July 25, 2012 at 3:52 PM ET
This is not a sad story that will make you shake your head at the cruelty of humanity in general and the gaming community in particular. Despite the headline above, this story — at least for the time being — has a happy ending, one that just might give you hope for humanity in general and the gaming community in particular.
But first to begin: Earlier this month a gamer and comedian named Sam Killermann launched a website called Gamers Against Bigotry. As a lifelong gamer, Killermann had enjoyed playing online games as a way to relax. What he didn't enjoy: the racist, homophobic and misogynistic words so frequently tossed around during online gaming sessions.
"They’retossed around like popcorn," he told me during a phone interview, ticking off some of the most popular slurs. "It’s amazing how many times you’ll hear those wordsin a 15-minute span of 'Call of Duty.' " (If you want to hear what it's like for yourself, check out this NSFW video and this one, or In-Game editor Todd Kenreck's interview below with the folks behind Fat, Ugly or Slutty, a site that collects examples of sexual harassment in gaming.)
"For a lot of people who play games it’s a frustration to hear people throwing around slurry, bigoted speech, but we've never felt like there wasanything we could do about it," he said, explaining that every time he had tried to politely ask a fellow player to drop the hateful trash talk it had only made things worse. "I’ve approached it in so many ways and it doesn’tmatter what I say. You essentially add fuel to their fire."
Sure, you can mute or report offensive players. But that's not only an inconvenience, it has also done nothing to stop the larger problem. Killermann told a friend that someone should do something about it. Then he decided he would be that someone.
And so he launched the Gamers Against Bigotry project, a website aimed at educating people about just how harmful the hateful gaming speech is and asking players to vow not to use that language when playing online. The pledge is as follows:
As a gamer, I realize I contribute to an incredibly diverse social network of gamers around the world, and that my actions have the ability to impact others. In effort to make a positive impact, and to create a community that is welcoming to all, I pledge to not use bigoted language while gaming, online and otherwise.
Bigoted language, the site explains, includes slurs based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and disability. In further explaining, Killermann likens the project to a swear jar.
"It’s here to reinforce positive behavior, and hold you accountable for slip-ups," he writes. "I think we can all agree that games would be more fun for folks if various aspects of their identity weren’t tirelessly targeted and attacked, but we can all probably also agree that it’s hard to break a bad habit."
Killermann soft-launched Gamers Against Bigotry at the beginning of July. And apparently it struck home ... especially with one popular gaming and Internet personality. Killermann had barely got the site up and running when Wil Wheaton came across it and blogged about it on Tumblr.
That was good news ... at first. Suddenly Gamers Against Bigotry had 1,500 pledges. But withthe signatures and the traffic came the trolls and hackers who began defacing the site with ugly words and ugly imagery.
"That's when my routine went from being excited about howmany signatures we had every day to trying to figure out what the trolls had done everyday," he said.
As Killermann tried to step up his security, the hackers managed to delete the entire pledge database and on Sunday took the site down altogether. Killermann says the hackers went on to take down his personal websites too.
But as word about the project's defacement spread across various gaming news sites this week, support for Gamers Against Bigotry grew ... and grew.
"Peoplehave been incredibly supportive," Killermann said, explaining that he has been inundated with supportive messages and offers of help and advice for beefing up security.
While Gamers Against Bigotry is back up for the time being, Killermann has discouraged people from adding their names to the pledge list until he makes the site more secure. And yet people continue to add their names despite his warning.
"It’s empowering and heartening to see people saying, 'I don’t care if it gets deleted I’m going to sign it any way,'" Killermann admits.
Meanwhile, Killermann had launched an Indiegogo fundraising campaign when he launched Gamers Against Bigotry asking for a mere $700 to help pay for the costs of turning Gamers Against Bigotry into a nonprofit and for advertising on various game portals. Donations have now more than doubled that.
As one contributor by the name of missmarsha1 wrote, "I would not have heard about this had these bullies not launched their cyber-attack ... I have the feeling this evil act is actually a blessing in disguise for GAB. For every one horrible person, there are 25 good people. When good people finally start fighting back it ultimately drowns out the noise of the few rotten ones."
Killermann says the project will go on. If people want to help, he asks that they stay tuned and sign the pledge as soon as he can make the site secure. Gamers can also consider donating to the Indigogo fundraiser as that money will now also be used to secure the project's website.
When I asked Killermann how he feels about the gaming community after this roller-coaster experience he said, "I feel really positively about it to be honest. It's become clear this is something a lot of people in the gaming community want."
Winda Benedetti writes about video games for NBCNews.com. You can follow her tweets about games and other things on Twitter here @WindaBenedetti and you follow her on Google+. Meanwhile, be sure to check out the IN-GAME FACEBOOK PAGE to discuss the day's gaming news and reviews.