Written by Richard Wee and Brenda Tan

Introduction

 The rise in popularity and influence of Esports in recent years has come to show its importance, as a platform for many Esports players to fulfill their dreams of participating in major tournaments and obtaining competitive game titles. With such temptation and their athletic career being at stake, this may lead them to commit unsportsmanlike acts to reach the top, and along the way, belittling others. Toxic behaviours in online gaming are such as acts of sexual harassment, hate speeches, discrimination, racism, body shamming, doxing and threats of violence. This has been an ongoing issue that has yet to be effectively addressed, and with the competitive scene growing, so does toxicity. It has come to an extent where players rationalize that such toxicity is “normal” in the gaming culture. Therefore, this article seeks to discuss the causes of such toxic behaviours, its effects, and solutions to better address the problem.

What causes the toxic behaviour?

Toxicity is in fact common in sports, however it seems to be more serious for Esports than physical sports in general. The primary factor that drives toxicity in Esports is that individuals are anonymous and invincible. This is known as the online disinhibition effect. With this, it creates more space for toxic behaviour to happen as they can freely make remarks without having to worry of being physically harmed and/or damaging their reputation. In fact, research has found that when anonymity is removed from social media sites, it reduces the amount of trolling behaviour.

With Esports being such a lucrative industry, so does the prize money that comes with it. This means that high-level athletes or even those training to become one are constantly pressured to meet not only their own goals but also the expectations of their sponsors and fans. Furthermore, fans would also support their favourite team by condemning other teams to determine who is the best. Thus, this high level of competitiveness becomes a driving force for toxic behaviours.

Personality and mental health of an individual have been found to have significant relationship with toxic behaviour among online game players. Some individuals may find personal enjoyment in inflicting aggression, some may have a lack of empathy and antisocial behaviour, depression, or stress in school or workplace. Online gaming offers them the opportunity to express their emotions.

Individuals may have learned those toxic behaviours from other players while gaming, or they may be experiencing peer pressure from their teammates to practice toxic behaviours towards other teams. This is a problem as it shows how pre-existing toxic gamers are able to create an environment that perpetuates toxicity, and in the long run, making toxicity part of the gaming culture.

 

Our society, namely the spectators and fans of Esports who have witnessed toxicity chooses not take any action as they may find this as normal in the online gaming world. Besides that, the players themselves also choose to ignore. They would manage online harassment by playing only with their friends or using voice chat to hide their gender. Other players would use their skills to win in games to shut down harassment. Some players may be too busy with their studies, jobs or families, so they would not have the time to manage the harassment and may opt to just stop gaming instead. All of these are examples of ignorance which will in turn allow perpetrators to keep continuing with their abusive acts.

The Effects

Online toxicity has brought about real world consequences as it greatly affects their mental wellbeing, causing victims to have depression and suicidal thoughts as toxicity creates a stressful environment when gaming. In fact, a 2019 report by the Anti-Defamation League found that 74% of adults who play online multiplayer games in the US experience some form of harassment, and that 1 out of 10 players reported having depressive or suicidal thoughts due to harassment in online multiplayer games. 

With online gaming being considered to be a male-dominated industry, the sexist culture in the gaming world is inevitable. In fact, women may be equally or even more skilled than men, but when given the same amount of playing time or when they use voice chat while gaming, they are more likely than their male counterparts to be targets of toxicity. Such toxicity has been found to discourage women to play video games in the future as well as to pursue technical career fields which have stereotyped domains, such as STEM fields. Additionally, minority groups are also frequently victimized. This is often related to their race, ethnicity, religion, gender ability or sexual orientation. With these negative experiences, it will definitely bring about tolls to the victims in the long run.

Furthermore, toxicity greatly influences young players to adopt this culture and believe it is normal to perform such acts on others. They may have also been exposed to or have even become targets of such toxicity but are not aware of it, resulting in emotional and physical distress from a young age.

Should these negativity and harm not be improved in Esports, it will affect industry in the long term as it normalizes toxicity in gaming, and then in turn, becomes a vicious cycle where generations and generations of gamers would continue to perform such acts. 

Ways to Reduce Toxic Behaviour in the Streaming World

Firstly, game companies should intervene. They must develop clear community guidelines to encourage positive behaviour through the tools like in game accolades, as well as responding to ongoing issues rapidly and decisively. In fact, many companies have taken action by banning or blocking harassers. However, this may not be as effective as these harassers can create new accounts and return to their previous behaviours. Companies should also opt to expand the tools to manage online identities. For example, some companies have developed moderation tools for voice chat to protect player’s identity. Some games have instituted “ping” systems where players can communicate on essential game information without having the need to use their voice. Therefore, it is essential for game companies to address the toxic environment in their games. 

Another option is that victims can opt to file a police report against harassers. If the police report is not effective, they can then proceed to take on legal action. Additionally, players who are suffering should seek mental health personnel to help them overcome their fear and discourage any suicidal thoughts. Players can also choose to only group with their friends for gaming so that they can stay in their bubble without toxicity, and also help protect one another from harassment.

 Lastly, stopping online toxicity should be a collective effort which requires the society to recognize that this is an issue and work together to take action. Proper education must be fostered to the public. This can be done by way of creating awareness on social media sites or creating a coalition to share the importance of supporting healthy player interactions. For example, campaigns such as the #MeToo movement and #GamerGate that centered on issues of sexism and harassment in the Esports industry. Additionally, the change of gaming culture can also start from the home. Families can play video games together with their children to enable them to model the appropriate behaviours of adults. With all that being said, resolving toxicity starts within the community.

Conclusion

 The toxic environment in gaming must change. As Esports continues to expand, and if this issue is not bettered, it will potentially fuel a perpetuating cycle of toxicity where toxicity becomes entrenched as “part of the gaming culture”. Despite gaming companies having taken several actions, this is not enough because the culture of harassment starts within the community, because our community norms allow for it. Therefore, we must work together as a whole to speak out, create awareness, and take action on toxicity in the streaming world.

 

Published on 3 March 2021

Photo by Javier Esteban on Unsplash

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