A first person experience on the toxicity in online multiplayer video games.
By Samuel Peña
Headshot. The blue screen flashes victory as I let out a war cry. For some reason shooting an animated soldier in Call of Duty (COD) is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world. However, my joy is followed by an eye roll when my opponent screams, “you fucking N word.” This was round one.
I’ve heard this abuse before. Racist, homophobic, and sexist comments are common in COD’s multiplayer mode. At first this senseless hatred shocked me, today I’m numb to them.
Next round I die immediately. My teammate, 12-year-old JaeTheKing, races up the stairs, slides across the room, and takes out his opponent.
His age doesn’t spare him. After claiming his next victim, a string of racial and homophobic slurs are capped with a parting shot, “your mom fucking hates you.” And finally, the round ends.
Despite the verbal abuse, JaeTheKing says he loves COD, Minecraft, and Fall Guys, as these games provide him with a community. For players, the games provide them with the ability to make friends and escape from the real world.
“I don’t really get mad at people anymore. Honestly, I just love to play COD even when it’s frustrating,” JaeTheKing says. “I’ve met a lot of cool people, it really brings us together when we may have never met in real life.”
Round three starts and I take out two players, before a sniper headshots me from across the map. My teammate Justin Yoc, wins the round with a grenade. A high-pitched scream rings out, “I hope you fucking die.”
“When I first got attacked, I was so scared,” Yoc says, “He was so vivid with all his shit.”
On the contrary, Yoc points out that himself and other gamers turn their negative experiences into positives by turning “aggression into content.”
Although packaged as hilarious content, reaction and gameplay videos also shed light on how toxic the community is. As the gaming world becomes more diverse, the extreme hatred in the community is backed into a corner that sometimes spurs backlash.
“My sense is that a lot of gamers have a history of feeling attacked and judged by the larger culture for indulging in games,” Dustin Abnet, American Studies professor said. “When they see other people coming into this space, it makes them a little bit more defensive.”
Back to the game.
I throw my explosive into the building before pushing up. Two enemies down. A slide around the corner reveals a camper. One shot to the camper ends round four.
“Little f****t, hiding in the corner bitch.” This time it’s my teammate adding to the toxicity.
But, the abuse doesn’t stop with online play, it even increases with fictional characters in story mode games.
Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us Part II features an LGBTQ lead Ellie, and a co-lead Abby, and many gamers reacted negatively to both lead characters. Actress Laura Bailey, who portrayed Abby, became a target after killing a fan favorite fictional character in the game.
Bailey had no part in the design, story, or script, but she received death threats to her and her child nonetheless. Gamers wrote thousands of zero-star reviews within an hour of release, even though the game takes 25-30 hours to complete.
This backlash may be a reaction from a community that is territorial and feels ignored by the world.
“Groups of people who have been sort of excluded from the larger community, when they see others coming in, it becomes a contested space,” Abnet said.
Despite the aggressive environment, Abnet recognizes the potential for games to bring people together. It’s a medium with infinite possibilities.
“Gaming has always been a diverse community, it’s just gaming companies themselves didn’t always acknowledge that,” Abnet said. “I think to deal with the issue we have to stress that there’s nothing to fear and that it’s wonderful that gaming is becoming a more diverse environment.”
Midway through round five and we have two enemies left. JaeTheKing pulls out his pistol. He slides behind a truck, peeks left, peeks right. The enemy runs out, JaeTheKing pulls the trigger to win the round.
Round five ends with, “Go kill yourself little bitchass N word,” from the opponent.
The game isn’t over, but my friends and I are exhausted from the negativity. We exit the lobby and look for a different match. JaeTheKing is quiet. I whisper in my mic, “You good bro?”
A few seconds later he laughs, changes his weapons, and quips “They’re just jealous cause my gun looks dope.”