By Haasith Garapati ('22)
Online toxicity is a problem that plagues nearly every online player who games competitively. For years, game developers have tried to eradicate this corrosive issue that has diminished playing experiences for hundreds of thousands of players. But in order to nail down this tricky problem, both the developers and gamers have to work together to create a friendly and inviting environment for generations of new players.
Toxicity can be seen in individuals who are degrading or mean to others surrounding them, in both direct and indirect ways. People can be like this in all aspects of life, whether being toxic to their coworkers or being in a one-sided toxic relationship. In online gaming however, this is taken to another level.
There are many reasons that online toxicity is more common than IRL toxicity but we’ll start off with the most prominent ones. Being toxic online is a lot like cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is easier and less consequential for the bully for many reasons.
According to kidshealth.org, “Online bullying can be particularly damaging and upsetting because it's usually anonymous or hard to trace-Online bullying and harassment can [also] be easier to commit than other acts of bullying because the bully doesn't have to confront his or her target in person.”
This is the same reason why there is a lot more harassment in online video games rather than physical and real world games. Other than the player’s online pseudonym, the victim would most likely know nothing about the player who was being toxic, and he or she could exit the match unscathed.
Also, the very nature of the game could play a part in empowering online toxicity. In team based sports, playing competitively requires good communication with the rest of your teammates. However when it comes to team-based video games, the player is literally being put together in the same match with people who could be living hundreds or even thousands of miles away (except if they’re playing with friends).
According to Noah Smith, who is a writer for the Guardian, these spontaneous meetings can be quite erratic and unpredictable. He says that “While such random interactions can be cordial and even lead to friendships, the smaller percentage of negative instances can be lasting and detrimental.”
This is a problem, because as stated before, communication is very important in these types of games. A common solution that many players will tell you is to simply stop talking or mute the chat so that you don’t have to hear the toxic player.
However, the Fair Play Alliance (FPA) has a different opinion on this. The FPA is an organization that was created to help game companies deal with toxicity and share research on the topic. They say that “If we dismiss the problem with ‘just mute’ we’re ignoring that communication is often a fundamental part of gameplay or teamwork, which means muting undermines that experience.”
However, if the player doesn’t mute his team, he or she could still face the harassment from those toxic players. These uncomfortable situations put gamers in a paradox of whether they should mute and play worse, or unmute and face the abuse. If players face these kinds of detriments, their communication skills and trust in other players will deteriorate over time which will result in overall lowered performance and coordination.
Even though online harassment is a slippery problem to nail down, major game companies are taking steps to make their communities more friendly. The FPA is one of these steps. The organization actually consists of dozens of game-related companies who all want to learn and solve this issue.
Some of those companies are big name brands like Blizzard/Activision (Overwatch), Epic Games (Fortnite), Riot Games (League of Legends), Ubisoft (Rainbow 6), and many more. Thanks to shared knowledge and suggestions, a lot of game developers have created systems that lower abusive chat/actions effectively.
One great example of this is the Honor System from League of Legends, which was introduced all the way back in 2012. The Honor System rewards players for positive actions by having other players give shoutouts to teammates who they thought played positively while also making smart decisions and being nice. Getting shoutouts would reward the recipient with extra items and bonuses which incentivized good behavior among players so that they could get a shoutout from a team-member and therefore gain items.
Overwatch also did a similar thing with its Endorsement system, which was released last year in 2018. The Endorsement system would also reward players with loot-boxes periodically if they got endorsed by a fellow teammates.
Toxicity will never go away and it can be extremely upsetting to those who don’t know how to deal with it. But companies are working to create a friendlier environment. If gamers learn the how’s and why’s behind it, they can become better players and better people.