What is Toxicity in Gaming?
26 Oct, 2019
Toxicity is a term that has become very widely used in recent years, but what exactly do people mean when they use the label Toxicity in gaming?
Toxicity in Gaming
Well let’s take a look at some recent articles to get an idea, this article from PC Gamer discusses how over 30 companies are working together under the Fair Play Alliance to combat harassment, discrimination and abuse.
Although the article highlights specifically insults steeped in racism, sexism and anti-homosexual sentiment, the site lists cheating and peoples differing goals or expectations of games as problems they also hope to tackle, cheating and hacking is an issue with multiplayer games sure but what does differing goals or expectations even mean?
Are all players supposed to take the same thing away from the same game? Are we not allowed our own reasons for playing a game or a particular way? Can we not take away our own personal messages and achievements from a game?
The Specifics of Toxicity
Let’s move on and discuss this piece from The Guardian that talks about tackling toxicity and modifying the behaviour of players, which actually sounds quite chilling. They touch on hostility, of the verbal or written kind I presume, trash talk and aggression although I don’t know how this differs from hostility.
The piece claims that minorities are particularly affected by this but the supporting article seems to rely on anecdotal evidence and criticisms of some high profile females. It could be argued that these criticisms were overshadowed and usurped by some users wanting to troll however that’s not the focus of my piece.
But again this is only referring to the things people say or type. Encountering a cheat in a game can be very frustrating and some things people say aren’t nice but depending on the game there are ways to combat that already in the mute and report options.
What Phil Spencer says about Toxicity
That apparently isn’t enough for some, Phil Spencer from Xbox among them. Towards the end of May Phil released a blog post talking about inclusion and safety on Xbox Live and specifically denounced ‘hate speech’, bigotry and misogyny.
A follow up interview with Kotaku went deeper into this and had an interesting line from Phil who said “Xbox Live is not a free speech platform. It is not a place where anybody can come and say anything”. And you know what? That’s fair enough!
It’s Microsoft’s console platform and they can make decisions like this for the service they provide. But let me explain why this could cause some problems and why I’ve been so focused on articles attacking speech and insisting of the dangers of words. In online games that include or are based around competitive mechanics there will always be trash talking between players, there will be swearing and there will be attempts to upset or annoy other players.
This is because those things are almost always a PART of being competitive, whether it’s to be expressive, bolster your own confidence or trying to gain an advantage over your opponent with them not playing their best it’s all part of trying to increase the opportunity for success.
Freedom of Speech
In focusing on speech there have been studies that show swearing or using taboo language as “cathartic — it often frees us of the feelings of anger or frustration we hold and allows expression for them.” which is certainly supported by this study that links competitive games to aggression, which I can certainly attest to from multiple failings while playing PUBG for example.
Competitive games get us emotional, happy and fulfilled if we win, frustrated and angry if we lose depending on the circumstances, so we resort to taboo language as an outlet for how we’re feeling. These could be directed at ourselves or at the person we feel responsible for the failing, and if a gamer is trying to ‘psyche out’ a competitor then this interaction is part of the competitive aspect of the game.
To take this away is to neuter the experience and you may end up alienating the player base away from your system. Does this mean Xbox should be a free speech platform and allow anyone to say anything they want?
Personally I think they should allow it with the option for players to mute anyone they want. You could make an argument that certain words should be unacceptable but then where does it stop, where do you draw the line?
We’ve seen Twitch ban users for use of the term Naga referring to an out of context clip of a WOW streamer when the word is actually a race of snake-like creatures within the game. Now the list of unapproved words expands to words that sound like or could be confused for insulting terms? That surely isn’t a good road to go down.
Where do we draw the line?
As I research this topic further it becomes apparent that in a lot of instances the word toxic could very easily be swapped for competitive, and this couldn’t be better highlighted than in a piece released by Games Industry Biz just this week of a new studio opening in Dublin, Vela Games.
The article delves into their motivations and I can’t help but feel a little confused while reading through. They start talking about their plans to focus solely on multiplayer games as that’s the audience they want to reach, and they seem very interested in “understanding why [their] audience … play their favourite games” and while they claim to love competitive games, they do believe that “Once the game is only about winning, then someone has to lose” and that “gameplay design can contribute to stress and player toxicity in the community”.
From my perspective the article seems to flip back and forth between wanting to eradicate so called toxic competitive behaviour but also shaping the game based on audience feedback. I would have to post the conundrum as to what their response would be if their audience called for more competitive options in their titles.
What do I think is Toxic?
All that aside, this article is about toxicity in the gaming community, so what do I think? Well I don’t agree that toxic, or let’s instead use the term inappropriate behaviour, belongs to a gaming “community” but rather to individuals that happen to play games.
I don’t agree that words of a competitive nature constitutes inappropriate behaviour in the context of competitive games. If someone can’t counter the trash talk or doesn’t like getting involved with it, the simple option is to go to your settings and turn off in-game chat or mute the specific undesired individual.
What I find toxic, or unacceptable, in gaming is the practice of doxxing or swatting individuals. Targeted harassment of individuals for having a different opinion or thoughts whether that be politically or financially based.
We’ve seen the developers of the indie game Ooblets take a pot shot at gamers who would disagree with their decision to go with the Epic Games Store and we’ve seen some people fire back with apparently falsified screenshots and harassment of family members for their decision, both unnecessary and harmful to people and the industry and I don’t care for the reasons.
How should we treat Toxicity in Gaming?
This is what we should be talking about when we talk of toxicity, unacceptable behaviour, if you have a criticism, fine voice that criticism, if you take that a step further to try and harm someone else or their reputation simply because you disagree with them then you are a toxic person.
Do I support trolls or people who say horrible things to a person based on a specific characteristic? Although I believe they have a right to speak, no I absolutely do not support or condone what they say, but they are saying those things to get a reaction from you. Hence the term ‘don’t feed the trolls’ don’t give them the reaction they’re looking for but most of all, don’t attach this behaviour to gaming or a specific game’s “community”.
Only the individual should be held accountable for their actions, by applying it to a group you not only absolve the individual from their inappropriate behaviour you also tarnish many other gamers, who would never act that way, with the guilt.
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