A megathread uploaded to the Super Smash Bros community subreddit has rattled the online gaming community. Various prominent gamers within the network have been accused of verbal abuse, preying on minors, and in some cases, sexual assault. Over the past few weeks, accused gamers have issued personal statements and denied the allegations while some, like Gonzalo "ZeRo" Barrios, have admitted to wrongdoing. It's such a pervasive issue that Nintendo itself has entered the controversy and issued a condemnation. In a statement to IGN, Nintendo officially said:
We are deeply disturbed by the allegations raised against certain members of the competitive gaming community. They are absolutely impermissible. We want to make it clear that we condemn all acts of violence, harassment, and exploitation against anyone and that we stand with the victims.
The news comes after Evo Online called off its highly anticipated game tournament amid accusations of abuse in the gaming community. Its president Joey Cueller was accused of misconduct and will, according to Evo, "no longer be involved with Evo in any capacity."
A culture of abuse — Multiple reports indicate that a culture of abuse and predation festered inside the Super Smash Bros community, which often involves housing various gamers in one location. These user-created and hosted gaming tournaments often take place at people's private homes where rules and regulations around conduct can become fluid and remarkably convenient to evade.
At least 60 accusations have come out of this environment in which the accusers claim that they were emotionally abused, preyed upon, and even raped. While most deny wrongdoing, Barrios — who is tremendously popular in the gaming network — has admitted to attempting to solicit pornographic images from minors.
A reckoning for the community — Abuse is not unique to Super Smash Bros' community, but because this game attracts a universal demographic of both young, old, beginner, and advanced enthusiasts, the network of grassroots gamers has an ethical obligation to maintain strict and impenetrable rules around conduct and behavior. An open-door culture where practically anyone, including wrongdoers, have access to housing and interaction with minors ends up creating a hotspot for irreparable and sinister abuse.
It's not an impossible undertaking to make these gatherings safer. If people are going to have gamer-generated tournaments in their private residences beyond official events, they need to communicate clear values, point to trustworthy avenues for reporting misconduct, and make it absolutely clear that there is zero-tolerance for abuse. If the community takes this criticism to heart, this could be a learning opportunity — one that could eventually encourage trust and camaraderie in the ranks, not fear and exploitation.