Barrage: Are You a Toxic Gamer?

Buckle up ladies and gents, this rant is gonna be a toxic one. This… is Barrage. And it’s gonna be toxic because we’re going to talk about video game toxicity. What the hell does that even mean?

A few years back, Riot Games, the creators of League of Legends, decided that they were tired of losing paying customers because someone on the internet called them a shithead or they AFK’d in the middle of a ranked match. I can’t say I blame them. A lot of ARTS and MOBA players are very, very rude people who justify their rudeness because someone else isn’t as good at videogames as they’d like.

The key word that Riot used to describe this troublesome behavior was “toxic,” which is a synonym for “poisonous.” They used this word because they felt that rude people were poisoning other people’s game experience, and because words that use a hard X sound are fun to say. Exuberant. Extrapolate. Ex, er… et cetera.

And so, to make their community a happier place with fewer people calling other people shitheads, they created the Tribunal, a player-powered system in which League users would examine “cases” in which people were accused of being toxic and decide whether or not they actually were. The automated side of the Tribunal system would then mete out a punishment based on how bad the verdict was and if they were repeat offenders. The result was a much more positive chat box in League, and with far fewer AFKers and rage quitters. Of course, this was all because people were scared of big collective brother seeing what a terrible person they were, and not because of any real effort to cultivate healthier mindsets.

Riot was just the beginning of the use of this word, however. With millions of League players, some started to leak it out into the rest of the gaming world, calling out people they perceived as “rude” for being “toxic.” See, the results of Riot’s well-intentioned efforts couldn’t be argued with… and thus, Riot Games, developer of the most played video game in the world, created the precursor for the “safe space.”

Punishing people for using words can be justified pretty easily. I hate to defend anyone who undeniably verbally abuses people they’re supposed to work with on the internet – so I won’t. However, should assholes have their free speech restricted?

The problem isn’t that we’re shutting up assholes. The problem is that there’s no line drawn in the sand. The reason that people were shut up in the first place was because they were creating a negative experience for other people, but the fringe of today’s culture is consumed with the idea that you have the right to not be offended – and they get offended at everything! They’re rather vocal about it, too, which means that a tiny, tyrannical minority of people whose feelings are hurt with unreasonable ease are dictating to everyone else what does and does not constitute acceptable behavior, and you should be silenced if you ever slip up and say one mean thing.

Online gaming used to be a different place, where you were forged in the fires of war. Internet fighting was serious business, and you got yelled at if you were screwing it up for your team. It was a bad place to leap in and just have fun. However, I argue that the more serious online arenas where this takes place, such as Defense of the Ancients, are just as unfun when you’re learning how to play the game because of how hard you’re destroyed in the absence of the knowledge and experience you need to actually have a good time. On the contrary, online gaming is not all fun and games. It’s where you train to be a warrior because you want the challenge of dealing with other people. And frankly, when you’re training to be a warrior, you should expect that you’re going to get taunted and trash-talked. It’s not just rude, it’s a part of gaming culture.

That said, most big multiplayer games now ship with a report feature that allows you to take action against another person for “harassment.”How intolerant of discomfort, and how stubborn do you have to be to not mute the offending player, leave the game and join a new one, or just shrug it off because some other idiot’s text-pixels shouldn’t affect you at all? It’s just some other idiot, who gives a shit what they think?

As an aside, the “no sexism or racism” rule in nearly every gaming community somewhat amuses me. It infantilizes the people in it because it says that they’re not able to work out their own issues and talk things out like adults.

A culture that thinks “toxicity” is indicative of a terrible person who shouldn’t be playing the game is a toxic culture. Instead, we should be working to encourage each other, befriend each other, and forgive each other when someone explodes. Riot notes that three out of four convicted players reformed, and did not revisit the Tribunal. Why can’t we do that with positive measures instead of negative ones? Everyone just needs to chill out, drop the ego, and understand that sometimes, if you want to play online games, someone is going to call you a shithead. This has been Barrage.

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