Editor’s Note: This piece was first published on The Next, a student-run media blog by UW Bothell.
Online harassment is an issue in many online communities—games are no exception. For that reason, Pixelkin believes in providing teens with the support and knowledge they need to navigate the online world. In this piece, Elliott White offers his own advice for gamers faced with harassment.
As an active gamer in online communities since the tender age of nine, I have had 15 years to come face to face with virtually every bit of the nastiness prevalent in the digital realm. Harassment is a huge issue in online gaming communities, and I’ve decidedly experienced my fair share of it. I have been flamed, trolled, spammed, verbally abused, and otherwise harassed to every degree in almost every capacity. My most recent gaming vice, League of Legends, is so infamous for player toxicity that creator Riot Games has devised a massive teamwork education campaign for their players on top of their already elaborate behavior moderating Tribunal. Despite Riot Games’ best efforts, my daily games run rampant with pejoratives, unsolicited criticisms, excessive complaining, and bad behavior of the worst kind.
Now, I have a surprisingly thin skin and a slim supply of patience, so all of this vitriol can be really taxing when I’m just trying to have a good time. While it’s occasionally fun and satisfying to scream at a troll until the game dissolves into a maelstrom of rage, it usually just turns a fun experience into something exhausting and stressful. Harassment is not and should never be considered the responsibility of the harassed. However, for the sake of my teammates and my sanity, I’ve worked hard to separate the ways I cope with jerks from my visceral emotional responses. I’ve focused on a few simple techniques to deflect trolling in a way that keeps the game as fun as possible while stopping me from destroying the planet, and I’ve decided to share them with you.
1. Just ignore them.
This one probably seems obvious, but trust me—it’s really hard to ignore someone when you know they’re talking about you. It kills me to know that someone might be talking about me when I can’t see it, especially when they might be wrong and I might need to tell them about it. But, really, you don’t need to know what they’re saying. If someone has decided the best way to deal with their issues is by harassing you, their opinions are probably not worth subjecting yourself to. Trolls love a reaction and jerks love to know that they’ve made you feel bad—don’t give them the satisfaction! Put them on mute and play the game as if they were never there. Relish the knowledge that they are sabotaging their own gameplay to type out flames that you can’t see or feel. I know it’s hard to pretend that crappy people aren’t there, but it’s the quickest and simplest way to quash someone who just wants to ruin your good time.
2. Be the nicest person you can possibly be.
It’s easy to be a jerk to a faceless, voiceless player on the internet you’ve had almost no interaction with. It’s harder to be a jerk to someone who has been overwhelmingly pleasant since the moment you started playing alongside them. Wish everyone good luck at the start of the game, and congratulate your teammates when they do a good job. Take responsibility for your mistakes when you make them, and forgive your teammates when they make theirs. Be nice even when you don’t want to be nice—it’s okay to fake it. Kindness is infectious, especially in places where it isn’t expected. You might even start buying into it yourself! This won’t stop the determined trolls, but your teammates will almost certainly stand up for you when they do—and it’s way easier to deal with harassment when your team is united against it. When somebody goes ballistic on someone for something they’ve already admitted to and apologized for, it just makes them look like the huge jerk that they are.
3. Tell them to shut up and play the damn game.
Players seem to easily forget in the heat of the moment that what they are playing is, in fact, a game. All too often people will react to the poor performance of a teammate as if it’s given them a venereal disease and set their home on fire. Sometimes all it takes is a firm reminder that playing should be a fundamentally fun experience to get them to shut up and keep playing. If your team is behind, nobody has any business wasting time whining about it. Every person should be playing as hard as they can to try to turn the game back around. Pointing this out can help quash the negative voices so that everyone can focus on what’s important: playing the game.
4. Bring a friend.
When you’re trapped alone in a game with a pack of abrasive trolls, it’s not hard to get overwhelmed in the toxicity. If you have a friend playing with you, it’s way easier and more fun to laugh off the experience together. A friend can help you simmer down when you’re getting too agitated, and back you up when you’re the target of harassment. One of the reasons harassment can feel so terrible is that it turns the really fun space that games should be into an unsafe and uncomfortable space. When you’re united with a friend, you can help keep the space safe for each other- and have an awesome time playing games together while you’re at it.
5. Speak up!
Not all the harassment you run into in gaming is going to be sent in your direction. It’s totally possible for people to be absolutely awful to someone without ever involving you in the process. It’s tempting to do nothing—to just sit back and be relieved that they aren’t sending their toxicity in your direction. This is a mistake. Jerks make the game worse for everyone, not just their target. Nobody plays as well when they’re being harassed, and games that fall apart because of a troll are dissatisfying wins and agonizing losses. It’s important to remember that everyone else in your game is a human being. Harassment is never the fault of the victims, and it’s unfair and unjust to leave them on their own to deal with it. Backing someone up when they’re getting harassed will probably make their day, and it’ll certainly make their game a whole lot better. Be the person that you’d want to come to your aid—you might just inspire someone else.