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Toxicity in video games: Analysing cause and effects of abusive online behaviour

·8-min read

As gaming grows and becomes more popular, the less savoury parts of the industry also come to light. Within most gaming communities there exists a group of players that has been involved with incidents in which they behave poorly with other players. As a matter of fact, the players engaging in this are often popular figures within the gaming community.

Take the example of Mannu 'kRaT' Karki who was a host for Nodwin Gaming but got himself into trouble after it was revealed that he has been abusive and toxic while playing Counter-Strike:Global Offensive (CS:GO). There are even some figures who have had outbursts of poor behaviour multiple times. Mason "mason" Venne, a popular Dota 2 streamer based out of North America, is known to smash his own computer screen in the middle of these outbursts.

This raises a few questions: Is such behaviour common among gamers? Why do people put on such poor displays of behaviour?

To understand the situation better, a survey was conducted by this writer to understand if such behaviour is common and who are the people that engage in it. Following this, some of the respondents were contacted to understand what kind of reasons would prompt them to consider being abusive in a game and also to try and give perspective on how it feels to be on the receiving end of such behaviour.

In the survey, the respondents were asked about their gender, what age category they fall into, are they school students, college students, working for less than five years, working more than five years or retired. How many hours a week do they spend on gaming? Have they ever gotten abusive with another player while playing a game? Have they ever been on the receiving end of abusive behaviour while playing a game? If they answered yes to having faced abuse in an online game, how it felt on a scale of 1 through 5, with one being it doesn't bother them and 5 being that they quit the game. The definition of abusive behaviour was left subjective to the respondents beliefs for the purpose of this survey.

Looking at the results, 59.4 percent of the people admitted to having gotten abusive with other players at some point or the other while 65.6 percent claimed to have been faced with abusive behaviour when playing games. These numbers suggest that abusive behaviour may be a widespread problem within the various gaming communities.

Adding to this is the fact that among the respondents, the only people who had never been on the receiving end of abusive behaviour or got abusive with other players were those who played less than five hours in a week. This fact reveals that all the people who game with any degree of regularity have at some point got abusive or been abused while gaming. Only 7.4 percent of respondents among those who had faced abuse in online games claimed to have never abused another player.

The reasons behind this abusive behaviour by most players is actually quite similar. Out of the respondents that were willing to be interviewed, all of them stated that the only reason they had ever gotten abusive while gaming was due to the fact that another player, either enemy or teammate did something to ruin the experience for them.

Ashank, though, is a rare example of a gamer who does not engage in abusive behaviour. When asked about it, he stated, "I just mute them when they get abusive with me." He went on to add that responding to an abusive gamer is not worth the effort. In most cases, the person abusing is just frustrated or having a bad day and is taking out their anger.

Vidhvat, a casual gamer, revealed that he generally avoids abusing while gaming. although he feels that it is not a problem if the abusive language is limited to friendly banter. He admitted to being triggered only when his tolerance threshold is breached.

Jahanjeet, another avid gamer, said that he gets angry when people play the game in a manner that makes them a liability to the team. These days Jahanjeet prefers to kick a person out as the feature has been made available in the game of his choice, CS:GO. As for his response to players who are abusive with him, "If it's an opponent, I'd cut him down to size so whatever he says can be laughed at." For teammates, if he is unable to kick them for some reason, he finds ways to make the game harder to play for the person in question. While Jahanjeet believes that he has been abusive to other players at times, he is still quite mild in the actions he takes against other gamers.

Dhruv is another gamer I was able to get in touch with. Dhruv states that he has been abusive with other players several times while playing video games. Although Dhruv does make it clear that he has only ever gotten abusive when the other player did something to ruin his game. He further states, "I abuse them because they should not be allowed to get away with ruining the game or with abusive behaviour." Dhruv also admits to having made racist remarks on a few occasions. He believes that while a few players are able to ignore abuse, racism is something that they always react towards.

Given the fact that a majority of gamers are known to become abusive on occasions, whether it is out of a need to retaliate or due to frustration, it does make the online gaming community extremely toxic. There are several categories of behaviour that are commonly considered to fall within the overarching category of abusive behaviour in online gaming. Starting from the mildest they are:

Flaming and Game Rage: This category is the most commonly seen, it is when a person becomes upset and begins to hurl abuse at other players.

Griefing: In some cases flaming and game rage is followed by griefing. This is when a player becomes frustrated to the extent that they decide to find ways to directly disrupt the other players' game.

Doxing and Swatting: Doxing and Swatting are far more serious and in my opinion are essentially forms of cyberbullying. Doxing is the act of gathering and publishing the private information of a person over the internet. Swatting is the act of making prank calls or fake calls in a bid to create trouble for the person. This could even include making anonymous reports against the person to law enforcement agencies.

Hate Speech: Hate speech is essentially the situation in which abusive behaviour begins to take on shades of racism, sexual discrimination, etc.

Threatening and Aggressive Behaviour: Similar to hate speech, this is an extremely worrying situation. This is online gaming's equivalent of criminal intimidation.

Given that such behaviour has crept into the communities of various online games, there is a big question on what are the actions being taken to resolve the issues. Most games have various features that aim to protect players against such situations. There are different approaches taken by different game developers.

League of Legends (LoL) which is owned by Riot Games has a zero-tolerance policy and any player who is found guilty of any form or abusive behaviour, no matter how mild, is likely to have their account permanently banned. Among the developers who are known to be making clear attempts at solving the problem, Valve Corporation has a unique approach. They prefer to implement something known as the overwatch system. The overwatch system is a community-driven approach to the problem. This system assigns players a behaviour score and the players who have a high behaviour score are asked to review suspected cases of poor behaviour and pass judgement.

While the approaches may differ, most game developers have very low tolerance towards activities that could be considered abusive. For activities such as flaming and game rage, every game today offers players the option of muting others.

Where griefing is concerned, while game developers suggest that the player be reported there are some games that allow for much faster relief. CS:GO lets players kick a person out of the game and Dota 2 offers players the option of blocking or avoiding a player (for all future games).

Issues of hate speech and threatening behaviour are punished by game developers whenever a player is found guilty. As for the issues of Doxing and Swatting, they are far harder to resolve as it generally includes an element of either hacking or phishing. Game developers constantly ensure their database, that have the details of a players IP address, are protected. However, it is quite hard to stop a player from divulging the details if they are scammed into revealing them to a player in a conversation.

It is hard to say what would be the most effective solution to removing or reducing toxicity in gaming. One of the most important points to keep in mind would be that most misbehaving players are only doing so because they have been exposed to abusive behaviour while gaming.

Note: Full names of respondents have been withheld to protect their identitities.

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