Lien: Log Off: Toxic Game Communities

(Photo by Soumil Kumar:

By Kayla Lien, Opinion Writer


Gaming communities contain multitudes of toxicity, including hate speech, verbal abuse and doxxing. Female Twitch streamers like Psyche, PleasantlyTwstd and PikaChulita report being harassed online simply for being women. Unfortunately, harassment is an expected part of game culture that expands to nearly every type of game, including first person shooter, multiplayer, role-play and others.

Globally and within the University of Utah Crimson Gaming Community, gamers face and contribute to widespread hostility and almost never receive repercussions. To rid ourselves of such bad behavior, change must start on an individual level.

Prevalence of Toxicity

In gaming communities, normal social cues of “right” vs. “wrong” aren’t present and have no real effect on one’s personal life, so acting out is second-nature to many. This phenomenon hasn’t gone unnoticed, as an astounding 72% of players in multiplayer games witnessed toxic behavior towards others. Sixty-eight percent of players experienced it themselves, 43% ignored it and another 43% quit playing the game entirely. That’s a large chunk of individuals driven away from gaming due to other people’s behavior. Furthermore, a majority of 77% of players agree that we need more solutions to reduce toxicity for creating safer online gaming communities.

Alive and Well

It would be nice to say toxic gaming behavior only exists online, but that’s just not true. For female-presenting and transgender players, gaming communities can be be hellscapes.

Brekke Pattison, Crimson Gaming’s Dungeons and Dragons staff secretary, relates that “there was a lot of problem people on the [Discord] server … who are just saying and posting these super questionable things … they’ll say something super offensive, and nothing will happen.”

Along with posting content that violates Crimson’s beliefs, Pattison recalls trying to report a member for sexual harassment. When they brought up their concerns, leadership downplayed the severity of the situation and said “Don’t worry about it.” And because these people aren’t technically breaking any rules, they’re allowed to stay.

“Crimson Gaming was supposed to be a place where people would feel welcome,” Pattison said. “Where the rules were supposed to … make sure everyone feels safe … yet the only people we are making feel safe are the people that are already supposed to be safe because they’re in the majority.”

The U isn’t the only Utah institution to experience toxic gaming behavior. Brooke Scudder, president of Westminster’s Board with Friends, started her club with the understanding of what it meant to be the only female-presenting person in a Dungeons and Dragons group. But in her original group, one of the other players created a hostile and unwelcoming environment. “I felt like I couldn’t give my own ideas to the group without being interrupted – as if what they had to say in that moment was more important than anyone else.” Scudder struggled to tolerate the behavior and considered leaving the group and game she enjoyed playing.

Even though she is an experienced player, Scudder said some male players don’t value her skills. 

“It … feels hard to make a mistake, because then someone else comes in and tries to “fix” it for me,” she said. “I worked hard to learn the rules of the game and be able to hold my own, but the handholding at this point feels unnecessary and as though I can’t be creative outside of what someone else deems is right.”

What’s Being Done

Sadly, as toxic behaviors become more normalized in gaming cultures, few individuals confront it. But some major gaming companies have launched semi-successful “anti-toxicity campaigns” to help alleviate the hostile environment.

Overwatch, one of Blizzard’s pivotal games, created an in-game policing system that reduced 40% of overall bad behavior in 2019. While it may sound great at first, players can feign good behavior to earn endorsements and resume toxicity once their rankings are set.

Another game development group founded the Fair Play Alliance, a global coalition working to encourage healthy communities and positive player interactions in online gaming. Other civil society organizations like Take This partnered with mental health nonprofits to dedicate resources towards the community. While we appreciate big corporations’ help, the only surefire way of curbing negative behaviors is from the ground up.

In the end, continuing to allow negative and toxic behaviors hurts everybody. Gaming communities breed some of the worst human interactions, online and at our very own university. No real change can come about unless more people are willing to confront these behaviors.

So next time you get head-shotted in Call of Duty, think before you insult someone.


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