The idea was to clean up online racing.
Instead we’ve opened a bit of a pandora’s box.
According to iRacing’s sporting code, the use of real names within a racing simulator is intended to “promote personal responsibility.”
On paper, it’s not the worst idea.
When the concept of online accountability in sim racing was first introduced in 2008 – maybe a little sooner if you were an early adopter of Race2Play – Xbox Live was by all accounts a warzone. Call of Duty lobbies were notorious for being an impromptu lesson in racial slurs. Forza Motorsport sessions resembled something more akin to Destruction Derby. NASCAR ’08 races at Daytona or Talladega rarely went more than a lap before half the field would be upside-down, and you’d be forced to watch the same caution flag cutscene you’d already seen hundreds of times prior.
It wasn’t the greatest experience, it was just something we put up with in the hopes that maybe, we’d have at least one race that night which wasn’t completely ruined by people being assholes.
And it was all because at the end of the day, xStonerSniper420x could disappear into the abyss. There was a certain level of detachment that came with playing online games against people who were merely sports team logo avatars and dumb usernames. Psychologically, it was easier to let loose, fuck around, and send a guy flying into the catchfence when you could merely turn off your Xbox and return to the real world with no consequences for being an asshole in virtual NASCAR.
iRacing sought to change that mentality, and a lot of other platforms soon followed to the point where it’s now commonplace in sim racing. Their intentions, I think, were good, and it’s resulted in an environment where most sim racers gladly type in their real world info when signing up for some sort of game or online league.
Has it cleaned up the racing? That really depends who you ask, but I’d say for the most part, it has. Online oval racing is still a shitshow, but in general I can jump into some sort of Assetto Corsa ranked race – whether it be on SRS or WSS – and I’m comfortable around 90% of the guys in the field. Some retard trolling the server with blatant intentional wrecking, or a guy being overly aggressive to the point where he’s the root cause of multiple “racing incidents”, is a once a month thing.
But in going down this path, we’ve let our guard down and forgotten that the internet is still full of creeps.
With such a large sample size to draw from, there are undoubtedly going to be some bad apples in the community. Not everyone on the grid is someone with a wife, kids, a modest apartment, and a steady 9-5 job to help supplement their sim racing hobby. It takes a certain kind of person to fall in love with driving cars in circles for hours on end and become feverishly addicted to games that in some cases don’t even offer any sort of compelling single player campaign mode.
Chad Thundercock – the one who taught you a massive vocabulary of racial slurs on Call of Duty – is not a sim racer. You’re instead getting a very wide, eclectic mix of nerds here. Some of them are quite nice, intelligent people. Others are more akin to Howard Adderly and just don’t give a fuck.
And they now have access to your personal information.
With social media being what it is in 2021 – most of us under the age of 35 have some sort of account on one of the major platforms – that’s really all they need to do quite serious damage.
The first element to this, boils down to how ill-equipped we are to deal with basic harassment.
If some guy you accidentally crash into on iRacing or Assetto starts sending you consistent, somewhat credible threats that don’t stop and go well beyond “bro, it’s just a game, why are you mad?”, dealing with the situation becomes more convoluted than one would expect.
If the harassment occurs outside of the iRacing or the Assetto/SRS forums, game administrators will be reluctant to punish them due to their respective ToS’s not really being written to prepare for such a situation. The block button on social media is an archaic function; new accounts can be made within seconds on pretty much any platform. And as you would expect, platforms like YouTube almost never adhere to reports of ToS violations – seeing how personalities like Onision are still allowed to upload content freely despite almost ten year’s worth of documented questionable behavior.
Going to the police – which should be the best way to deal with things – is not really an option. Even with very tangible proof that you may be on the receiving end of criminal harassment and could likely press charges, online gaming presents a unique challenge in that individuals are separated by hundreds, if not thousands of kilometers – and usually state or international borders as well. You cannot tangibly prove that your immediate safety is at stake, and prosecuting a deranged sim racer thousands of clicks away warrants one of four preset responses that will not accomplish anything:
- “We can’t prosecute or do anything about someone that far away.”
- “This might fall under civil litigation” – IE, “fuck off and go apply for your own restraining order by flying to their home state or country.”
- “Did you report him to the game moderators?”
- “Use the block button.”
All of which are responses that indicate law enforcement are generally ill-equipped to deal with this exact situation or have no experience with how much of a wild west the internet has become.
Calling the deranged sim racer’s home jurisdiction to be seemingly proactive about things, will see you met with a response of “report it to your local police first,” thus beginning a never-ending game of phone tag and departments shifting responsibility while, for example, your little sister continues to receive bizarre emails from some guy you spun out in a GT3 race.
In short, there’s nothing actually stopping sim racers from being fucking insane towards you, and we just sort of hope it doesn’t happen to us.
But it does.
The most dangerous element of using real names, however, comes from an unlikely source that is then weaponized in a really devious and nefarious manner.
I think we all remember that period of about five years in the mid 2000’s where all major metropolitan police departments suddenly became obsessed with the phrase “cyber-bullying.” MySpace, Nexopia, and eventually Facebook were a disaster for younger kids to use, as it resulted in these really cruel and unusual situations popping up with striking regularity, all centered around what equates to middle school kids being cunts to each other on social media.
Most states, provinces, or countries jumped on the moral panic bandwagon and hastily passed anti-bullying or cyber-bullying laws that were intentionally vague and intended to be used against sociopathic kids hell-bent on destroying the psyche of their classmates by any means necessary.
The problem is, cyber-bullying has a very vague definition – online behavior meant to shame a victim.
It assumes, wrongly, the victim is always innocent.
Which opens the door for sociopaths to run wild.
For example, some of you around these parts are NFL fans, correct? Let’s take a look at Houston Texans quarterback DeShaun Watson. This guy is in a pretty serious amount of legal trouble right now – no less than 20 masseuses have come forward claiming the guy was a creep towards them. Most stories center around him hiring random girls off Instagram for a private massage, then basically forcing himself on them. It’s bad. It’s really bad.
And as you’d expect, Houston Texans fans, and NFL content creators, have taken to YouTube to air their thoughts on the situation – usually by calling Watson a pervert and hoping he never plays football again. Pretty justified, nobody has a problem with this.
That, by definition, is cyber-bullying. As fucking batshit insane as it sounds, these people are all technically engaging in criminal activity.
However, if Watson walks into a Houston police station and goes after some random content creator for cyber-bullying, he’ll be laughed out of the building.
Police aren’t stupid.
Your HR department, however, is. And it’s by design.
HR’s job is to protect the company’s reputation at all costs.
HR does not want criminals, or potential criminals, working for them. Which, I mean, isn’t the most retarded stance to take on paper, but we’re not done yet.
Because the definition of cyber-bullying is so vague, that the victim is always presumed to be innocent no matter the situation, and cyber-bullying in a lot of first world countries is considered a crime, this opens the door for psychopathic sim racers to mess a whole bunch of people’s lives up up with minimal effort.
All they really need is your name and general location – which you have gladly given them because iRacing told you it would make online racing cleaner.
A deranged sim racer simply saving audio clips of you cussing him out in game, or frequently calling him a dirty driver or an asshole in the forums, could be construed as “cyber-bullying.” Repeated online harassment meant to shame the victim. That’s it. That fits that description.
As does repeated critical comments on someone’s YouTube channel, or really anything online that might hurt someone else’s feelings.
I’m not saying I agree with this, but that’s what happens when these laws are intentionally vague, presume 100% innocence, and rely on the victim’s word to determine the severity of the situation.
And of course, anything further, such as outing a sim racer as an abuser or showing clips of them threatening to kill their middle school teacher – things we all understand are probably quite important to show people because it’s fucking crazy and gives you a good reason to stay away from this person – that’s also cyber-bullying.
This deranged sim racer could then pass these clips on to your employer, whatever they are, claim cyber-bullying, and spend five minutes writing very obvious bullshit about how it’s resulted in him being depressed, driven him to suicide, or any other piece of nonsense for emotional effect.
Because the key phrase “cyber-bullying” has been used, HR now sees you as a liability and a potential criminal.
You are fucked, even if the deranged sim racer really does have an extensive criminal record as you alleged, wasn’t even in contact with you during his alleged suicide attempt, and blamed his suicide attempt on pepperoni pizza.
Now, let’s inject some reality into this situation.
Will this happen to you while sim racing? No, it probably won’t, and you shouldn’t be scared of it.
But you’re also banking on that, in a hobby full of obsessed nerds who spend long hours in front of a computer screen for “entertainment”, 100% of them are stand-up people.
We all know that’s not true.