How to Address Toxic Players

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Okay, anyone who has played enough online games has seen them. There’s always one of those players who wants to make your gaming experience miserable. Maybe it is personal, due to you winning, maybe they treat every player this way, but it is hard to ignore that the gaming world has just enough toxic players that can ruin your day.

So, what is the gaming community to do? Toxic players don’t make it any easier to enjoy even the best of games, so it is important to steel yourself, and hopefully others from the antics these gamers can pull off. Today, I will be covering some of the examples, causes, and solutions to help others handle toxic players in the video game world. This article is by no means 100% comprehensive, but intends to start a discussion to address the problem of toxic gamers.

  • Examples of toxic behavior:

Toxic behavior in games takes many forms. Some of the more common actions include taunting, rude language, sexual harassment, lying to gain an advantage (or take something from another player) in-game, not actively playing, modding or hacking the game for an unfair advantage, and intentionally disconnecting from online play.

With the exceptions of not actively playing and disconnecting from online play (both could be internet connection issues, which some players can’t actively predict or control), most of these actions are easily identified. In some cases, the online community can occasionally change the rules of what counts as offensive behavior. In rare circumstances, toxic behavior just looks strange to new players.

One example of strange-looking taunting comes from the game Splatoon. Players may rapidly switch between human and squid form after KOing an opponent. This is called squid-bagging, and looked more goofy than offensive when I first saw it. The roots of this action is far more offensive, and something I’d rather not go into in this article.

Squidbagging
In case you were wondering, this goofy looking action is what squid-bagging looks like.

Actions like rude and offensive language only exists in games were players can communicate freely either through text or voice chat. Such actions can stem from the complete freedom this medium allows.

Now, unless modding is allowed, hacking, especially in online games with a ranking system should be a ban-able offense. Using an external device or code to alter game play for an advantage other players can’t have, if gone unchecked, can ruin a game in the long run. In some cases, it can even lead to a malfunctioning game for other players. There was once a player in Splatoon 1 who played as an octoling (which was never playable in the first game), and after other players were done playing with him, ran into the issue that the game was permanently frozen, and had no choice but to delete their save file and start over!

There are plenty of other behaviors out there that could count as toxic, but these are the main ways it can occur in online games.

  • Causes of toxic behavior:

There are bound to be tons of reasons players use toxic behaviors in their play sessions. I am not a psychologist, so the following most likely won’t tell the whole story.

The first and most innocent is that some players might not realize that their behavior is toxic. Perhaps there is an action (such as games with a taunt button) that is considered poor etiquette, but there is no visible guideline not to do so in the community. Such actions are harder to enforce in online games without direct communication between players. It would be important to explain that such behaviors are considered offensive to new players.

Next, toxic behavior can be in response to the other player’s actions. Some players intentionally disconnect when they lose, or are losing badly. Offensive language can result in the same situations as well. In other cases, two or more players can be toxic to each other, no matter who started it. Other times, the two players know each other, and one of them is either a bully, or had been bullied and lashes out in return.

One cause I have heard has something to do with the anonymity of the internet. I don’t fully understand it myself, but being unknown to other people seems to give license to do whatever you want. Somehow, this leads to bringing out the worst in some players. Perhaps it has something to do with the toxic players thinking they won’t get caught.

One also has to consider that in almost all games, players are competing with each other. Many video games in particular involve cartoonish or realistic violence. Not everyone reacts to such content in a civil manner (naturally), and such actions in a simulation are taken a little too seriously.

The last cause that I’ll cover is that, some players may just be bad people in real life. There are numerous reasons for this, which I am not qualified to identify. There could be anger issues involved too!

  • Solutions: Player side:

Now for some solutions the player can pull off.

Don’t be toxic! If you know which behaviors are not acceptable, don’t do them at all! Not even in retaliation to a toxic player! When players who are more inclined to pull of toxic actions see these actions, they are more likely to do them!

Record and report. If a game or device allows you to record game play footage, use it to prove that someone is being toxic, or is cheating. Also report anything that falls under that category. Not all games allow you to report these players, though but keep it in mind for games that do.

Be courteous, if you can. If there are ways to help other players out, do so. If there is free communication, be a good sport. Players are less likely to be toxic if others are keeping a positive play experience. This doesn’t mean you can’t play to the best of your ability, just that you aren’t rude about it.

Don’t hack in online games! This is similar to the first solution, but players won’t like it if you do this, and may be toxic in return.

  • Solutions: Developer side: 

This section compiles many of the solutions game developers can and have used.

Consider feedback and research on toxic behavior. Understanding and knowing what is toxic behavior is the first step!

Enable reporting players in game. There should be an easy to understand menu in game to report a player. Enable notes the player can send to explain how it is toxic can lead to more solutions.

Spell out ban-able offenses. Let your players know what is not good behavior for playing the game. Update this list as the community evolves.

report
The report screen from Splatoon 2 when a serious connection issue occurs. Explanations of issues are important in online games.

Restrict toxic actions or communications. Some games do not have full communication options. These games should focus on positive, pre-made phrases, and can limit players to say only what is needed to play. Sometimes allowing players to disable voice chat is another solution. Designing the game so that actions considered offensive aren’t possible can help too, though this is difficult to pin down.

If possible, observe as many matches or games as you can. This will help identify problem players, and cheaters too! This may require a small army of watchers or admins, so it may not be practical in all cases.

Ban players for toxic behavior. The bans can be temporary or permanent. It is best to explain which actions cause which kind of ban, with the option to extend the length of temporary bans, or permanently ban repeat offenders.

Enable a means to dispute a ban. A form of toxic behavior is falsely reporting other players. Give your players a means to dispute a false claim. It is also good to let players know why they are banned.

Connect with your game’s community. Have some way to talk to players. Let them know you care. Listen to their suggestions, and learn what they consider toxic behavior. Admins and reporting will be needed for this option.


And there you have it. These are some of the kinds of toxic behaviors that exist in games, and some of the solutions. What kinds of toxic behaviors have you experienced in online games? Was there something you could do about it? What other solutions do you think might work? Is there more causes for this behavior not listed here? Tell me this and more below!

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3 thoughts on “How to Address Toxic Players

  1. This is a good story. Toxic gamers are practically the same as online bullies. I think the best way to handle it is to have a thick skin and not take what other people do/say personally, especially when they criticize to bring you down instead of ‘constructive criticism’ in building you up.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I really appreciated this. The sheer competitiveness of gaming enables some questionable behavior, things like racism, sexism, bullying, etc. We let it slide because vulgar language is part of the experience so it’s kind of accepted, yet most of us never wondered why it has to go that far. Why do we hack, harass, and cyberbully over a game? I used to take pride in gaming because it felt like a community. Now, it feels like a mob.

    Thank you for writing this. It’s good to know there are some gamers out there who believe in decency and decorum.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello, and thanks for the feedback! I hope this helps open a discussion about this important topic with you and any others who may read this article! This subject is of concern to me as a gamer, as well, games are supposed to be fun.

      Liked by 1 person

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