Up For Debate - Is Toxicity Becoming a Serious Issue for Online Gaming?

Written by Jon Sutton on Sat, Sep 16, 2017 4:00 PM

This week the gaming world blew up with the news that Pewdiepie had uttered racial profanities while playing PUBG. While all the attention turned to the world’s most popular YouTuber, he is far from alone in his behavior. Toxicity has always been present in online gaming. Where there are enough people, vile behavior eventually forms. I suspect a large number of us have been guilty of it in some shape or form, ranging from your standard ‘gg ez’ up to the more, shall we say, ‘heavyweight’ comments.

It all came to a head this week with Pewdiepie, while Overwatch game director Jeff Kaplan also posted a video explaining that the onslaught of toxic players to its FPS is actually slowing development of new maps and characters down.

“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,” said Kaplan earlier this week. “The bad behavior is making the game progress in terms of development at a much slower rate.”

Very matter of factly, Kaplan also said Blizzard flat out “don’t want those people in Overwatch.” They’re bad people saying toxic things, and it’s not conducive to a fun gaming environment for the majority.

I do think we’re eventually running down towards a path of much tighter controls. Football, long a cesspit of racism, now has a firm stance against it. Get caught behaving badly here in the UK and you can be banned for life. We could be heading toward a system where it isn’t just a slap on the wrist for saying you hope someone gets cancer. Authoritarian moves like age-gated servers tied to user ID are a very real probability further down the lane.  While hateful rhetoric isn’t entirely age-based, most people tend to grow out of racist and homophobic slurs by the time they grow their first pube.

Toxicity’s a near-unavoidable part of online gaming, but it doesn’t need to be like that. It can be great to play a game of Rocket League and not get a barrage of abuse hurled my way. Actually encouraging teammates who’ve made a mistake can be a thoroughly enjoyable thing to do. But conflict sadly seems to be a part of human nature, even while we’re supposed to be relaxing and having fun. Toxicity has become so firmly ingrained in gaming culture that it seems a near impossible task to shift it. Blizzard’s trying, and bravo to them, but they’ve got an absolutely monumental task ahead of them if they want to make a perceivable difference.

The first task is going to be in distinguishing run of the mill trash talk from the genuinely hateful language. Jeffrey Lin, the lead designer of social systems at League of Legends developer Riot, was hired to do exactly that. His studies found that 1% of players were consistently toxic, existing purely to troll and abuse. That’s a fairly small figure, and it turns out they’re responsible for just 5% of the toxicity in League of Legends, albeit still five times the game’s average. The vast majority of abuse comes from normal players who are just frustrated or are having a bad time. Most of the time they’re fine, but eventually, something tips the scales and they let fly. This makes it a harder problem to tackle than just eradicating the trolls if we consider that it’s actually the majority that has normalised trash talk. Being so widespread makes it even more difficult to tame.

There’s an entire school of thought dedicated to trying to make gamers be kinder to one another, leading to fabulous titles such as Journey that manage to negate trolling altogether. The more tools you provide for communication you provide a player though, the greater the opportunity for trolling. Journey worked so well because it stripped the player of everything bar emotes, it was a very pure social experience.

Toxicity is clearly an issue which game developers are interested in tackling, but whether it’s possible is a different matter entirely. Do you think toxicity is a serious issue, or should gamers just grow thicker skin? What can developers do to help limit abuse? Let us know your thoughts below!

Is toxicity a serious issue in gaming?

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12:40 Sep-26-2017

I don't really play online games anymore, but I hear what my friends say about it and certain gaming communities could be a little more open minded to ideas that make the community as a whole much better for everyone

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18:07 Sep-18-2017

Yes it's an issue, but banishment/censorship is not the way to solve it. Raising awareness and sensitizing players to behave better is. More SOCIAL PEER GROUP control/pressure is needed. Change the environment of games.

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07:27 Sep-18-2017

When i play games such as Overwatch i tend to get toxic players 6 out of 10 games that will trash talk and throw matches and i only play comp matches so instead of the ranking going up i am going down because of these toxic players that will throw a match and then start complaining how bad the team is and all and i know some of you guys have encountered this in some online games which for comp/ranked matches you get that one player that would ruin everything for your team.

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22:42 Sep-17-2017

more than just trash talking and hateful speech that can come from that, you have childish people of all ages they do anything and everything when they dont get their way. thats the toxicity that is the problem. i play games with friends of mine and we talk smack back and forth but you can tell from the tone of our voices and that we specifically call the person out that its friendly banter. but how toxic has this gotten? rage quits, swatting, false reporting and verbal abuse beyond smack talking. thats the toxicity that is the problem and normalizing is doesnt make it better, it just means the bar is raised for worse and worse stuff to happen. something needs to be done.

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15:59 Sep-17-2017

I wouldn't say it's a serious issue but it's a shame that it's considered normal for people to behave that way. I'm sure they don't act like that face to face but when given a bit of anonymity on line some people just can't help being a dick.

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07:28 Sep-18-2017

People tend to act like that online because they know if they did that in real life they would get beaten up almost all the time.

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11:58 Sep-17-2017

on xbox live there was sometime a raging kid, it didnt bother me much, on pc there is barely any talk, sometime someone plays some music, only problem i had was in rainbow six because some people thinks is funny to kill their own team mates at round start.

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10:32 Sep-17-2017

best solution to avoid toxicity in your game is to squad up with friends or high ranked people.
at least in rb6 siege that is the only way to play casual peacefully

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10:59 Sep-17-2017

Completely agree. I was with 2 mates and as soon as the round started they voted to kick me due to my stats I guess as I don't play Siege 12 hours a day. Ended up winning and getting MVP. The toxicity in Siege is so bad at the minute.

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07:33 Sep-18-2017

I stopped playing R6S because when i would try to play in a match i would get voted out because out of 10 games i joined they wanted me to pick someone with a shield which i didn't own and i am not going to pay more money just to unlock a character to play the game.

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10:08 Sep-18-2017

You can't get kicked from Ranked matches but yea you can in casual. It's why ill usually play ranked with at least 2-3 players so if someone is the one on our team being an idiot or trash talking we can vote to kick. I've played with the same 5-6 people minimum and it's never an issue, it's usually the other team with their mouse macros and excuses that are very toxic.

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08:34 Sep-17-2017

Toxicity is the best comedy show. It's really fun to watch when 12 year old retards get angry and think they're insulting someone. Maybe I'll buy some popcorn the next time I play games with lots of toxicity.

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11:45 Sep-17-2017

Perhaps I should stream Overwatch? XD

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15:28 Sep-17-2017

Toxic kids vs a God? I'm in.

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07:57 Sep-17-2017

This is one interesting debate, though i won't actually be voting on any of the answers since i don't think there is an actual answer since every single person inside and outside of gaming is different. Toxicity is quite a problem, no one wants to have to deal with these kinds of people, except if you enjoy it when you get called an aimbot just for being a sharpshooter. There are two sides of this that have their bad and good parts.

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08:00 Sep-17-2017

The bad of course being that there is a higher chance of losing and such, but that's just the game. Some people, for example one of my family members plays LoL and doesn't play except with bots because even on normal games it gets pretty salty. Which for me means people are really annoying even when at a super low level, which is of course uncacceptable, you can't just be offending other people that are trying their best and are still learning.... this is gonna be long one...

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08:03 Sep-17-2017

There will always be a reason to be angry, even i have been, i won't deny it. I have wondered many times, recently while playing Overwatch, where my team is and why im the only one at the point. But i never flamed at then, instead i was annoyed IRL. There are many other things of course but i don't want to turn this into a longer than it needs to be. The good thing is that it shows you the real world, what people are like when they don't need to pretend, like ir or not.

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08:06 Sep-17-2017

It's because of these things and other tough situations that i have managed to stay cool for much longer and be much more tolerant to alot of things. This is why when someone starts dissing at me in real life i can keep my cool and ignore it. Is that how it's suppose to be ? HELL NO! But that's the world we live in and im taking all the things i can to deal with it. You can take toxicity as whatever you want, im taking it as experience in dealing with crap like it.

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03:23 Sep-17-2017

I personally think that blaming "toxicity" is just an excuse for bad players.
If you have any confidence in your skills it should be very easy for you to just ignore it or hit the mute button if it becomes too obnoxious.
Of course, blaming other players or flaming in general is also a sign of a bad player.
But here's the thing, IMO you shouldn't be punished for flaming someone who doesn't want to win.
You should only be punished for not wanting to win (trolling).
I can just mute a "toxic" person, but I cannot make a troll play seriously.

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03:24 Sep-17-2017

But maybe that's just because I have gotten fairly used to people being "toxic", I mean I'm playing online games for more than 10 years by now.

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03:39 Sep-17-2017

nah i agree with you. you can mute a toxic player but not a troll learned this lesson many time sin csgo.

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03:17 Sep-17-2017

Ive always enjoyed killing noobs and watching the chat light up with insults directed at me. I laugh a lot. "Boom headshot!" "I can dance all day! Try and hit me!". I miss the old purepwnage webseries. Never rly taunted ppl myself though.

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03:07 Sep-17-2017

Played World of Tanks, great game horrendous community for the most part. The few people who were encouraging I was very grateful for though. I prefer local multiplayer with friends much more, or online but in a group with friends. No matter what though Toxicity is always going to be a problem cause there will always be that one person who just plain had a bad day... I think the best way to "combat" it, is to be encouraging yourself, if someone else isn't, you should.

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03:09 Sep-17-2017

If developers rewarded people who where encouraging or helpful (somehow), I feel the toxicity of games could be lowered in effect cause of the people helping one another. Just a thought...

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07:39 Sep-18-2017

But see the thing is in most games the developers care more about money than the players playing the game which is why you would never see a reward system.
I just wish that they would make certain servers for toxic players only so all the friendly and legit players could play in harmony.

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03:33 Sep-17-2017

I play world of tanks too bro and I know what your saying about the horrendous players.

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02:12 Sep-17-2017

dota 2 is one of the worst offenders. You dont do what somone wants you to do and they start spamming the chat telling to report
"report ___ hes a fgt" "but im doing better then you" "lol you suck jajajajaja"

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02:10 Sep-17-2017

I remember when a 12 year old kid in a game center insult a 19 year old. I guess the kid think it's okay to use such language outside gaming.
Eventually he got spanked, cried loud, and to everyone's surprise, shat his pants. For real.

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01:22 Sep-17-2017

The only competitive game I play is CS:GO and DotA 2... Every time you find a match, it matches you up with people who are as good as you, since most toxic players are at the lowest of ranks, as long as you're a decent player, you won't have a toxic player in the game.
I don't know about how other games to their matchmaking stuff. There's also a report button so that's pretty handy.

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00:35 Sep-17-2017

biggest reason i stopped playing competitive games is the toxicity that comes with them.

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00:46 Sep-17-2017

Same here.

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01:09 Sep-17-2017

I honestly could care less what people call me on online games... That being said i dont suffer from issues of people swearing and what not at me since i dont let words hurt me. Only way words hurt is if its from someone you care about.

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02:20 Sep-22-2017

Man RIP most decent mmorpgs with communities of the past.

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00:16 Sep-17-2017

I've never trash talked in a game, never saw a point. When people try to bait me, I just ignore them. I can't be bothered to be toxic.

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23:58 Sep-16-2017

For noobs it is always a problem

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23:07 Sep-16-2017

There is no getting around it. People are handed everything on a silver platter and are told they're special since day one. But once they confront reality, they can't handle it. So they blame you to keep their fantasy alive. Until that's fixed, this problem won't be.

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22:43 Sep-16-2017

I still do think the online gaming is crap,
I prefer single player or local multiplayer games by far :)

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23:02 Sep-16-2017

I don't think it's crap, but I too much prefer single player games and local multiplayer.

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11:31 Sep-17-2017

I meant that majority of online games are putting social/online/community aspect above all the actual game features, such as gameplay, storyline, graphics etc..

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18:17 Sep-17-2017

Same boat. Probably the only online games I play every now and again are Quake and Runescape. Both very heavily oriented on gameplay (in their own respect) rather than some social crap :)

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