Sticks and stones may break your bones, and now apparently so can words.
Cybersex, Cybershopping and Cybergaming are all things that exist in the real world with the word “cyber” slapped in-front of them. Each of these examples maintains basically the same meaning (whether you do them in your home, in public or at a friend’s house). However, there is one word that has seeped into our collective unconscious as of late: cyberbullying. Regardless of whether you watch the news on a regular basis or if the extent of your news consumption entails what you read on people’s Facebook statuses, you’ve no doubt heard the saying.
But have you ever stopped to think of the implications surrounding such a term?
The idea put forth is that bullying, which naturally reared its ugly head on social networks and in gaming, is somehow a new epidemic that we must stamp out. With the recent rash of teenage suicides contributed to bullying that is garnering national press, the new humanitarian movement (or flavor of the month) is those trying to valiantly eradicate the so called epidemic of cyberbullying. Even those in the gaming industry have picked up on this trend. For example, Pixelberry Studios (comprised of former EA developers) has released several cyberbullying-themed quests to High School Story, released this past Summer. Here is what CEO Oliver Miao had to say in regards to what led them to include these addition, “For me, one of the worst things about being bullied was feeling like there was nobody I could turn to for help. Pixelberry is excited to be using High School Story to help teens learn how to stop cyberbullying. Based on statistics from the Center of Disease Control, we’re estimating that 80,000 of our players could attempt suicide this year. If our efforts can help just a fraction of these players, High School Story will be supporting hundreds, if not thousands of teens through challenging junctures in their lives.” Miao said.
While I elevate anyone to the level of sainthood that is willing to reach out a helping hand to a troubled teen, I’m going to give you the real truth about cyberbullying. So all you hipsters out there get ready, because I’m about to ruin your weekend…
Cyberbullying is a bullshit term. Putting the word “cyber” in front of the word “bullying” does not equate the two as being equals. Believe me when I tell you, as I’m sure many of you can relate, getting called a name in a Facebook status update is not the same thing as a crowd full of kids standing around you on the playground taunting you mercilessly. Being the butt of a joke on Twitter does not equate to a kid following you home and beating the living shit out of you because you stepped on his new shoes in the lunch line. However, because we’ve taught this generation of youths that every unspoken thought is so important that they must now have multiple social networks to express them, we’ve also left them believing that what someone says is the same thing as what someone does. I have been both bullied and been a bully in my lifetime. Looking back, I can tell you I’m not proud of either. However, I’ve had the opportunity to stand up to bullies in my past and I can tell you that I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything in the world. They helped shape me as an adult: a valuable lesson that kids of today simply aren’t getting. They’re being taught that their entire lives can be torn down by a few simple swipes of a smartphone. The idea of standing up for themselves is quickly being replaced with the notion that being a victim is the new normal. The last thing we need are our video games reinforcing this negative concept. If the youth of America can be so easily torn down, how do we expect them to cope with problems of the real world that will inevitably come knocking at their door (and I’m not talking via tweet either). I suspect those same developers working on a game like this didn’t cry foul when Rockstar's hit Bully on the PlayStation 2 was getting rave reviews.
Cyberbullying is the new “War on Drugs.” Only problem is, we lost the war on drugs. We’ve done nothing to stop it, and if anything, many states are starting to lean towards legalization. The more we prop up cyberbullying as the new boogie man, the less opportunity this generation has to strengthen their characters and become stronger individuals.
I think of examples like Rebecca Sedwick, who was raped at a drunken party and committed suicide as a result of the taunting she received. This is one of many examples we find in the news recently of youth’s taking their lives because of bullying. I find myself becoming angry at these stories. Strangely, the anger I feel points not towards the perpetrators as much as it does towards the teens themselves. I can’t imagine the pain they feel, with the new heights bullying has risen to with the help of technology that wasn’t present when I was a kid. However, I desperately wish I could go back to that moment in which Rebecca Sedwick took her life and just shake her. I want to talk some sense into her and tell her that those who did this to her are the ones that deserved to be punished, not her. THEY are the bad guys here, not her. The problem is, with the way we are conditioning people in our culture to crumple so easily at the first signs of adversity, we’re only going to see more tragedies like Sedwick.
So here is my plea to game companies (and others) in the future; don’t jump on the band wagon. If we teach our children to be stronger in themselves, the petty and ignorant actions of others will cease to hold power over them. Strengthen their sense of self, and the negativity of the world will break against their wall of confidence “like water on rock.”
Or we can just continue on with the status quo and watch more young lives deteriorate. It's a pretty simple choice if you ask me.