“Violence in video games makes people violent.”
Everyone has heard this argument before. Scientists have come out with “proof” of it, and the media won’t stop rambling about how video games like Grand Theft Auto have turned our youths into devils. The government, even U.S. President Donald Trump himself, won’t stop going on about how gun violence and video games are somehow related.
All the buzz around how video games promote violence, yet the real problem with video games is somehow overlooked.
The problem that toxifies people’s thoughts and minds.
In multiplayer video games, toxicity (also known as griefing) is the term used to describe any action that ruins the experience of the other players playing the game. Whether it is verbal abuse, ranging from small banter to straight up racist and misogynistic insults, or actions such as killing your own teammates; all these things qualify as “toxic” behavior.
I, for one, am no stranger to toxicity.
Nov. 17. It was Saturday morning, and I knew exactly what time it was. League of Legends, described by many as “the most toxic video game” was loading on my screen. A week’s worth of wait had led up to this. I was ready. It was time to play.
I loaded myself into the game with my best buddy. Excitement gleamed in both our eyes.
Anticipation of a game well played, a weekend “well spent,” was on our minds.
The anticipation persisted.
However, the “game-well-played” part met a quick and brutal death.
Ten minutes into the game, a chat message appeared. “You’re so damn bad.
Just uninstall the game.” It was from a teammate, a complete stranger.
Me? Bad? At a game I have been playing for five years? At a game which I have poured countless hours into to improve? Bad at my game?
This shall not stand.
I opened up the chat. I warmed up my fingers and cracked my joints. Hands on the keyboard, I was ready to type. I was about to fire every single insult I could think of at this guy.
Typing as fast as I could, I produced a masterpiece of an insult worthy of being framed. It read:
“Listen up you retarded piece of s**t. Instead of sitting here and insulting people in a f***ing video game, how about you go get a life? I study in a high end school, what the hell do you have? F***ing nothing, that’s what. You autistic b**ch your mom should’ve aborted you.”
Proud of what I have just typed, I hit enter and sent the message.
A few seconds later, I got the message that the teammate had disconnected from the game.
As I celebrated my “achievement,” my buddy tapped me on the back and said: “I know it gets frustrating sometimes, but you might’ve gone too far there. You wouldn’t say this to someone in real life, would you?”
What am I doing?
Why did I say all that?
A sudden realization of guilt and shame came upon me. What have I become?
For a few minutes, I just sat there and thought.
Is this the person I am? Someone who wouldn’t hesitate to insult someone?
Someone who just throws insults and hides behind the screen?
Is this what the game has turned me into?
I kept on playing that Saturday. Every game, there would be at least one or two people insulting each other in chat, and the other people in the game did not bat an eye. I closed League of Legends and opened up another game. The toxicity followed. No matter which game I turned to, there seemed to be verbal abuse and insults around every corner.
How have such levels of hatred been completely normalized.
Nov. 17. On that Saturday, it suddenly became clear. The games gave me a screen to hide behind. A space rid of social norms, a place where I can say whatever and get away with it. A place where throwing offensive insults at each other is normalized and even accepted. A place that is truly toxic.
If this toxic behavior is what we carry out of the games, then violence is the least of our worries.
The violence, gore, and blood may be virtual, but the rampant toxicity is very real in the hearts and minds of the players.
Perhaps we should focus less on what the games are displaying to us and more on the mentality we project into those games.
It’s not the content, it’s the culture.