The Grind (Part 2): Community Decay

Raise your dongers boys and girls, because this week in Part 2 of “The Grind”, we’re strapping on our gas masks and dredging through the grimy, gooey, “toxicity” that has begun to plague various parts of the pc-gaming community.  Before I begin, I feel it is important to preface this article with the basis that I have obviously not been an active part of EVERY gaming community in the PC world. I have actually heard many positive things from my friends involved in various communities surrounding games that I don’t play (Borderlands 2 for example). However, putting that aside, there is no denying that the word “toxic” has become a popular buzzword to describe different aspects of the pc gaming community, and this article is simply going to attempt to explore why that is.

League of LegendsFirst, we should define this so-called “buzzword”. What makes an environment toxic? Are there different levels of toxicity? Simply put, a toxic community has come to be defined as a community that harbors a large amount of negative and raging gamers (typically perceived to be adolescents), hosing each other with insults and malicious attacks meant to shame or otherwise hurt an intended target. It’s an increasingly common complaint: online gaming communities are snake pits of disrespect and defamatory remarks. Tracing its origins, it would seem that this word started to gain traction around the MOBA League of Legends as a way for the game’s publisher, Riot Games, to define the negative attitude of its community. The word described the attitude of its players so well that other games and players began to pick up the word and use it to define their own communities, and it is now a common way to describe any negative or defamatory environment.

So now we’re left with the major question…. Why? Why have many online gaming forums developed in this manner? While there are many possible answers, I believe the answer largely lies in the anonymous nature of the internet. While I am overwhelmingly thankful that I still live in a world where my Internet usage is (for the most part) completely anonymous, this freedom does create problems when certain individuals choose to abuse their gift of Internet free speech. In a forum-based environment, you can create an anonymous account and pretty much say anything you like. People are free to judge, harass, mock, and shame anyone or anything without fear of prosecution. People use the shield of an anonymous avatar to say literally anything they want.

Rage Quit FaceThe competitive nature of the online gaming community also makes this phenomenon extremely contagious. Every day I see people actually try to “one-up” each other’s insults. MOBAs and MMORPGs are extremely susceptible to this sort of contagious behavior because of the simple nature of the game. Any environment where the outcome in your game is defined by the quality of another player is a breeding ground for extreme toxicity. PC gamers are even competitively toxic over the type of computer you use, something that the console gaming world can’t really experience. Have you ever been so excited about getting a new computer, only to immediately be asked the “Specs?” of your new computer? Suddenly your joy turns to shame as the processor/SSD/graphic card/keyboard/mouse/etc that you were so excited about 5 seconds ago gets “one-upped” by some mouth breathing loser trying to make himself feel better about his own lame and sad life. While I understand that people who play games typically play to win, and therefore are competitive by nature, it’s a shame that the online gaming community feels the need to outdo one another in every aspect.

There’s a huge misconception that the only people who are toxic in a gaming community are the “newbs”, aka, the people who are typically not very good at the game, the people who constantly rank the lowest, or the people who aren’t a “true” part of the community. But this is not true, and toxic players are not limited to unskilled, raging teenagers. Recently, in fact, Riot Games has taken action against the popular professional streamers and League of Legends players such as “IWillDominate”, “Mithy,” and “Nukeduke”. Not only did Riot give them ample warnings and declarations to fix their behavior, but they finally issued permanent bans to these player’s main accounts. In regards to Alfonso “Mithy” Rodriguez, who received a ban June of last year, Riot had this to say: “In the past month, Rodriguez has been reported in over 30% of the games he played, with nearly 60% of those reports being for Offensive Language, Negative Attitude, and Verbal Abuse,” Riot reports. “During this period, his harassment score rose to be within the top 1% of all players on EUW. Additionally, he was reported over 30 times for leaving the game/going AFK.” If people who play at the highest level of skill in a game, who do so in front of millions of viewers, with an extremely popular IGN (erasing any sense of anonymity) still practice this toxic behavior, there has to be a deeper explanation to what is causing this abhorrent negativity. Why? I simply don’t have the answer.

The plague of negativity due to the Internet’s anonymity goes far beyond the scope of gaming forums, too. Cyber-bullies feed off anonymous, hateful posts to celebrities, young YouTube aspirators, or even just your average high school student. Iggy Azalea recently deleted all of her social media accounts, one of many celebrities to do so in the past due to the hateful words of people across the internet (Zelda Williams, Nikki Minaj, Justin Timberlake, Lady GaGa are all examples of celebrities that have quit social media due to online harassment).

Mario Facepalm

So what are the solutions to this problem?

MOBAs and MMORPGs clearly dominate the world of PC gaming. While it seems like these communities clearly have the largest amount of toxic players in their community, a lot of the negativity can be contributed to the sheer size of the community. It’s obvious that the more people that play the game, the larger the amount of toxic players within that game is going to be. The larger a community is, the larger the scope of punishment has to be. Companies like Blizzard and Riot Games have been making examples out of popular players, hoping that these displays of “public shaming” will hopefully scare the rest of the community into shape. While this is a good temporary solution, I don’t see this as a perfect “fix” to the problem. While the average person may be shocked that Blizzard or Riot would have the “audacity” to ban a celebrity, others may see the celebrities as too distant, thinking something like that would never happen to them.

Another possible solution would be to find a way to make players more transparent instead of anonymous. If we take away the anonymous nature of these communities, people would be less likely to be venomous to each other. I honestly think the majority of the toxic community are truly weak people by nature. They have to put down others to make themselves feel better. If we create some sort of system that punishes (and/or shames) people visibly for this behavior, I really do think there would be a decrease in the toxicity of online gaming communities.

…But then are we any better than them?

Thanks for reading everyone! Hope you guys learned something, and please feel free to discuss your opinion in the comments below (just try not to be toxic :P). Next week we will be exploring the world of gender bias in gaming. Is there gender bias, and to what extent? Should girls and guys be treated differently in e-sports, as they are in professional sports? Why are there gender-based gaming stereotypes, and how can we work to diffuse them?

Hope you enjoyed this week’s edition of The Grind, and I look forward to seeing you next week!

Cary Lambert