To get started, this piece is going to take a damning look at the worst we human beings resort to at the mercy of frustration and anger. A kind of peeling back of the curtain in its entirety where normally we would see but a crack in the fabric, ignoring the ugliness behind it. What drives people to such… madness? I’ll admit, from time to time while playing online, this spontaneous insanity has taken hold of me. I’ll cuss loudly or smack the controller down on the couch in frustration. Sure – that’s just frustration manifest. What I fail to understand is the manifestations we see of deeper negative emotions. These poor people; these slaves to such harsh qualities as malice, pure hatred. I suppose we would move on faster if we accept that, no, we’ll never understand these people. It’s better to think of them as psychopaths. As a vast majority of us are not psychopaths – we will not understand them and that’s that. All we need know is that they’re out there and they’re not going away whether we like it or not. To be clear the definition of a psychopath is – “a person suffering from chronic mental disorder with abnormal or violent social behaviour, incapable of remorse or guilt.”
Perhaps the most disturbing instance of these psychopaths recently in gaming was the brief but not short enough trend of “swatting”. In case you’re unfamiliar with this abhorrent “prank”, the idea is – you watch someone streaming, learn of their address and inform the authorities that they’re some kind of murderer or paedophile… When in reality, it’s just a teenager playing Call of Duty.
People have died from this. Perhaps it’s a damning indictment of the hastiness of the American justice system, although that’s besides the point. In the case of this “swatting” fatality, Polygon reports:
“Wichita’s 911 dispatch was called Thursday by someone claiming to have shot his father dead in an argument with his parents. The caller said he still had his weapon and was holding his mother and younger brother hostage. The caller also threatened to douse the home with gasoline and light it. He gave the address of the home twice. Wichita police responded and confronted Andrew Finch, 28. Officers said Finch was ordered to raise his hands but moved them to his waist. Officers said they believed he was reaching for a weapon, and fired, killing him. Finch was not armed.”
Women put up with more than you know
While it may seem less serious to some, women are also predominantly on the chopping block when it comes to videogame abuse. Various female Twitch streamers (say what you will) expect bigoted and gender-damning remarks from ignorant and rude men as part of their job description. Not being a woman myself, I will not delve into the topic too much out of respect for (from a man’s perspective) not having a fully well rounded idea of what that is like. Although what I do see, from where I’m sat, is a serious absence of women on voice chat or taking part in E Sports. Of course, those women are out there and they love to play games. Yet, they know this hobby, unfairly dominated by a masculine ego will make them oh so aware of the fact. Women understand that, as soon as they turn on their mic, they will be subjected to “fake gamer girl” comments among a smorgasbord of demeaning and rape related phrases. That could only be amplified one hundred fold in the E Sports scene. This is not OK.
As a passionate gamer myself, that things have devolved to this point I resent the fact that I feel an inherent guilt for being a man that plays games. Those other men make me feel awkward on the rare occasion that a girl does come on voice chat because I know that if I were to talk to her, she’d probably be waiting for comments like these. Geguri, female and one of Overwatch’s top players has even considered buying technology that changes the sound of her voice while it should not even be something to consider when it comes to sitting down and enjoying herself. For a perfectly put article, summing this up better than myself, check out Ashleys Oh’s piece over at Polygon.
For Devs, Abuse Becomes The Cost of Doing Business
Let’s peel back the curtain yet further now and take a look at the awful language game developers suffer from their supposed fans. I would venture to say Warhorse Studios have received torrents of abuse in the wake of the highly anticipated, yet buggy Kingdom Come: Deliverance. Although, still they work hard on it for you. They release patches and continue to improve on the game they made FOR YOU. There is this idea of what the emotional cost is of putting your work out into the public eye in this modern era. Once upon a time, your work (perhaps an art piece or a book) would be seen by a select few in close proximity to it. Release anything digitally these days and the likelihood of abuse is increased massively for the sheer amount of human eyeballs that will see it. Bear this fact in mind and it’s easier to understand why your email about a bug in a game doesn’t get responded to.
As I know some of the offending parties may be reading this very article, I will now mention a game developer’s tweet. Although, the developer will remain anonymous – it’s what the tweet said that sums up game developer’s PR realities the best. “If I quit being [a game developer] it won’t be because of money or a lack of love for the craft. It will be because of the attitude of the vocal 0.1% of gamers that nobody will moderate”. Indeed, having a voice online generally comes with anonymity, making it impossible to separate the bad apples from the rest of the barrel. I have seen tweets that state “the idiot who wrote the controller schemes should die screaming” or in relation to Campo Santo’s Firewatch “@camposanto – HELLO and f*** you. People – do not play Firewatch, it is a retarded piece of crap”… Firewatch is a great game, c’mon.
Game devs are, of course, totally aware that this can be an ongoing problem for them now and into the future. Kimberly Voll is a senior technical designer at Riot Games, the developers of League of Legends. She recognises that certain “under the hood” game mechanics can be implemented to tackle the rampant toxicity their game is suffering. She also founded the Fair Play Alliance which focuses on analysis of player behaviour. While Riot Games is still figuring out how best to handle truly toxic players, they had toyed around with the idea of shadowbotting for a while. This was the idea of pairing negative players with bots in matches. The better you behave, the more authentic an online experience you get.
Sea of Thieves is another title that is doing it’s best to fly the flag for… well, being nice to one another. Riot Games’ executive producer stated in an interview with NME “You can play music on instruments – and when you play them, and another player is playing them, it syncs up the music together, and your character does this cool animation. It’s just fun – it makes you smile. When you do that with strangers, whether that’s in an online environment, or with your mates, or in a pub, or whatever, that kind of experience bonds you together. If you can smile and laugh together, you start forming a bond. Drinking in the game is another part of that. You start every game in a tavern and you head out on your adventures. We tried to make this social, positive space, where people will be encouraged to build bonds and ultimately make friends. There’s even an emote you can play that will make friends on Xbox Live: if I play the emote – the salute – and you play it at the same time, it will automatically make friends.” This is definitely a step in the right direction. A design choice in a game with the sole purpose to make you smile… it’s a rare thing these days as devs continue on the plethora of other things development demands. Not to mention wrestling with the AAA corporate machine of today.
Let's End On A Lighter Note
With organisations like the Fair Play Alliance springing up to spread the word at GDC, and developers like Riot hopefully setting an example, it is my hope that ensuring players play nice together becomes a stronger focus in game design. As we’ve seen with Sea of Thieves, it doesn’t take much to implement a few player to player friendly moments in a game’s systems. I vividly remember playing Destiny 2 (while the honeymoon phase was still strong) and had a game of football with a bunch of strangers for about twenty minutes. We really got into it, with no voice chat or anything. At the end, I chose to emote my character to just sit down in the middle of the pitch. I guess, out of respect, all the other players came along and sat down next to me. We just basked in the moment for about one minute and then all went our separate ways. It was a special moment. A moment that had no mechanical effect. But, as a result, I instantly felt safer and more respectful of the Destiny 2 community.
To wrap up, I’d like to focus on the old saying “well they’re just words. Stop being such a snowflake”. This phrase is utterly redundant and even ignorant. I know this first hand. About five years ago, I worked in a cold calling centre, selling loft and cavity wall insulation. Throughout my time in the job, I became bitter and resentful of my fellow man. The reason for this was that, I’d venture to say, a good 80% of the people I called not only raised their voice but used every abusive term they possibly could in the moment, as if it were some kind of competition. Every day for two years, this horrible-ness would be poured into my ears and I can tell you – it absolutely has serious damaging mental effects upon you. Select phrases never leave you and each time you recall them, you relive how horrible you felt in that moment. It's not something the abusers stop to think about.
Thank you for sticking with me for the duration of this article, I really appreciate your time. So please, take it from me – don’t ever be one of the 80%. Be it on the receiving end of a cold call or online. Simply put – there's just no need for it.