It’s time to address the radioactive elephant in the room. The gaming community is one of the most toxic communities that you can be a part of. I’m sure that most of you have had an experience with other gamers that has left a bad taste in your mouth. But how many of you have stopped to think about what you might have done to contribute to the toxicity surrounding our beloved industry?
I’ve recently read multiple articles written about the experience that developers have when dealing with those of us who buy their games. To be frank, I was appalled and saddened to hear that we as a community are terrible to deal with. It’s bad enough that gamers are terrible to each other, but now I’m realizing that many of us are torturing the very people that we rely on to make our games.
Don’t believe me? The following is from a twitter thread written by Charles Randall. Randall worked as a designer and programmer for Ubisoft and Bioware. You can see the thread here.
The other day a friend commented to me “I wish game developers were more candid about development.” He was surprised when I said we are. The caveat is that we’re only candid with other industry people. Because gamer culture is so toxic that being candid in public is dangerous. See that recent twitter thread about game design tricks to make games better — filled with gamers “angry” about “being lied to.”
You can find the thread to which Randall is referring here. He continues:
Forums and comment sections are full of dunning-kruger specialists who are just waiting for any reason to descend on actual developers. See any thread where some dumbass comments how “easy” it would be to, say, add multiplayer or change engines. Any dev who talks candidly about the difficulty of something like that just triggers a wave of people questioning their entire resumé. “Questioning” here being an absurd euphemism for “becoming a target of an entire faction of gamers for harassment or worse.”
There are still topics I can’t touch because I was candid once and it resulted in dumb headlines, misunderstandings, and harassment. So while I’d talk candidly about certain big topics right now — I know doing so would lead to another wave of assholes throwing shit at me. (And of course I face almost nothing compared to women/PoC/lgtbq+ folk)
But here’s the rub: all the stuff you ever wanted to know about game development would be out there if not for the toxic gaming community. We *love* to talk about development, the challenges we face, the problems we solve, the shortcuts we take. But it’s almost never worth it.
I did a public talk a couple weeks ago to a room full of all ages kids, and afterwards, a kid came up to me and was talking about stuff. And I shit you not, this kid (somewhere between 13-16 I’d guess) starts talking about how bad devs are because of a youtuber he watches. He nailed all the points, “bad engines”, “being greedy”, you name it. I was appalled.
I did my best to tell him that all those things people freak out about are normal and have justifications. I hope I got through a bit. But I expect he went back to consuming toxic culture via youtube personalities, and one day he’ll probably harass a dev over nonsense.
Randall paints a very clear picture of an industry that is being held at gunpoint by the people they are trying to serve. It’s gotten to the point that many in the industry are afraid to interact with the people who play their games. It can’t be fun to make games when you are worried that one false move can result in a barrage of disparaging messages from overzealous gamers.
Another major voice against toxicity has been Jeff Kaplan, the game director for Overwatch. Not long ago, Blizzard created a reporting system for the console version of Overwatch to attempt to stem the tide of toxicity. Here is some of what Kaplan had to say about it:
We want to make new maps, we want to make new heroes, we want to make animated shorts,” Kaplan said. “But we’ve been put in this weird position where we’re spending a tremendous amount of time and resources punishing people and trying to make people behave better.”
“I wish we could take the time we put into having reporting on console and have put that toward a match history system or a replay system instead,” Kaplan added. “It was the exact same people that had to work on both, who got re-routed to work on the other. The bad behavior is not just ruining the experience for one another, but the bad behavior’s also making the game progress — in terms of development — at a much slower rate.”
“The community needs to take a deep look inward,” he said. “Think about all the times somebody’s said something negative to you in the game and imagine now if somebody had said something positive to you instead. There’s a way to spread positivity that I don’t think is really prevalent right now.
It’s hard for me to hear that developers are unable to deliver new content because some of our community choose to spend their time being abusive to each other, the rest of us, and even the people that make our games. Kaplan is calling for us all to be kind and make the community accessible to everyone. It’s not fun for him to have to punish players, just like it isn’t fun for us to deal with those players. Our community needs healing badly.
While writing this article, I decided that the only fair way to discuss this topic is from the point of view of a community, rather than just myself. With that in mind, I decided to took to social media and gather some information from other gamers. Here’s what I found out.
My Twitter poll found that only 16% of participants say that there is not a toxicity problem in the gaming community. 37% said that the community is sometimes toxic. And 47% believe that the gaming community is definitely toxic. So, almost half believe that toxicity is always an issue, and almost 9/10 think that toxicity is a problem at least sometimes. That is just way too high of a percentage.
On Facebook, I asked the same question, and requested explanations in the comments. I only had a single person argue that toxicity was not a problem in the gaming community. Every other respondent seemed to have some issue with toxicity, though I read many different reasons why it’s an issue. I’ll share a few responses with you here.
Chris P. — “I don’t think it is inherently toxic. However, there are some games, typically those with a highly competitive focus (LoL, CoD, Overwatch, etc) that tend to get people hyped up to a point where they act in a manner that they may not typically, and become toxic.”
Byron Ybarra — “I think we have a toxic vocal minority. Inherently, it is not toxic, but when you get 12 year olds spewing racial slurs and the fact that most female players (at least, those that I know) tend to stay off voice communications because of the ridiculously vile stuff they tend to deal with, it’s definitely problematic and is absolutely an issue that needs to be addressed.”
Don W. — “Absolutely. There are pockets that are supportive and friendly, but there are so many ‘bad eggs’ that many groups feel ‘spoiled’ to me.”
Sarah Michael — “I don’t think any community, gaming or otherwise, has its own toxic element. I’ve encountered the same issue in various fandoms (FNaF, Steven Universe, even true crime forums) in which a small group of outspoken elitists try to feel superior to others.
“I play (blank) number of hours a day. Go home, noob.”
“A *real* fan would know (random obscure trivia that literally no one cares about).”
“I’m so great at (blank). I even know more than the people who wrote the strategy guide. Pathetic.”
“If you don’t agree that (blank) is the best game in the franchise, you’re wrong.”
“I died again?! You must be a cheater and/or hacker! I’ll call you racist slurs to make myself feel better.”
“I don’t agree with this journalist. And she’s a woman. Better make some rape and/or death threats.”
(Specific example) “I loved Earthbound way before Super Smash Bros. made it mainstream. Now all these posers are pretending to like it. I loved it before it was cool!”
Marlowe C. — “I’m sure it’s different now, but back in the early vanilla MvC3 days my first encounters with the Fighting Game Community was pretty toxic. Besides the fact I didn’t use a fight stick and had a fight pad I was looked down on. Kinda scared me off from even trying to get into it.”
Lindsey E. — “I’ve witnessed toxicity in several games as a female. Crass, vile, rude comments. I’ve also witnessed it with my male friends. They aren’t the toxic ones but I have noticed it more coming from people who are overly serious about the game they are playing, those who lack team communication/manners. Also I feel that people tend to be more brave over text/voice as opposed to face to face encounters.
People need to remember these are games…they’re meant to have fun.”
The two most common responses to my inquiries were that competition and elitism create toxicity in video games. If we assume that these are the two major factors, what can we do about it? The easiest answer would be to play alone. Forgo online interaction all together, but what would that really accomplish? Sure it would give you a reprieve from verbal abuse, but it wouldn’t solve the problem. We could end competitive multi-player, but that would severely reduce profit for game companies, and fun for most gamers. So where does that leave us?
Only by standing up, and standing together can we end the cycle of toxicity. Let’s all strive to be thankful for the men and women who pour their hearts into games so that we might enjoy them, rather than harass them about perceived flaws. Make every space that you inhabit a safe space for everyone. Once we can all do that, we can be a true community again.
Special thanks to the Gamers Anonymous Retro Community for lending their voices to this article.
If you have any thoughts about toxicity in gaming, comment below. We’d love to hear from you.