I have been gaming online for a long time - since I was a teenager and Battle.net (I played a lot of Diablo II and Starcraft) was first a thing, in fact. Back then, the biggest thing I remember my parents being concerned about were mostly safety things: don’t give out your name or address, don’t share pictures, and for the love of all that is holy, don’t EVER agree to meet someone you’ve only met online.
They’re not bad rules - they’re good rules, in fact! Safe rules. Rules that I have since broken (with extreme discretion), causing me to make and keep some lifelong and wonderful friends...but that’s not really what this blog is about. I just wanted to lead with the idea that not everyone online is bad.
I flew out to L.A. for E3 back in 2016 and 2018, then took a weekend trip to San Francisco to meet several of my guild mates from Final Fantasy XIV. They are some of the greatest people I know, and I had some of the most fun I've ever had (not to mention best food I've ever eaten!)
But there are plenty of people who I definitely wouldn’t ever want to meet.
I’m pretty sure we’ve all been there: we’re playing a multiplayer game online, doing our best, having a great time, when suddenly a person emboldened by their anonymity decides that they want to let loose a volley of hurtful words and slurs. Sometimes this happens in a voice chat, sometimes it’s text - the difference doesn’t really matter, they both hurt.
Here’s my big question: why?
OK, to some extent, we know why. Sometimes it comes from a place of great insecurity, so people lash out in order to feel better about themselves (pitiable, but not excusable). Sometimes it’s just that they’re frustrated and they blurt out words that will make them feel better (there are actually studies that support the idea that swearing blows off some steam and actually helps!). And sometimes, straight up, they’re just a jerk.
Whatever the reason is, it’s just really disappointing to see so many instances where someone actively chooses to expel the energy to either scream at someone via a voice chat or lay into them in a group text chat during a game. Because telling me I &%#$ing suck will somehow make me play better all of a sudden, right!?
What really bothers me, though, is how commonplace and expected this kind of nastiness is. So much so, in fact, that anytime I go live on a stream I make sure my moderator friends are at the ready. Or, if I’m diving into a multiplayer game for the first time, I feel legitimate anxiety about what the other team might say or do.
But Kristy, you say, that’s why they make a mute feature! Sure, and that’s great, and I definitely utilize it on the regular. But the level of nastiness is so ingrained, so expected, that even with my voice call deafened and chat scrubbed out to nothing, I continue to feel anxious as I play, wondering if they’re cursing my family’s name back six generations for my existence.
I started playing League of Legends recently (judge me all you want - I’m still judging myself!) and for my first several games it was just me and some friends against bots, no big deal. The other day, my friend Gill and I were the only ones around and we decided to try playing with actual live teammates (not filling out with bots!) against actual real live people.
We muted chat, but sheesh, I felt anxious and sick to my stomach almost the entire time! How ridiculous is it that this kind of nastiness is so expected that it can upset people even without seeing it?
Now, is it entirely possible that we’d have gotten some nice teammates who were also fairly new to the game and would have been kind to us? Sure! It just makes me sad that the likelihood of me discovering those people is nullified because I need to take pre-emptive preventative measures to avoid all the jerks.
Unfortunately, bullies are just a part of life and always will be. They exist in all circles, but it sucks when it feels like they are particularly rampant in a realm of your personal interest, like gaming. I get it, losing can be really frustrating and in a team game where a portion of that is completely out of your control, that makes it even more irritating. However, you still have the choice of what you put out there into words - if you really need to scream and rant, do it in your head or with your mic muted.
Feeling ragey? Go on YouTube or TikTok and browse some cute animal videos instead! That always helps to lower my blood pressure. And above all else, if you feel the nastiness moving from your mind into your mouth, maybe that’s a good sign that it’s time to take a break.
I’m kind of preaching to a choir here, and I know it - the vast majority of the Stardock community has been nothing but friendly and welcoming to me, especially when I first started streaming for the company and was nervous and new. Still, I think it serves as a good reminder to us all to remember that there is another person on the other side of that keyboard, and it costs us nothing to be kind.
Anyway, that’s my soapbox for the week. I try to live by the golden rule “Don’t be a $%*!” and although that doesn’t usually stop someone from being unkind to me, I feel like I can at least sleep well at night knowing that I’m not putting that kind of negative energy back out into the world.
Happy gaming, everyone! Keep calm, and when all else fails, just remember: hilarious dog videos will always be there.