Toxic Toxicity

In recent years, a new trend popped up on social media like Twitter for instance:
Twitch streamer, predominantly female ones, post short clips of their play sessions, proclaim that “this is the reason i don’t play [insert game here]” and start a rant about the “toxic community”.
These clips all have something in common:
They all show interactions over the games voice chat where random people goof off, say silly and admittedly sometimes insulting stuff.
And the majority of it begins and ends with something in the lines of “So this is how you treat female players”.

And to this day, no one is quite sure what these rants are trying to accomplish.
Everyone who has been on the internet for longer than last Thursday immediately notices several issues and inconsistencies in these clips and rants.

Let’s start with the current hot topic: Treating female gamers.
Seasoned online players know: Yes, this is exactly how female players are treated. Not because they are female, but because everyone, without exception, is treated like that.
Especially in competitive online games, smack talk is pretty much unavoidable.
Some simply let off steam, some even try to provoke their opponents to make them more prone to errors. The fact remains, if you join a games voice chat, be prepared to meet people lacking etiquette in one form or another.
And for every time you, a female gamer, get told to “make me a sandwich”, you can bet that a male player has heard at least two jokes and/or insults about his potency…

Another thing is the people who post these clips and rants in the first place.
More often than not, they are high profile streamers.
They are part of E-Sports teams, sponsored in some kind, have absurdly high viewer counts and so on.
The inevitable question that arises: How did they get there, if playing online is this bad?
Is it a trend that just popped up overnight and is just now starting to bother them to an extend that forces them to quit their online game of choice? 

If you haven’t been living under a rock in recent years, you probably noticed that “outrage marketing” has become an incredibly profitable business.
For those who don’t know, outrage marketing is comparable to the practice of clickbaiting.
You fabricate an issue, utter broad accusations and bank on people to engage to either support your claims or debunk it.
The beauty of it is, that your story doesn’t need to be true to work. In fact, the more out there your claims are, the more people feel inclined to rip it apart. Be it a reaction video on YouTube, a rant on Twitter or directly on the site, should they provide a forum or comment section.The result is free PR, site hit and an enormous increase reach. 

And in case of the topic at hand, said clips get shared around Twitter, maybe even become a meme in and of itself and thus, make the streamer in question more famous than they might have already been. In turn, this creates an incentive to media outlets to pick up this story to further fan the flames. Because of course everyone wants a piece of that cake.

But apart from personal gain, what do these clips and rants accomplish to tackle the issue of the apparent “toxic community”?
The long and short of it: Nothing. Nothing at all. In fact, it does the exact opposite in violating one of the oldest unwritten laws in internet history: “Don’t feed the trolls”.

Because said streamer isn’t the only one getting exposure, the respective trolls do so as well. And you can place safe bets on other people now trying their best to join future games of this streamer for their chance to be featured in the next clip. 

There are two ways to look at this. One one hand, it might just be a well meant but poorly executed appeal to the community. A genuine effort to show and tell people how not to engage online.
Or you take outrage marketing into account and suddenly, the supposed issue ceases being one and instead, turns into a highly profitable tool to be used to further their own achievements. Because at the end of the day, clicks and hits are just that, the metrics don’t care if these people agreed with the content or not.

This is reinforced by the fact, that all these clips and rants not only have several things in common, they also all lack one, key aspect:
No one ever uses the community tools provided by the developer to combat this behavior directly. No one ever mutes, blocks or reports these people.
Not only would this enhance your own gaming experience, but it eventually cleanses the community of these people if the given tools are used properly, responsibly and frequently. 

And you could argue that maybe they are doing this off-screen. Sure, they might do, but these rants are, in general, an appeal to the whole community. Why not also show them how to use the provided tools as well?
And if you ask me, the method to this madness is quite simple:
First of all: It could create backlash. Using said tools in rants like this may compromise your position as “helpless victim” if people find that your reasoning isn’t solid enough to get a person banned.
Popular Twitch streamer “Ninja” had such a moment, where he accused a user of “Stream Sniping” and reported them accordingly. This backfired immensely and ended in copious amounts of ridicule.
And if you want to assume malicious intent, you could argue that using the provided tools solves the issue eventually. And without issue, no outrage PR.
A rant about a “toxic community” is far more effective if it can’t be immediately countered by “well, you always have people like that, but at least you will never see or hear them again online”. So why get rid of one of your most valuable assets in the first place? 

Over the last few years, several companies have put ridiculous amounts of money into their “fight against toxic behavior online” and nothing has changed.
And there are a plethora of reasons for it:
Toxicity might simply be too subjective to be countered on a community wide level. It might filter out the really nasty people, but for some, it may not be enough.
It will also inevitably invite detractors. The more you fight against it, the more trolls feel inclined to see how much they can rebel against the system.
Because at the end of the day, the “Fight against toxic communities” is nothing more than feeding the trolls en masse. 

So, do i have a solution? Probably not. I’d go so far as to say that there might not even be a solution for it. At least not on a community wide level.
Individually however? Make a habit out of using the community tools.
There’s no harm done in muting someone who annoys you. It immediately improves your personal experience. They still find ways to irk you? Block and subsequently report them.
At this point, they probably broke a handful of rules and ToS.
Getting annoyed by someone is subjective, getting harassed further is a breach of the rules, so punish it. It’s as simple as that really.
Don’t complain about the smell if you’re unwilling to take out the trash. 

Don’t bank on companies finding the one solution to silence them all. Care about your experience first. And funnily enough, if everyone does that, it automatically improves the overall community as well.
Do your part, you consider yourself to be part of said community, so give something back.

And most importantly…don’t feed the trolls. 


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