COVID-19 has left a lot of folks trying to ease the social distancing with a little one-on-one contact online. There are a lot of different types of video games for a lot of different types of gamers, but fans of multiplayer games have more options when it comes to what they want to do on a Friday night. Multiplayer isn’t a genre, and that means there are a lot of different types of multiplayer games to entice a wide array of people. The only issue is that the prospect of playing with others can be daunting when the toxicity of the medium is so largely reported on. It’s unfortunate too, because gamers are mostly pretty cool people. But the ones that gravitate towards using a microphone to be jerks are some of the loudest people on Earth, and there are just enough of them to make it likely that you’ll encounter a handful of them in any giving gaming session. What can you do?
Well, the obvious answer is to not let them get under your skin. Even they will be the first to tell you that, and they’ll go on to say that trash talking is just part of the game. These sorts of players are wrong and, by no means, should you have to endure their abuse. Fortunately, their “trash talk” isn’t as witty as they’d like to think, and you’re not missing out on an important part of the experience if you choose to disengage. You can mute them, keep your headset in a drawer, or only talk to friends over something like party chat.
That doesn’t completely solve the problem though, does it? Knowing the toxic players are there, judging and critiquing, can be unpleasant enough. There are a couple things to keep in mind when you’re in a multiplayer lobby. First, in all the chaos of a game, people rarely pay all that much attention to one another. This is true in real life as well. We have this bias where we tend to assume that our flaws are super easy to notice. Studies have shown that people who were asked to wear gaudy shirts hardly stood out, although around half of the people participating in the study assumed they stood out. It takes a lot for people to notice you and, in the context of a rapidly moving online game, that is even more the case.
That doesn’t mean people won’t notice, though. If a team or, more often, another player isn’t performing all that well, then the team, but probably just the player, might start looking for places to assign blame. That’s pitiful and their behavior isn’t a reflection on you, regardless of how poorly you might be playing. Every game has beginners, and nobody starts off as an expert. Beyond that, the simple metrics on a scoreboard are not a perfect representation of how well you are performing and certainly can’t serve as evidence for the overall performance of a team. Try to work on improving. Try to work on enjoying the game for what it is. When it comes to the people that are getting mad, well, they have other problems to work out that have nothing to do with you.
Even if you disengage from the chat, these people might send you messages. These messages might go far beyond insulting your skill. They could make all sorts of claims about who you are as a person. They might insult your race, your gender, and your intelligence. At this point, you have a message that can easily be reported. Report that message and hope that the system will take care of them. It’s at least a step in the right direction.
The fact is, we can’t fix the trolling problem on the internet by engaging directly with it. These outspoken donkeys are mad at the world and mad at themselves. They don’t actually know you, the individual. Sometimes they’ll say the things that cut deep. Sometimes they’ll try to make you feel like you are ruining their experience. But the fact is that you are only playing a game while they are deliberately spewing venom. You are the gamer that belongs online. They belong in timeout.
I am not saying to pity them but I am saying that, if possible, you shouldn’t let them belittle you because, honestly, they are probably a pretty small person. Ignoring them or, if you must, trolling them back, is almost the only way to walk away from an interaction with them without feeling like the gaming experience wasn’t enjoyable. They just want to be seen and heard. I ignore them right up until they send me a message. A swift banhammer might just give them the validation they’re looking for.