Gamers are given a lot of options. You’ve probably had more than a few of those bitter moments when you manage to utter “I’ve got nothing to play” whilst staring down at a vast collection of video games.
Nowadays, friends don’t really have that option, since most games tend to offer online multiplayer only, for numerous fiscal and technical reasons. So what have our little friend groups left to play except their MMOs and MOBAs. Playing with friends is an undoubtedly wonderful experience. There’s laughter, thrilling competition, a little innocent gloating, and a couple of drinks afterwards (of water…depending on whether or not you still live with your mum).
Playing with strangers is an entirely different experience. The first time you do it, you go in with grand expectations— meeting new people, testing your skills against players worldwide, and creating new adventures and stories in entirely new worlds. Those images you have in your head soon crumble as you’re met by some of the internet’s most crass and vile inhabitants.
Most of you who play online are just fun-loving gamers who want to dive into whatever universe you find yourselves in. You want to get lost in Tamriel, fly like a meteor from Tatooine to Hoth, battle the second Omnic Crisis, and fight your way across Summoner’s Rift to your enemy’s nexus. It’s a shame not everyone wants innocent fun. Internet trolls, sore losers, and all-around horrible people tend to trawl through these fantastical virtual worlds for the next victim of their vitriol.
Did they start out that way, or do these video games bring out the worst in people?
Before that question is answered, things have to be made abundantly clear: this is in no way arguing that there is any correlation between video games and violence. Aggression and hostility however, are an entirely different matter. There are plenty of things about video games that bring provoke the angry people inside us, like long loading times, sluggish internet connection, and over-powered-boss fights to name a few. While that might explain the occasional bouts of cursing or verbal abuse aimed at inanimate objects, none of it excuses the way some people treat others. In the case of online gaming, it’s never face-to-face, which just makes it that much easier for the hostile one to inflict their insults at whoever unfortunately finds themselves at the other end of the line. But is that all it takes, the safety from physical retribution?
Communities surrounding League of Legends (LoL) and the more recent Overwatch both seem to suffer from a toxic player-base, the former of which is infamous for it. In a standard LoL match, arguments and hatred begins to brew during selections, before matches even begin. Most hostility, oddly enough, happens between teammates, for a variety of reasons. Throughout the actual match, teams usually fall apart, blaming each other for losses or accusing others of stealing kills. According to Riot, 80 percent of player chat is negative, which includes such things as offensive language and verbal abuse. Considering that this is the internet we’re talking about, it’s probably a safe bet to assume that a lot of these are just trolls being trolls. That still leaves a large portion that just seems to enjoy being petty and insulting just as much as they enjoy the games they’re playing.
Luckily, Overwatch is a first-person shooter with a rapid pace, which doesn’t allow for much communication between players. Unfortunately, that hasn’t prevented some from hearing first-hand, the toxicity of some players. Everyone has had a different experience with the game so far, however, as evident from any Overwatch forum on the internet, so it’s all quite tame in comparison to League of Legends, in which some players are repeatedly told to kill themselves, by their own teammates.
Is it simply the 30+ minutes of available time to talk providing an opportunity for hostility? Is it, as some argue, simply a little competitive trash talk that people can just ignore or mute? It’s true, players are free to mute others or report them, but that doesn’t do much to fix the issue, if there is one. There are those that argue the very definition of ‘toxic’ in regards to video games such as League of Legends. As one Redditor wrote, “being mean is not being toxic“. They’re right of course, friendly trash talk isn’t the same as being toxic. Calling someone a ‘noob‘ isn’t necessarily being toxic. But hurling racial slurs and telling someone to end their lives, most certainly is. Generally, behaviour that is uncalled for and inappropriate, tends to ruin the fun for everyone and its why developers such as Riot, have put such strict regulations in place, threatening to ban players for simple words such as the aforementioned ‘noob‘ that online gamers seem to have grown so fond of over the years.
But the truth of the matter is that, as in every other video game-related issue, it’s not the game that causes it. Toxic people will be toxic people, regardless of the outlet they use. It just so happens that the LoL community’s demographic is largely made up of 18-21 year olds (according to a poll on the LoL forums), an age range wherein maturity hasn’t quite set it yet for some. This isn’t a new occurrence. Toxic communities have existed since the time of Halo. But again, it wasn’t the video game that caused it; it’s just how some people are. That seems like an incredibly cynical notion but it isn’t. There is one thing you can attribute to the game, and that’s the type of person it attracts. The Elder Scrolls Online, for example, seems to attract a different kind of player. Their community is generally friendly and supportive of one another. They’re a group of adventurers who don’t want offensive language, racial slurs, or arrows to knees to ruin their fantastical adventures. Pick your community wisely and remember: hate the player, not the game, or better yet, stop hating people and just try to enjoy yourself.