Candied, crushed sago't gulaman
Every now and again, a random video make the rounds on social networks, dictating the hottest issues to be discussed around the water cooler. This week, it’s CCTV footage from an internet cafe in Manila that hits just a little close to home for us Kambyero folk.
The video apparently depicts a public beat down between two groups of younguns who got caught up in a particularly tense round of Defense of the Ancients (DotA). The ensuing scuffle resulted in several thousand pesos worth of damage to the computer shop and minor injuries to those involved, and brings up the issue of video games and violence in the context of the Philippine gaming scene.
[Co-Op Ed is a regular roundtable on relevant gaming news.]
Despite the prevalence of Internet cafe gaming here in the Philippines, I’ve never been much to participate in such activities, perfectly content getting lost in virtual worlds by myself at the comfort of my own home. The rare occasion that I do go out to play video games, it’s always with friends in a co-op game.
The only form of violence associated with video games that I ever experienced is when I was about 7 or 8 years old. Me and my two brothers who were in the same age range had to take turns playing games on our Genesis, and we’d sometimes end up hogging the console for more than each of our allotted time. Kids don’t have the greatest of patience, so we’d sometimes come to blows. Our parents sorted that out problem soon enough with a crack of a belt.
The closest approximation to the atmosphere found in Internet cafes for me would be the times when the place I work in transforms into something like one after work hours, and a lot of us start playing Day of Defeat: Source. I’m not one to trash talk, but a couple of my office mates let go of any inhibitions when the insults start flying. It’s all cool though, since it’s all in good fun and it never gets out of hand (though i guess having the two bosses play helps).
Sure, it can get frustrating to the point of cursing out loud especially when the opposing side is curbstomping the team I’m in. But more often than not, it’s usually because of my side’s lack of teamwork so when people get ticked off, it’s directed at each other through playful jabs. When we lose, we admit to the winners’ superiority. High tension is always defused with an appropriately timed joke against one guy’s manhood, stuff we fling at each other constantly during work knowing for sure that we’ve got permission because CAMARADERIE. Nobody throwing chairs, destroying property, and bringing knives.
Filipinos can be pikon (sore losers), but our penchant for humor even in the most dire of circumstances should win out. I guess there’s just no room for that with people you only know as the guys kicking your ass over and over while screaming how your mom’s a whore.
People might be quick to point out that this video is a direct result of the “worthless” value of video games, that all it does is rot the mind and encourage violence. But that’s the easy way out, one that turns video games into a scapegoat for another sort of behavior– that of the siga.
For our foreign readers out there, siga can’t really be translated directly, so I’ll just drop some related words into the connotation soup: “badass”, “street smarts”, and perhaps that most Asian of words, “face”, from which the expression “saving face” originates. No matter the cost, people have to maintain their street cred, or else they will lose face. This permeates into several aspects of life– basketball games, drinking sessions, public transportation– pissing contests can be held anywhere and due to anything, and when video games came along, that culture transposed itself onto the hobby.
Joseph’s touched upon this, but tensions really fly in the heat of a particularly riveting game of DOTA or Counter-Strike. The skills and success (or lack thereof) of both the individual and the team are critical, and pressures are high– you have to prove yourself not only to your opponent, but to your teammates as well. Winning teams often lord it over the losers, and for the losers, that combination of siga and pikon will more often than not result in fisticuffs. But really, bakbakan is a much better term for it.
Remember Jack Thompson? That ragged old activist lawyer who kind of looks like Jon Stewart but with less moxie and the saddest sparkle in his eyes? Yeah, me neither. But I do remember him saying something about the correlation between virtual and real life violence that was summarily debunked by one expert after another. Seriously, it was like a soup kitchen on Christmas for behavioral psychologists back then. And the soup they served was KNOWLEDGE.
I can just imagine Jack Thompson getting wind of this. He’d rise from the depths of his bog, contract his gills, and warble, “I was riiiiight,” into the musty swamp air. But he’s not right, isn’t he? The game in question doesn’t portray realistic violence at all. Certainly not the kind that will raise the hackles of millions and millions of moms. Unless our youths have figured out a way to weaponize twigs and pink light, I don’t think our national pasttime of DotA will fall on Thompson’s blacklist.
Nah, I think this is a matter of competitive mentality digging its talons deep in our culture. Obviously, obviously, this isn’t the first time this has happened. I’ve been in DotA scuffles before! Of course, my experience had less kitchen knives and chair throwing and more wrinkled collars and seething because we were middle-class suburban kids. Go back a few years and you have schoolkids facing off on the street because Reniel Cailes “comsatted” Kenneth Bobadilla as he was positioning to arm the bomb in that one Counter Strike game. Go further back and you have basketball matches degenerating into punch orgies because of one errant elbow. Go even further back and you have… I don’t know–fights over who gets the most coconuts? Bukonflicts? Mortal Cocombat?
Add to that the possibility of the standoff being caused by a unsettled wager, which complicates things. Juabe Inciong, swag merchant and consummate E-Sports fan, offers an incisive take on the whole shebang:
“I understand the tension and the intensity that occurs when your gaming cred is on the line. This is especially true in the Philippines, where “pustahans” are abound, and are in fact a main source of income for some players.”
You got gambling in my youth issues again! Thanks, Obama! But I get it. Money is kind of cool. You get to buy things with it. 200 bucks each on the table, 5v5, All Pick, No Power Ups, Final Destination. With a thousand bones, you can buy a nice teddy bear for your girlfriend. You can pay for your peeps’ Burger Machine luncheon. You get to get paid for doing what you’re good at. For a thousand bucks, you get to exercise control you normally don’t have. That’s kind of cool.
Ah, the Philippine internet cafe. Useful as they are to people who find themselves suddenly without a private internet connection, I have to point out how quickly they became unwelcoming dens of bottled machismo and hatred the moment it opened its doors to network gaming.
I don’t know why that is! I’ll admit MMOGs can awaken something primal in its players. Like any competitive game, things can get pretty passionate pretty quickly. Sweet kills are one thing, but trash talking is where it’s at.
You know that little taunting dance football players do after scoring a goal? Or the barbed insults Kobe Bryant probably whispers into Lebron James’ ear? Trash talk lets you bask in that glory of what, ultimately, is a highly insignificant thing. Hey, you were just a bit better than your friend in a computer game. “Boom! Headshot, motherfucker. How’d you like me now?”
Then there is the trash talk that happens when you’re on the losing team. The intention is to blow off steam, or stave off the humiliation by loudly slandering an opponent’s ancestry and sexual credibility. Never have I heard language so blue as when I found myself playing a round of Team Fortress 2, Girls vs. Gays. “Jabangers kang sniper ka! Pukelia mo may sipon!”
And yet no one I’ve played with has ever made the jump to physical violence. I believe this is because of my personal gaming rule: never play with strangers.
Playing with friends is great. Head to an internet cafe or sit around a room and share a controller. That’s fine. Engage in friendly banter and trash talk, that’s okay too. By all means, call his mother a whore and make disgusting kissy noises every time he gets frustrated. But at the end of the game, you all ought to remain friends.
Strangers, on the other hand, are wild cards. They could be decent people or they could be axe murderers. They could be sore losers, or sensitive tough guys, or chronic gamblers.There is no friendship between us that we have to protect, so the game we share could be a no-holds barred shitfest. Why would anyone want to play something like that?
The bottom line is this shit is not cool.
Lots of different people use internet cafes for different reasons. It’s not solely for gaming. If you and your group are being loud while other people are looking at cat pictures or doing actual work, that is not cool. If you get angry because you’re losing at a video game so you throw the controller/ keyboard at a wall, that is not cool.
Breath in, breathe out. It’s just a game.