Toxicity and trashtalking in video games

Online video games and especially competitive video games are becoming more and more important in our society. With the rise of YouTube, Twitch, famous streamers across the world but also the rise of huge competitions around games like League of Legends, Counter Strike or Rocket League, e-sport is now a concept everyone understand. With most of online competitive games being free and providing everyone an access to ranked games, the online video games community went through a huge expansion in the past few years, widely helped by the Covid-19 lockdown that gave people more time to play video games. However, online video games, and especially the competitive ones all have one important negative point : toxicity coming from the players. As someone who has been regularly playing online video games for a while now, I’ve noticed a rise of toxicity since 2 or 3 years. I know that toxicity always been present in online video games, but did it really grew up and became more present, or is it just because I spend more time playing online and by doing so I extended the potentiality of facing toxicity ? Well I wanted to find out. I wanted to understand why I’m facing more toxicity, I wanted to understand this toxicity but I also wanted to mention the topic of trashtalking in video games, as it’s something very present in real sports. To answer my questions, I had an interview with… two of my best friends, Ludovic and Clifford. They’ve been playing video games for as long as I did, but they definitely have way more game time, experience and skills when it comes to online competitive video games. As they’ve spent more time on online video games, at a higher rank and on a greater variety of games than I did, they faced more toxicity than I did and they’re a good testimony of what is toxicity and trashtalking in video games.

Guys thank you for taking part in that interview so let’s start ! First of all, for how long have you been playing video games and online video games ?

Clifford : I started playing when I was 5 and basically I started playing online around 2010. My first online games were Dofus and Call Of Duty: Black Ops II.

Ludovic : Personally I started around 7 and I started playing online with Halo II and Dofus. More Dofus actually.

How about competitive video games ?

C : League of Legends.

L : Yeah same, League of Legends.

Have you always been facing toxicity ?

C : Yeah obviously, right from the begining.

L : Same.

From your experience, would you say that you received more toxicity from your teammates or opponents ?

C : From the teammates.

L : Oh yeah definitely from the teammates…

Would you say that toxicity have increased in the past few years ?

C : Hmmm… yes.

L : Yeah clearly.

For how many years ?

C : Hmmm… honestly recently, like basically since the lockdown.

L : Yeah I think the lockdown has been a important moment for the increasement of toxicity.

C : For example, I remember that playing League of Legends before the lockdown was like facing toxicity but not as big as during and before the lockdown. The game had toxic players but not as much as nowadays.

Why ? Why this increasement ? Is it because there’s more people playing those games ?

C : Yes and also because of the lockdown.

L : I think it’s also because big tournaments around those games became very popular and famous.

Would you say that there is a certain category of age who’s more toxic ?

L : It can be everyone.

C : I’d say it depends the game, but it’s often young people, generally between 15 and 18 years old.

Why do you think that toxicity has increased since there’s more player and more young players ?

C : People’s ego.

L : Games are more accesible since they’re free and especially with Epic Games (Fortnite creators), because you can play so many games on different platforms with one single Epic Games account and also, a game like Rocket League turned into a free game thanks to Epic Games, and it has positive points but also a lot of negative points.

Talking about free to play games, do you think it’s a good thing ?

L : In a first place yes. It allows a game to gain more visibility, more players and so more money for the development studio but on the other side it increased the number of players who can be toxic.

Talking about Rocket League, it’s something I’ve noticed as I started playing the game a year and a half ago, right after it became free to play and it’s true that in one year I’ve noticed an increasement of toxic players…

L : The thing with Rocket League is that it was a well known game but only a few people were playing it because it’s hard to handle the game correctly, it takes time to have a good level on it and at the same time, the competition around the game were not as much developed as they are today. Since the game became free to play, with pro players becoming really famous and the developement of huge tournaments, it obviously increased the number of players and doing so, the number or toxic players.

Would you say that there’s more toxicity in low ranks or higher ranks ?

L : In higher ranks definitely.

C : Yes, definitely in higher ranks.

So, would you say that the competitive aspect of some video games and the fact that there is a ranking system facilitate the toxic behaviour of people who wouldn’t be toxic in life ?

C : Yes !

L : Yes. The thing is that the closer you get to the top rankings of a game, people just think they’re the best, because they have an ego bigger than whatever you want and they start insulting everyone whenever they make a mistake. I remember that Sardoche (a french Twitch streamer) said that nowadays players tend to definite themselves with their rank in a certain video game, as if it was a life characteristic. For example, nowadays in a schoolyard or highschool, inside a group of people, there’s often people saying “Oh I’m ranked gold in League of Legends” or “Oh I’m that rank or this rank in Rocket League”.

Would you say that toxicity can have consequences outside of the game, can toxicity impact people ?

C : Yeah definitely.

L : Yes.

We talked about Sardoche earlier, he’s been a victim of toxicity right ?

C : Yeah people we’re joining his games so they can make him lose the game, people were paid to do that and there even was a cash prize for the one who’d make Sardoche lose faster than the other. I remember when Sardoche talked about it, there was something like “300 euros for anyone who make Sardoche lose the game without being caught”…

Would you say that game developers are making enough efforts when it comes to fighting toxicity ?

L : I think Riot Games (League of Legends creators) is a joke when it comes to banishing players. It’s been laughable for years now. For 6 years, they’ve been saying that they would rebuild the banishment system and they didn’t.

C : There is so many reports every second but the number of bans for a given number of reports is so small.

How would you improve the banishment system ?

L : That’s a hard question and honestly no one never been able to properly control toxicity but yeah game developpers should start improving their banishment system. That would be a great start.

C : Something Riot Games did is creating “ban words” so every time you say a word from this list in the chat, you’re instantly ban from the game. So it’s words like racist insults, or even words like “cancer” are now in this list (the word “cancer” is overly used by players to describe someone who plays terribly).

So now let’s talk about trashtalking. Would you say that trashtalking is acceptable in video games ?

C : Well honestly yes. It’s virtual but somehow it’s like in real sport. I mean look at sports like basketball for example.

L : Yeah I think it’s acceptable to trashtalk other players. As Clifford said look at some real sports like basketball.

So where is the limit between “trashtalk” and “toxicity” ?

L : It’s about respect. It it’s respectful it’s trashtalk, if not it’s toxicity.

C : Yeah it’s about respect. The only problem is that the player against you needs to understand that what you’re doing is trashtalking and not free toxicity. That’s the main difference with a real sport. In a real sport the guy is in front of you so he directly understands that what you’re doing is trahstalking. On a video game you can’t, because it’s just a chat, you’re just typing, your opponent can’t tell what you have in your mind.

L : Yeah that’s the problem. If you’re in a good mood and you just say “ah ah ah bad play” but your opponent went through 5 terrible games there’s no way his reaction can be respectful. He just gonna hardly insult you.

You’re talking about respect, so what is respectful or not ? Because trashalk is a form of toxicity so what is “good” or “respectful” toxicity and what is pure dumb toxicity ?

C : I think it’s about the way you’re doing that toxicity. If it’s just one or two words or emotes during an entire game, it’s alright, it’s respectful trashtalking. If you’re spamming that same emote like 10 times after you beat someone, that’s pure hate and toxicity. But whatever you do, the limit between trashtalking and pure toxicity is so small.

L : Yeah that’s the point. The border between both is so small. Sometimes it’s just about one or two words.

C : I remember that a few years ago, during big tournaments where players were all in the same room, you had some players trashtalking the guy in front of them and honestly that was cool because it really felt like a basketball game or in general the trashtalking you’re seeing in any sport. Sadly they’re not doing it anymore because nowadays trashtalking is seen as toxicity so they’re avoiding it.

L : And also if you watch a huge tournament nowadays, you’ll see that players are all far away from each others so it’s not easy to trashtalk someone, you not gonna scream at the other side of the building.

Talking about pro players, would you say that they have a role to play in fighting toxicity ?

L : I don’t know.

C : I’m not sure. It’s hard to control your community when you’re a streamer or a pro player. For example if you take someone who’s already a toxic player, it’s not because his favourite pro player will say “please everyone stop being toxic, it’s not respectful” why would he stop if he’s already an asshole.

It’s clear that toxicity increased since 2019 or 2020. The mix between the lockdown giving a lot of people more time to play video games and the rise of free to play competitive video games drasticly increased the numbers of people playing those games, Rocket League probably being the most recent example. If toxicity always been present, it was limited to a small group of people and only a few video games but competitive games generalized it and the more you’re playing, the more you’ll be facing toxicity. Moreover, the tension a close game game can create (similar to the tension you’ll find when you’re watching sport) facilitate toxicity even with players that not toxic at all in their lifes. The analysis here is clear : toxicity reached another level since 2 or 3 years and there is way more toxic players than before but what can we do or how is it possible to fight toxicity in this wide world of online video games ?

First of all it’s possible to educate the players about toxicity especially about the worst consequences and impact toxity can have on someone’s life, a bit like you’d educate a kid about bullying or cyber-bullying, but here the responsibility is in my mind, on the game developpers. It’s hard to fully control such a huge community of players but it doesn’t mean that you can’t work on it. As my friends told me during the interview “Riot Games’ has been a joke for 6 years when it comes to controlling toxicity” and games developpers are clearly far from providing an efficient or at least acceptable work. Outside of the worst consequences toxicity can have, it can just ruin your gaming experience. I know a lot of players who stopped playing a game they liked, just because the community on it was abusively trash, so without talking the worst sides of toxicity (and whithout withdrawing the smalls hints of trashtalking that are in my mind, fully part of sport and online competitions) putting more control on it would be great for the general game experience and I’m sure everyone wants to have the best experience possible when playing a video game. Did toxicity increased in the past few years ? Yes. Can game developpers work about it ? Yes, for sure. But, did online video games became too toxic ? Well this is something that fully depends of everyone’s opinion.