sends a message that while the first bigotry is no longer acceptable, the second one is still approved and justifiable.

The last time I shared my thoughts on the subject of online bad manners and restricting some of the terms of bigotry, I was accused of advocating “political correctness.” I looked across the table at my redheaded friend and said, “Why would I care what a dumb ginger thinks?” He stared at me for a moment, startled—then started laughing. He got it.

It’s not that hard to add objectionable words to your word-filter. It’s a courtesy to your users. And no, it’s not about political correctness, it’s about respecting the essential dignity of every human being. It’s about treating all customers with respect. It’s about creating an environment where all participants feel welcome.

What do you think?

David Gerrold is the author of over 50 books, several hundred articles and columns, and over a dozen television episodes, including the famous “Star Trek” episode, “The Trouble with Tribbles.” He is also an authority on computer software and programming, and takes a broad view of the evolution of advanced technologies. Readers may remember Gerrold from the Computer Language Magazine forum on CompuServe, where he was a frequent and prolific contributor in the 1990s.