We’re still salvageable.
Quite seldom is the case of a company making a total 180 after a massive blunder, especially in the gaming space. Games publishers are some of the worst in this regard, often trying desperately to employ half-measures to win back the trust of their player base. Star Wars: Battlefront II is a great example of a company taking a half-measure to combat negative press and fan reactions, where they temporarily disabled microtransactions in order to snuff out the dumpster fire that was the loot box controversy. They even admitted they would be re-enabling microtransactions later, and stated their loot boxes would stay. Their rollback broke the progression system to a point that the re-balancing which followed ended up showing just how predatory the system was.
However, some companies make a turn-around so drastic, that they’re a shadow of their former selves, and continue to improve over time.
Yank Those Reins
Microsoft’s Xbox brand had an identity crisis in 2013. They designed a game system for the coming generation of consoles which aimed at an audience that didn’t exist. 2013 Microsoft correctly predicted that digital game ownership would take precedence this generation, but made extremely questionable decisions in order to meet that need.
The pre-release Xbox One was designed to curtail piracy and second-hand games by downplaying the relevance of physical games, and communities of gamers correctly called Microsoft out on their clearly anti-consumer designs. So Microsoft went through a massive change to save face, and salvage the Xbox brand, despite working with a hamstrung system. They’re still changing to this day. But that change doesn’t come easy. Phil Spencer spoke at DICE about this subject, not just about their missteps about the Xbox One, but their radical change to be more inclusive as an organization.
It isn’t as simple as just altering a couple details and going back to business as usual. It took a massive change to the Xbox team’s culture; it took a fundamental change to the core of their organization, from the top down. In my own experience, while true change is possible, it requires a genuine desire to right the ship. It takes accountability, resolve, self-awareness, and empathy (that makes for quite the acronym).
The gaming community as a whole has struggled with its own culture, for a myriad of reasons. That’s why we’re seeing toxicity in gaming being targeted by developers. Why so many games media organizations are rallying against intolerance in the medium they cover, both on the community and creative level. So what do gamers need to do if they want to affect change?
Change Is Hard, But It’s Possible
Spend any time online, whether playing a game or roaming forums or comment sections, and it’ll take no time at all before you stumble across a troll trying to rile up the crowd. Their motivation for being an insufferable jackass is irrelevant; it doesn’t matter if they’re just antagonizing people to enjoy the reaction, or are legitimately just a horrible piece of human garbage. The reason for this behavior is simple: accountability, or lack thereof. Interacting online with others often means dealing with usernames instead of first names, avatars instead of faces, and the absence of meaningful consequence. The truth here is that there’s little we can do to force accountability on others online. Any measures put in place to accomplish that goal would make interacting with others a nightmare of doxxing. Instead, what’s required is a drastic shift in what is acceptable.
Athena over at Ambigaming Corner wrote about the difference between tolerance and acceptance. The point made being, tolerance is the allowance we give to someone to be the way they are, while acceptance is our willingness to include that person in our culture, regardless of differences. Unfortunately, the gaming community as a whole has been accepting of intolerance for a long time. Often times, toxic people get a pass because their shocking behavior is considered funny or entertaining. Gamers in matches on both sides lob insults about regularly, though when they descend into unacceptable behavior, they’re ignored.
We shouldn’t be accepting of those people. We should be holding them accountable. That means not waiting until a match ends before blocking, reporting, and dropping. It means calling them out on their behavior. Having the resolve to carry through on the idea that we should be doing everything in our power to combat toxicity whenever it crops up, even if it’s inconvenient; and it will be inconvenient sometimes. You could be in the middle of winning a match when you’re confronted with a toxic player, or talking with a friend when they say something over the line.
The key is to not let that person get by. There’s already a lack of accountability online, but inaction isn’t the answer. It may seem like a drop in the bucket, especially since those people likely won’t be affected immediately, but doing nothing is tantamount to acceptance.
Similarly, we need to keep ourselves under the scope as well, because nobody is perfect. Everyone falls short sometimes. The irony of people is that those that claim to be universally accepting are just as capable of being part of the problem as anyone else. Jennifer and I discussed this recently when we were out for a nightly Tali walk. We got onto the subject of intolerance, and I realized that everyone is capable of intolerance, but some intolerance is more acceptable than others. It may sound controversial, but we need to remember that even if someone is being a douchebag, they’re still a person, and by marginalizing them through our own actions does more harm than good. Some of the supposedly most accepting people out there in the world today are perfectly fine with ostracizing some people, as long as they don’t like them.
But you can’t combat vitriol with vitriol. People often use the saying “fight fire with fire” as a means to justify this sort of behavior, but they forget the context of the saying. It’s derived from firefighting techniques used in wilderness fires, where firefighters use controlled burning to deprive a wildfire of fuel. It’s the equivalent of quarantine with infectious disease. If epidemiologists used fighting fire with fire as a technique in the manner that people seem to think it means, they’d recommend infecting people with Ebola to fight Ebola.
It sounds absurd because it’s exactly that… absurd.
You can’t combat racism by being racist. You can’t end sexism by being sexist. You can’t stop ableism by attacking the abled. All you accomplish through this is helping define a divide which shouldn’t exist. You give power to the individual or group you’re responding to. That doesn’t mean you need to accept their beliefs as your own, or be even be okay with it. It just means that you should tolerate them enough to affect change. Nobody is a lost cause, even the thirteen year old shouting racial slurs at you on Xbox Live.
Something that seems lost, is the practice of empathy. We do so little to look at things through another’s eyes. In reality, the core of what makes toxicity an issue in gaming (and everywhere else for that matter) is a complete lack of empathy. It’s like once we go online, everyone is a sociopath. We willingly forget that person on the other end of the internet is another human being.
So What Can We Do?
The way I see it, we can deal with toxicity in one of two ways. We can continue to ignore the problem and hope that someone else fixes it, or we can be part of the solution.
If you want to be part of the solution, I have some things I’d like you to remember.
Hold others accountable
It’s easy to do nothing, but nobody grows by doing nothing; that’s how things wither and die. It’s difficult to be above reproach, but it’s worth doing your best to remain there. We have tools at our disposal to combat toxicity. Report offenders and refuse to engage with them. Call them out if necessary. Do something.
Stick with your guns
It’s going to be easy to want to let things go, especially if the toxic person is a friend or someone you’re relying on at the time. Sure, it’s going to suck if you’re winning a match in Overwatch or Rainbow Six: Siege and you’re faced with dropping because you’re forced to tolerate the offender. It might even be terrible to call out a friend for doing or saying something reprehensible. However, doing nothing isn’t the answer. Make use of the tools available to you. Holding others accountable means not letting things slide, even when it’s inconvenient.
You aren’t perfect, so don’t pretend that you are
Holding yourself accountable means recognizing when you mess up, and acknowledging it. Forget the notion that you’re somehow incapable of intolerance.
Remember that others are people, just like you
This may be the hardest part, but it’s important to remember this always. You aren’t surrounded by bots online (usually), so do your best to remind yourself always that even the most vile offenders are people too. Likewise, don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can change their behavior by behaving just like them. If anything, it’ll just make you as bad as they are.
Maybe someday, we won’t have a problem with online toxicity. Maybe someday, we can rest assured knowing that those dearest to us won’t need to deal with racist and sexist remarks when they’re online. But that isn’t the way things are now. Right now, we need to change things up.
What are your thoughts about changing the gaming community for the better? Surely it isn’t a lost cause, but what do you think we can do? What have you done about toxic people in the past?
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Quite honestly, I don’t play online, which seems to be where most of the toxicity comes from. I live in a fairly liberal and cosmopolitan area, so I’m not often on the receiving end of stupid comments IRL. People not into games try to be polite and look interested when I talk about them, and people into games – men and women – treat it like a non-issue that I’m into games. I went to a Zelda concert and even disagreed with a guy about the best Zelda game, and we had a nice discussion about the merits of each game and happily enjoyed the concert together afterwards. So, from personal experience, there’s not much I do, as I’m lucky enough to not have to deal with it IRL. At least, not at the level of toxicity that you’re talking about. Passive sexism is still in existence, unfortunately, but that’s way outside the scope of this comment.
Online, I just try to live/lead by example. I make mistakes, sure, and I’ve done some stupid things that I’d rather forget, but I do try my best to “be the change I wish to see in the world,” as Gandhi would say. I also am a fan of the question, “But can you at least understand where I’m coming from?” If the person tries to change the subject, I repeat it. It doesn’t always work, but forcing someone to pause and assess whether they’re listening can sometimes do wonders.
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Honestly, I try to avoid online interaction as much as possible in games. Different communities tend to have different attitudes.
Living by example is probably one of the most effective, even though it takes the most time to influence change. I do like the tactic of calling folks out.
Thank you for commenting.
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I honestly can’t remember the last time I played anything online. To be fair, most of the people I’ve met in online games are great people (I’ve had really positive experiences in World of Warcraft and GTA Online, of all games, haha). It’s just that the one off jackasses really get to me. I find it’s best for my sanity to just stay away. Rage trolls are hard to deal with… but you have a great point! How can anything change if we just ignore the issue? 🤔
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I’ve had good experiences with World of Warcraft, aside from the usual Retribution Paladin hate back in the vanilla days. I’m honestly surprised that you have a good experience with GTA Online, but I’m happy to hear that.
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