Gaming's Toxicity Is Nothing New, But It's Time It Was Gone

Were you bullied at school? Forgive me for opening an op-ed with such a personal question, but I know I was. I was tall, and skinny as a rake, spots all over my face and had plenty of other reasons to be teased, apparently.

Thanks to that, gaming was my escape. I'd come home, fire up the PS2, and play anything I could get my hands on so that I didn't have to think about school the next day. This was before online gaming, of course, and in many ways, I didn't realise how privileged I was - to be a straight, white male. Being me felt like the worst thing in the world until I saw the wider world.

Last week's report on Activision Blizzard's alleged workplace culture was a tough read, and with all the strength it took for people to stand up and be counted, the internet was awash with toxic responses to those sharing their own stories of harassment within the industry at large. Not only was it sad, but tragically predictable.

How joyless it must be to see such a display of strength from a survivor and attempt to swat it away with an anonymous comment, or see an opinion you don't agree with and feel obliged to comment.

We posted an article earlier this week on the issues marginalised genders face during an average game of DOTA 2. Social comments ranged from supportive to overtly misogynistic, and everywhere in between.

When I used to come home from school, if I'd logged onto my console and been told that I wasn't welcome there, I have no idea what I'd have done. Gaming is an escape for so many, and in much more important ways than it was for me back in the day. So why are we so insistent on pushing people out of the space?

In the last week alone I've seen quality writers hounded over innocuous tweets, pushed towards the door of an industry they love and worked hard to join. The 'joke' of games journalists being 'bad at games' is one thing (and if you've seen me play Warzone, I get it) but every single other writer I've met puts their heart and soul into their content, usually to have it met with the kind of vociferous response that makes them wonder why they do it at all.

Imagine someone watching you do your job, in the real world, and picking at every minor insecurity you may have. Writers use Twitter just as much for work as they do for social networking, so it's a key part of what we do. If you wouldn't say it on the street, why tweet it?

Perhaps I'm a little old fashioned in that respect, but anonymity comes with a lack of accountability. I've lost track of the 'zero followers' accounts that have attempted to antagonise or berate me online, and I'm a 31-year-old straight white man. I cannot possibly imagine the damage those anonymous comments can do to anyone that feels marginalised before logging onto Twitter.

Accountability doesn't appear to be something that'll come to social media platforms soon. The world communicates in all-caps these days, screaming through a digital megaphone. Governments use divisive rhetoric, and vocal minorities make themselves heard in the worst ways.

We can't necessarily stop that overnight, but it's worth looking at how we communicate with each other - not just online, but in reality, too. I firmly believe that if you have the ability or opportunity to make the world a better place, you have a duty to do so. If someone in-game is showing toxic behaviour, if you see a tweet that skips past genuine conversation and straight into hostility, or you see an outright attack on another human being's way of life, call it out, report it, or do whatever else you can.

We're all in this together, and we need to do better. At the end of the day, we're talking about video games.

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