For some context take a look at this article on Polygon, which talks about online harassment and cyber-bullying targeted at game developers. A very good read, and it got me thinking about this topic.
Toxicity is not something limited to online games, but it is one of the places that it seems to be the most prevalent. When I look back on the last few times I’ve played online multiplayer games I can recall at least a dozen cases of toxicity. Trash talking, insults, cursing, blaming other people on your team, these are just a few of the ways that toxicity comes into place in these types of games.
Why? Honestly, what purpose does this serve? Why do we feel a need to be so toxic when we are playing games?
One of the last time I played Dota 2 I had a particularly bad experience with a particularly toxic player. I am still fairly new to Dota 2, and one of the problems (and one of the intriguing parts) of single draft is that you will often end up with a hero that you have never played before. This was the case, and as such I was floundering a bit. One player in particular got annoyed at me, and in the chat consistently berated me for every perceived mistake, including every time he died and I was nearby. (In one of these cases he claimed that I should have sacrificed myself so he could get away because he was losing too much farm or something.) Now, I will admit that I am not a great player, and I am sure that I was making a lot of mistakes that game, but the abuse (I do not use this term lightly, the level of toxicity was abusive) was completely uncalled for.
The thing I found very interesting in this case was that on our team this particularly toxic player had the second lowest level, had the least kills and the second lowest gold per minute.
In my experience I’ve noticed that good players don’t trash talk. Good players don’t need to blame others, they don’t need to get inside their opponents head, they just play their best and usually win. The players that resort to toxicity are generally not that great, to be frank.
Recently I’ve been prompted on YouTube several times if I want to use my real name instead of an alias on my channel and in comments. I’ve turned this down, but it make me question the motivation to this push. YouTube comments are most certainly one of the few places on earth where you can find almost incomprehensible amounts of ignorance, stupidity and toxicity. I think if people would read their comments aloud it would stop a lot of it, but I think there is an entirely different cause as well, at least for the toxicity part: anonymity. On YouTube you hide behind a username, no one has any idea who you are, and when hiding behind a mask it’s really easy for our ugly sides to come out.
I personally think that if everyone on YouTube were to use their real names it would stop most people from making toxic comments. Of course, there is a whole slew of privacy concerns with that, but I think that it would at least alleviate a large amount of toxicity on YouTube.
When we play online games, we are essentially hiding behind a mask. We are known by our usernames and gamer tags, and in a way those become an entirely different identity, and in a lot of ways disconnected from who we are in person, and a lot of people really aren’t worried about soiling that second identity because it’s distinct from them. This is another root of toxicity, this idea that you are anonymous online.
It needs to stop. There is no need for it, and it just harms the gaming community. There is a reason that gamers are not taken seriously in society, why when it’s discovered that a political candidate plays World of Warcraft it is heavily criticized and becomes news. We as gamers are perceived an immature, toxic and disconnected, and a large part of why is that this sort of behaviour is so common in online interactions. Are all players that way? Not by a long shot. Enough are, though, to make this a serious problem.
I wanted to finish off with one more point. There is a word that float around in the gaming community, a derogatory term that I feel needs to be buried once and for all. This word is ‘noob’. In no other activity that I know of is it a bad thing to be starting. In almost every other social activity and/or social circle/group that I know of people are happy when new people show an interest. Every time I am at the game store playing Magic the Gathering I am really happy to see someone there playing in a draft for the first time. In my experience people are more than willing to help the new player learn the (admittedly) complicated rules of the game, to help them feel welcome, and to get them to want to play more.
However, a brand new player jumps on to Dota 2, and immediately everyone in the game is yelling at them, calling them a ‘noob’, and telling them to go home. How is this alright? I don’t understand why some gamers are so quick to try and chase away anyone who wants to share in their hobbies? It doesn’t make any sense to me, and I have a strong urge when I hear (or see, as the case may be) the word ‘noob’ to punch the perpetrator in the face. It needs to stop.