Why are videogame communities so consistently toxic?

Yes, there is a lot of general human asshattery, but it seems really unusually concentrated in videogame communities.

Hey, this is Ben. My wife Rebecca and I have been the target of a pretty big internet storm for the last five days following our Epic Games Store timed-exclusive announcement for Ooblets. We’ve been trying to make ourselves as available as possible to maintain an open discourse with newcomers — some friendly, some extremely aggressive — and unfortunately quite a number of them have decided to cross multiple lines into the realm of harassment. We wanted to take the time to put together an official statement in regard to all that.

For the past three years, I’ve been interacting with an audience that has always been understanding, friendly, and appreciative of our very open and transparent style. Our devlogs, newsletters and social media have always had a specific tone to them (reflected in the game as well); we don’t take ourselves too seriously and maintained that throughout our multiple communication channels. It’s been that way for as long as we’ve been around.

That’s why we were totally unprepared for the attention we got from the broader gaming/internet community, which was fueled by a deep misunderstanding of the tongue-in-cheek tone as condescending and patronizing.


Many people come to the politically incorrect boards of 4chan and 8chan from video game communities, where players looking to laugh at an abasing joke or chat about violent games without offending anyone can find friends

And then, the whole gamergate / feministfrequency thing from a few years back.

I don’t get this, and why it’s so localized to (or at least concentrated in) videogames.

I no longer call myself a “gamer”, and I am now trying to minimize my interactions with videogames, because I’m unhappy with how persistently this kind of horrible online behavior is associated with these particular communities.


I play online games (MMORPGs) in fact, and very much do consider myself a gamer. I met my partner through gaming, and in fact may of my longest-term friendships developed in massively-online communities.

That being said, I have also self-selected away from communities that are toxic, be that avoiding the PvP game mode, or games with mechanics that allow one player to take from another, specifically because it tends to drag up the very sorts of toxicity I want nothing to do with.

So, problem #1: “Gamer” is a terrible label. The vast majority of gamers playing casual games, for example, are almost certainly not “toxic”. I’ll even argue that most MMO gamers are not “toxic” either, even though those sorts of games (or competitive, player-versus-player games) likely attract abusive personalities more than most. As with most things, there’s a vocal minority at play here.

Why gaming culture? IMHO, probably because gamers, in general, are more internet-saavy than most. They’re more likely to be near a computer/phone for longer periods than others, and are probably more likely to use the internet for socialization as a result. People from my perspective also seem to have a connection with games far more than they do with books, movies, music or TV, again likely because of the level of immersion and real-time interactivity of the medium.

But lets not pretend for a moment that professional sports, music or book communities don’t also have a very toxic minority as well. I think they’re just less likely to explode all over the internet in the same way (though, just look at the reactions to recent political sportsball drama to see how toxic those communities can be).

It’s also possible, of course, that you notice it more because you until recently called yourself a “gamer” and, given your own internet-savvy lifestyle, notice online hate more than offline hate as a result. It certainly is far easier amplified.

TL’DR: Toxicity is everywhere. Gamers, being more savvy than most in the ways of the internets, are really good at using the social tools we’ve built for them to amplify their message. Especially since the “happy gamers” out there are busy gaming, not ranting online.


If this is true, you’d expect to see other “sportsball” (just as an example) communities get this toxic as they become more tech-savvy over time. I’m not sure that’s really been the case.

Can you provide some examples of toxic minority communities in books and music? That sounds far fetched to me.

I think it’s more true that the very aggro games and sports could cause this to happen to a greater degree because aggression is built into their foundational mental model of the world.

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I missed this today as well…

TIL 51% is a “good” score? :thinking:

Read the complete study, scroll all the way down, it’s definitely more interesting at the bottom where they have the meat of the data.

Hold on a sec. Hearthstone? So I can understand how harassment can happen if playing face to face in a tournament. But that is miniscule portion of the play base.

There is no communication between players in Hearthstone beyond the emotes your character can do…which while one can “spam” an emote to a degree, it is easy as a single tap to silence the emotes. The players cannot communicate with one another in any way unless they become bnet friends.

So how did they measure this harassment I wonder?


Toxic music fans? There’s scores of them.

Black Metal murderers, certain hip hop artists end up with particularly toxic fandoms, then there’s the uber-pretentious gatekeeping jaq off who always wants to know why women don’t like Prog whenever he meets a woman who likes Prog. Michael Jackson fans who vomit NAMBLA talking points regularly. Music is soooo full of toxicity actually, especially for musicians. Then there’s just rabid fans who feel the need to “protect” their scene from contamination or whatever it is that drives them, the borderline stalkers, the actual stalkers. Honestly I’m coming to the point where I think fandom in any form is a sign of emotional imbalance.


books? how about objectivism? ( ie. ayn rand ) how about “pickup artists” ( which started in book form. ) how about the bible!? ( okay, okay. that’s unfair to a whole lot of people. but there are churches which are the epitome of toxicity )

music? i’ll know i’ll get pushback, but the dayton shooter was into pornogrind or whatever it’s called. ive a hard time believing that a genre of music centered on misogynistic “jokes” is healthy

for other non-media based examples, how about frats? ( again i know #notallfrats, but still… )

[edit] i do think gaming companies could have done a lot more than they did. microsoft let their voice chat become a home to trolls. they invited people like pewdiepie into their fold.

boing boing is wonderful because moderation allows a wonderful community to thrive. so many game spaces have not taken moderation seriously enough.


An excellent question; I don’t know. They did have this

I remember in League of Legends, they removed all cross-team chat in 2012 which reduced “toxicity” a ton.

Of course removing chat altogether (that is, removing intra-team chat as well as cross-team chat with the enemy team) is even better…

But then this is the company that was (and likely still is) super toxic internally, which didn’t come out until mid 2018, so … :man_shrugging: IDFK

I feel like there’s a pattern here that does not match gaming at all, and certainly nothing as broad as “books” or “music”… these are all cults of personality, e.g. the weirdness is focused on a specific person.

That seems quite different than videogames, and wayyy more specific, since it’s about those specific people and their personalities, e.g. Michael Jackson, not “the thriller album.”

There’s something much more timeless and human about cults of personality … and it doesn’t match Call of Duty / League of Legends Toxic Fandom at all?

Well, considering how much of my life has been spent making music and living around music and musicians… I’m just gonna tap out and let you do you. Cause I don’t know how to make my lived experiences believable to you and I honestly don’t care that much. There’s massive toxicity in music scenes dude, nazis like music too after all. Some scenes, like folk metal, tend to be hard to even interact with because white supremacy is going to come up. For others, like most of the hip-hop toxicity, it’s extreme misogyny. But you really don’t have to believe in it.


Maybe that makes more sense… are certain genres of music unusually toxic? That’d be a closer analog than the cult of personality stuff such as “this rapper”, “Michael Jackson”, or in the book scene, “that PUA guy”, “Ayn Rand”, etc.

You’re taking this whole videogames criticism thing super personally, but it isn’t about you. Are videogames part of your conception of who you are as a person – do you consider them tied to your identity, somehow? :thinking:

They were, and remain, toxic from the beginning. Take football1 as an example.

Efforts to eliminate racism in the sport are ongoing and have met with some, if varied, success. The equivalent efforts in gaming are in the very early stages.

However, in my opinion, targetted efforts should take a secondary role to attempts to detoxify masculinity, as implied by @tinoesroho

1Association football, which is the version of the sport I’ve the most experience with.


It seems like any hobby or activity in which one’s masculinity is somehow challenged or on display – whether playing video games, sports, your choice of music, cars, whatever – brings out the toxic crap. We’re seeing a lot of it from video games thanks to the media’s focus on chan boards, gamergate, etc, but racist, sexist ugliness comes out everywhere.


American football too. And baseball and basketball. Have fans of all three accepted their sport’s gay players yet? (No) Have they stopped brushing away abuse of women by players with a “boys will be boys” shrug? (No) Do they still use gathering around the sport as an excuse to say and do things they “can’t get away with” otherwise? (Yes)

Conventional, blinkered masculinity is obviously the problem, not video games (thanks but no thanks, Trump) and it’s a problem pretty much anywhere among groups consisting mostly men.


As I’ve said before, the AAA industry that fosters the communities via their platforms and other means (advertising, events, etc.) has always catered to a target audience of adolescent males of all ages: known arseholes who wallow in toxic masculinity. The problem has been compounded by hiring practises and lack of diversity in the industry, which were worse than the tech industry in general (and that’s saying something) in giving most key creative, coding and management positions to entitled young males, especially white ones. This isn’t a big mystery.


During the Yugoslav wars, some of the Serb and Croat nationalist soccer fans ended up becoming members of genocidal militias.

There is a whole entire subculture around music, from the 1970s, that qualifies - and there is mountains of evidence that shows that leadership in white supremacist circles intentionally sought to weaponize popular music for recruitment - we know because they said that was the intent:

White male supremacy is the problem. Full stop. 31 people were killed this weekend that illustrate that point. It’s deeply frustrating and disheartening to see that it’s constantly dismissed as the problem in 2019, with literally decades of historical events to back that up.


A lack of real-world consequences, herd mentality, and anonymity. Mostly a lack of consequences, though.


With American Football you have the fucking POTUS hurling out racist attacks on Twitter when players don’t stand for the national anthem. (This practice itself is a fairly recent invention, steeped in jingoism.)

If that’s not toxic, I don’t know what is.


It really does call into question what it means to be harassed. Some people may feel emote spam can be harassment. And having an option to mute someone harassing you doesn’t mean you weren’t harassed.

But it could also be that people do have a lot of b .net friends who they meet online. Like some players just send invites to people they play against, then trash talk them. If I played against someone in a game like HS and they invited me to be their friend I would turn them down without a thought. A lot of people probably wouldn’t. A lot of people might see making “friends” as part of online play.

I totally believe the numbers are that high for people being harassed, but I’m curious what we’re comparing those numbers to.

So if we conducted the same survey, with the same definition of harassment, and did it for Soccer, Football, Baseball and Hockey what do you think the %'s would be? Do you expect they’d be under 50%? Maybe 33%?

My money would be that they’d all be 100%. Of course you wouldn’t actually get 100% from a poll because most of the harassment that happens in sports is considered acceptable. If you found a 12-year-old who’s baseball coach bullied them with homophobic slurs, odds are they wouldn’t even agree they’ve been harassed because in sports harassment is normalized and accepted.

In the 2006 World Cup Zidane headbutted another player in the chest, knocking him flat on his ass, and then seemingly argued with the ref giving a red card for it. Why did Zidane do it? Because the other player, who was a teammate in a pro league, called Zidane’s mother a terrorist.

I’ve seen videos of parents of young children assaulting a refs because of a calls. At the professional level a lot of hockey players get punched in the head on the ice and people say it’s a necessary part of the game. What do you think professional basketball players say to each other on the court?

The entire culture is built on the justification of harassment and violence.

Videogames have a lot of toxicity around them, but I’m pretty sure it’s less than the toxicity around professional or even children’s sports. Videogames by their nature allow a far more diverse group of people to share experiences. I know I bring this up every time, but watch GDQ and you’ll see people of every gender, people with disabilities, people with different skin tones, people who are openly transgender, all getting along and encouraging one another, not being the least bit toxic.

You are ignoring the possibility that as toxic and videogaming culture is it is less toxic than sports culture, that rather than games amplifying toxic competitiveness they actually ameliorate it. When you’ve found a game in which the players are assaulted as often as hockey players, perhaps it will make a good counterpoint.