Every day I see articles about recent mass shootings and how my government is passing another bill that’s going to screw me over, interlaced with videos of frolicking puppies and Disney song mashups. It can be maddening, and recently I have had an increasing need to be able to disconnect just for a while, just to catch my breath. For me, gaming is a solace, an outlet. The games I play are worlds I can escape to, where things make sense and where I can forget the terrors of the world for a time. But even in the gaming community, and in myself, there is an undercurrent of violence, unrest, and bigotry. You would think that in a place that should be considered an even playing field there wouldn’t be intolerance. So long as there’s access to a computer or gaming system anyone can pick up a controller, click buttons, and be whoever they want to be and feel like a hero in front of a screen. But in my experience, that unfortunately isn’t the case.
I play a lot of online gaming, and I see people belittling others constantly. I see people calling other players
idiots, incompetent, and even going as far as to tell others to harm or kill themselves. Being female, I’ve gotten cat called and sexually harassed in online games. When I started playing online games, my very existence in a group or on a voice chat would cause excitement, confusion, and way more attention than I was comfortable with. Now, thankfully, I enter a group or chat and there are usually just as many female players as there are male players. Despite this, I constantly witness other women and girls in the gaming community being body shamed, cat called, and stereotyped, which causes an unwelcome feeling for both them and myself. People are still being toxic and cruel, and very few are calling them out for it. Words like “rape,” “gay (derogatory usage),” and other aggressive terms were and are still used constantly, often by people I know and play with. I hear it so much that I simply call out others for using it now, and most of the time they don’t even realize what they are saying because it has become so ingrained into their gamer vernacular.
Sure, lots of game developers, particularly ones that produce and manage online gaming communities, are taking the initiative to ban or reprimand those that are toxic. But that’s not enough. We, as members of this community, need to do more to stop this rampant behavior. We need to continue this trend and set examples for those younger than us and those who are our peers, and change the rhetoric of the gaming community to stop the perpetuation of intolerance and violence. And if that ugly head of toxicity begins to rear up within, we also need to be able to either disengage ourselves from the game or person who is making us feel that way, or to listen to others when they call us out on it.
I must confess that for a time I had begun to be toxic. I was getting too invested in a very popular first-person shooter, and there was a solid few months where I became the exact kind of person I never wanted to be. I would name call and bad mouth the opposing team or snap at my friends. If I was the target of toxicity from a fellow player, instead of just letting it go I would throw insults back or find ways to throw a match. Essentially, I was just not a fun person to be around, and people started to avoid or report me. But, I am lucky that I have friends who called me out when my behavior got bad, and still say something when that ugly behavior starts to show up again. When they first started holding me accountable for my actions, I would snap at them or get defensive, or I would “rage quit” from the game without a single word to them. After taking a moment to breathe and finding my center, however, I would message my friends and apologize, and they would happily invite me back to join them. They pulled me back from being the person I never wanted or intended to be, and I can now take the necessary steps to not allow that kind of behavior to happen again, as well as call out toxic behavior in others when I see it happening. It is from my personal experience that I implore this to the gaming community: it is not enough to just let developers and community leaders handle toxic behavior. We as players need to call it out and stop it when we see it.
Hatred and aggression is in every community throughout my country, and throughout the world. I am a gamer because when I log in, boot up, or select player one I want to disconnect from all that. I want to feel like a hero, or a puzzle solver, or a part of a group of likeminded people working towards a goal. I want to feel safe, and I want to feel strong. The last thing I want to feel after logging out for the night is angry or upset. I want my community to be one of tolerance, respect, and based on healthy competition and raising up others to be their very best. The end of violence and fear doesn’t start on a global level, it starts on a minute level. It starts at level one, with every day interactions and conversations with both friends and strangers alike. It starts with empathy, humor, and understanding. From there, we can take the kind of joy and teamwork we experience in our community and expand it into other communities. We gamers need to accept this quest to better ourselves and to help other players better themselves. We need to call out toxicity and back up the other players that call it out as well. Every day, whether you’re online or in real life, be the kind of hero you want to be.