Experienced Points

Experienced Points
There's Nothing Good About Toxic Players

Shamus Young | 1 Jul 2014 19:00
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Orcs Must Die Unchained

Note that the skill of these men has nothing to do with their public behavior. Both are legendary players. Fischer's troubled personality was a hindrance to his play, not an asset. There's no denying that in the world of chess, Kasparov has been a force for good, and Fischer has been mostly an embarrassment. If chess were run the way we run some videogame communities, we'd be encouraging the Fischers of the world at the expense of the Kasparovs. Being a dick doesn't mean you love the game more. It just means you're a dick.

Toxic behavior has nothing to do with being "competitive" or "passionate". It's just a personality flaw. We call it "toxic" because toxins have a tendency to spread. When one player is foul and abusive, other well-behaved players will become foul and abusive, and other players will leave. This is why YouTube comments are so famously terrible. YouTube is much too large to police, so it falls into anarchy. A few freaks lash out in hate or ignorance, and other people respond in kind. And what intelligent person is going to waste their time formulating a calm, informed response to either of them? YouTube isn't some strange world inhabited only by trolls and morons. It's just the natural conclusion of a system that does nothing to weed out troublemakers. It's the inevitable state of a community with no care or oversight. It's what happens when the nice people stop participating. (Yes, I'm aware that YouTube is less awful now than it used to be, but the point still stands.)

If you're running that community, the duty falls to you to prevent it from becoming another YouTube. It's up to you to set the tone of the game. If you're careful and firm you can create a healthy culture where good nature and sportsmanship are celebrated, even when it's skill and dedication that wins prizes. And if you don't, then your game will became a sewer of hate, misery, accusations of cheating, misogyny, homophobia, racism, death threats, harassment, and trolling. Is that the reputation you want for your game?

This isn't just the right thing to do morally, it's also just good business sense. If you're building a community, you need to be thinking long-term. Player turnover is part of any game, and you need a healthy supply of newcomers to take the place of those who get bored and leave. But most newcomers won't want to join a game where abuse is just considered a normal part of the learning process. You'll be driving away your newcomers just so you can protect your precious bullies, and one bully can drive away a lot of newcomers. Bullies are the minority of the population. Are you seriously going to make them your target demographic?

The usual excuse is, "Hey, they're just trolls. Just ignore them and they'll go away." Except, that's not true. In real life, going limp doesn't make an abusive person less willing to hit you, and remaining silent doesn't make a toxic player any less likely to atavistically howl into their microphone when they're unhappy. More importantly, this is supposed to be entertainment, and having awful things said to you isn't very entertaining. It's human nature. It bothers people. If I stood up in a restaurant and began screaming at everyone, the management wouldn't smile and say, "Don't worry about him. He's not hurting you. Just ignore him and enjoy your food." No, they would bounce me out of there as fast as they could, and they wouldn't for a second regret losing out on my business.

Contrary to popular opinion, unrelenting rage isn't a natural part of a competitive game. Lots of people enjoy games online without spewing invective at their fellow players. Tolerating toxic players - either in-game or on the forums - is bad for business, bad for the hobby, and bad for people in general.

Police your community. Never feel bad for unloading troublemakers. It's not just your job, it's your chance to make a little corner of the internet a nicer place. Revel in it.

As the guy behind Twenty Sided, Shamus Young knows a thing or two about running a civilized community.

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