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Toxicity isn’t a part of gaming and you’re part of the problem if you think so

Seriously, why are people like this?

Kid playing video games
Image: KidsCode

Not too long ago, I walked in on my son looking incredibly flustered in front of his computer. He was playing Roblox and seemed emotionally perplexed. I asked him what he was doing, expecting him to tell me that he saw something inappropriate. Instead, he started telling me how he and other players were “roasting” each other but now this one player won’t leave him alone. He was getting upset that the player was saying mean things and following him around. I told him to play something else, so he wouldn’t have to be harassed, to which he responded: “I’m playing with people here though, why do I have to leave because someone is trying to ruin our game?”

Kid playing switch

Image: RD

He’s not wrong.

In this day and age, it is so easy to dismiss toxic behavior. Telling someone to turn off a game or play something else is falling into a far-too-easy habit of letting the bully win while the victim if forced to leave. That isn’t fair, and I’m not setting a good example by telling my son to do that as well. I went on social media and said something about the situation, only to almost receive an instant response from someone telling me that if my son couldn’t handle a little bullying, then he wasn’t ready to play online.

How is that OK?

I play games as a pseudo-career, I also find games to be a great stress reliever or to simply give me time to organize my thoughts. I’ve learned to deal with toxic players reasonably well, but there has been a handful of times that I’ve been pushed into a near-murderous rage by someone that logged into League of Legends just to ruin other players’ experiences.

You are told to finish the game, report them after and move on. Unfortunately, that means it is YOUR responsibility to endure abuse until the game ends. Then, maybe if enough people have reported the offender, they will perhaps receive some form of punishment. That’s the way it works in League of Legends, Overwatch, and so many other games. Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds forces players to be dead before they can even report cheaters, efficiently stonewalling them if they are trying to enjoy the game itself.

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We effectively let these assholes rule the roost.

The question becomes “How do we deal with toxic behavior without punishing everyone else?” As much as the average Joe tells you the answer is simple, it really isn’t. Do you destroy any potential attempts at team communication by blocking people out of the gate? I used to do that in League of Legends, but that is pretty damn toxic in itself, eliminating the necessary teamwork the game needs right from the start. Certain games, like Overwatch, aren’t completely reliant on communication and have built-in emotes to communicate without screaming in a mic.

It’s not a horrible solution but it is far from perfect. Have you ever played Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds? Yeah, that’s a game that is best simply muted until you jump out of the plane. Fortnite only allows communication through teams, effectively reducing the odds of harassment but feels like a far less social game for it.

Sticking with Fortnite for a moment, something else interesting recently happened with my son while playing. After playing the game for the afternoon and getting called a few names while attempting to communicate with his teammates (apparently kids are often called “Squeakers”) he played with a pair of guys that were a little different. These guys were supportive of him, made sure he stayed close and worked with him to near-victories time and again. It turned out that they were rookie streamers and were trying to be nice to kids because there has been a huge push in viewers for streamers and YouTubers that have been doing just that.

It’s a trend that has been made popular by streamers like OpTic CouRage (Warning! This video is too damn cute!) where they work with kids and show another side of gaming outside of the shitty toxic side of things. Truthfully, this may actually be a catalyst for combating toxicity towards kids. It has become cool to support little kids online and this will hopefully in-turn create a generation of gamers that return the favor.

In the end, the best thing any of us can do is try to pick up those that are the focus of toxic behavior online. If you see someone getting harassed, say something, report that player and do your best to help create a gaming ecosystem that holds trolls and dickbags in contempt. There’s no magic bullet to make video games a safe haven, but one thing we can definitely look at is not allowing trolls to pick and choose their targets like they are at a fish market. We can’t keep looking at people acting like assholes and shrug off their behavior as something to be expected in online gaming.

I’ve started playing with my son’s online buddies, being the cool and hip adult that tolerates a bunch of elementary-aged kids, but one of my recent experiences ended with a pair of fourth graders telling off some college-aged ass because he called the old guy a baddie.

Guess you can’t win them all.

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Longtime games journalist and Florida resident. I'm a Guinness World Record holder, wordsmith extraordinaire, MOBA fan, devoted dad and husband. I'm here to spread the gospel of video games.

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