Toxic Gaming: How Video Game Communities Can Be Poisonous

There is an inherent problem with anything that’s fun, and it’s called “the idiot.”

Whenever you’ve found something fun to do, along comes the idiot to ruin it for you. Oh, what’s that? You like to play football? Well, here comes a player whose sole purpose in playing is to break your ankles. And what’s that you hear? Why it’s an idiot on the terraces, who likes to incessantly shout abuse at everyone and anyone around them.

The idiot is unfortunately found anywhere that people enjoy themselves; from playing sports to watching films (we see you on your phone, the whole goddamn cinema can see you). And of course, they’re in the world of gaming too.

But in gaming, the idiot has an advantage: anonymity. Like social media trolls, gaming idiots can hide behind their screens and act like a jerk until the jerk-cows come home. And what’s worse, they hunt in packs. They then turn what should be fun gaming communities, into toxic playgrounds that smell like jerk-cow dung heaps.

Thanks jerk-cows, you jerks that are also cows.

Fanning the Flames

No-one sets out to be an idiot though. It might be naive, but we like to believe in the goodness that lives inside most people – even in the idiots. Most of their nastiness stems from their love and passion for a particular game. It’s simple, and quite pathetic really: they love the game sooooo much, that they must abuse everyone else who plays the game.

That’s not to say that obsessive fans are the problem though, they’re not. Well, not all of them. But the culture of this kind of fandom can breed a toxic scumbag. The increased exposure and expertise of a certain game, can turn some fans into self-anointed monarchs of their own little world. And if you dare enter their kingdom without the requisite knowledge, be prepared for a childish verbal beat down, you dumb stupid n00b.

You’ll find this kind of toxicity prevalent in online shooters such as Call of Duty and Counter Strike. For many first-timers, online gaming can be wholly restrictive landscapes; places where novices aren’t welcomed in. League of Legends is another online multiplayer game which suffers massively because of these kind of attitudes towards new players.

People who want to play a game shouldn’t have to have a pre-condition test before they pick up the controller. They should just be able to play without fear of abuse or ridicule. And learn as they go, because that’s pretty much what gaming is all about.

Undertale of Woe

We’ve come to expect this kind of depressing experience in online multiplayer games. In fact, it’s a cliche to be shouted at in all caps by some 12-year-old in Iowa every time you get killed. The sad part is when you get this happening in games that aren’t even about getting the sweet kill shots. Well, not unless you want it to be about that.

Even in a game that’s as smart and wonderful as Undertale, there is a level of fandom that has also been sucked into the toxic waste. Before we go any further though, be aware of this: spoilers are incoming for Undertale.

In the game, you can play through to three possible endings: True Pacifist, Neutral and Genocide. For many fans of the game, True Pacifist is the “good” ending; it represents the perceived virtuous ethos of the game, one where you don’t have to kill any of your supposed enemies. In direct opposition, Genocide is seen as the “bad” ending; one where you’re playing against the sweet-natured heart of the game.

And because some fans are so passionate about Undertale, they can have a tendency to tear down people online who actively choose to play with murderous intentions. Yes, we get it: killing sucks in the game. But it’s also a game that has another layer to it if you choose to play the Genocide route, so it’s something that should be explored.

Even if it does hurt like hell to kill Sans. Or when that little spider lays a flower down after Muffet gets killed. Oh, man… <sniff>

Love Kills

And so, the object of these fans’ affection becomes ultimately poisoned by their own malice and fanatical devotion. Instead of being a thing that everyone can enjoy, it becomes a warped club of angry players shouting at each other. A place that’s only open to those members who know the secret password, and who can abuse the non-members the loudest.

It’s a depressing situation that so many games can end up this way, but it shouldn’t put anyone off from playing them. Because for every toxic idiot that exists in these worlds, there’s someone who’s friendly and welcoming.

And that’s what gaming should be about: inclusivity, not exclusivity. The sooner that some people recogonise this, the sooner that gaming communities can be much healthier places to play in.