One of the things that kept me from getting into multiplayer gaming for a long time was the way players treated each other. The utter lack of respect that people have for each other under the cover of anonymity appalled me, initially… and it still does. The fact that there were more insults flying around than at my family reunion picnic left me speechless and wanting nothing to do with the multiplayer gaming scene as a whole.
When I asked a friend of mine if she would want to play online games with people who insisted on being obnoxious, she replied, “I would definitely be discouraged. I would want to go somewhere where I could have fun. Not somewhere where I would get annoyed and frustrated. I would leave and try to find somewhere else to go – or just stop playing on-line in general.” Considering the state of most multiplayer gaming, I didn’t take that as a promising sign that she would be online playing in the next week. It took me a while to learn that the only way for me to enjoy these games was to learn how to deal with it myself. I had to face facts… the most vocal members of the multiplayer gaming world are the ones who love smack talk – taking frequent, nasty stabs at other players.
I started speculating on the origin of the term smack talk, but didn’t really find much info about it beyond articles pertaining to the social impact of it in gaming communities, and plenty of examples of it on gamer bulletin boards. It’s the nature of slang to adopt whatever meaning for words which is current and popular, however, so I suppose the origin isn’t really relevant. Let’s just accept that smack talk is, at this point in time, a sometimes frustrating and unfortunate part of multiplayer gaming. I’ve seen evidence of it in all genres of multiplayer games, from online euchre tournaments to trivia games to first person shooters. No game is completely devoid of it, they all seem to have it to some degree.
There are certainly times when it’s satisfying and fun to brag about your prowess at a game, or to throw a friendly taunt at someone you’ve just fragged. It’s when that taunting degrades to insults designed to make someone angry, accusations of cheating, or all around tasteless flaming of other players that it takes the fun out of the game. And games are supposed to be fun. That’s the concept behind playing them, last I checked, and that’s why we play them. I wondered what I could do to avoid that entire aspect of gaming, and realized that my options were either to deal with my own reactions somehow, or leave the game. I can’t hope to change the course of multiplayer gaming by myself, after all – that’s definitely a group effort. Not wanting to quit a game I enjoyed playing, I went on a quest to learn how to deal with my own reactions to smack talk, since that’s the only thing I have ultimate power over.
The first thing I did to try and keep myself from reacting to the insults that were being directed at me was take a close look at who they were coming from. Most often, the deliverer of the too-cool-for-you comments was portraying immaturity in every way imaginable – accusing someone who is a good player who continually beats them at the game of cheating, questioning a player’s parentage, whining and complaining about their connection speed, or your connection speed, taking stabs at your team if you have one, and so on.
I found that, with this sort of situation, there are a few basic options. If you want to play their game, egg them on some more and really get them riled up, call them kids – a lot of them seem to really hate that. If you’re more creative and can insult them intelligently it might confuse them, but be ready for retaliation from that because it will most likely just make you more of a target. If you’re up for the insult game and not taking it seriously, then by all means go ahead, although I don’t think that this really helps my personal campaign to put an end to smack talk, so I’m not 100% willing to sanction this particular method… but sometimes I’m having a bad day, and being polite just doesn’t cut it.
Another choice, and the advice I was most often given when I asked for it, is to ignore them completely. Don’t react, don’t respond, don’t even acknowledge their existence. They will get bored and find someone else to target, if they really need to have someone to bully so that they feel more powerful. I seem to remember my mother telling me to ignore bullies back in grade school, and it didn’t work then, but I think the effective difference is that the only way an online bully can know if they are bothering you is if you respond actively – getting angry and talking back to them – where in school at recess they could keep following you around and harassing you. Most of the bullies in public school grew up, though. I’m hoping to see the same in gaming communities.
It’s not always easy to ignore the insults and comments. The other night, I was playing against a guy who spent half of the game making comments about my complete lack of talent. He was right in saying that I wasn’t very good, but I’m still learning, and it took a lot of control for me not to respond emotionally – either by fighting back verbally (which, incidentally, I’m really not good at) or by quitting the game. I didn’t want to quit – I wanted to play and have fun – but he wasn’t making it a very fun environment for me. I was seeing red. I finally just ignored him entirely after yelling at my monitor for a couple of minutes, and enjoyed the rest of the game.
That said, not all taunting and teasing is totally out of line. Good-natured teasing between gamers is a social experience, and it’s part of the fun. Usually, the friendly taunts are balanced with compliments about other players or teams, which is far more satisfying than beating someone down. I would suggest taking each situation individually, since there are plenty of different ways to react, each one having it’s own consequences. Here are some examples and suggestions, if you have any more, feel free to add them.
Accusations of cheating
Attacks on your abilities
|Reaction||Positive consequences||Negative consequences|
|Laugh it off.||Laughter is good for the soul, and the person may start to like you or leave you alone if you’re laughing at yourself as well.||No really serious negative consequences, to my knowledge, although there is potential to hurt someone else’s feelings if you’re laughing at them. (remember, this is a nice girl’s guide…)|
|Ignore Whoever is trying to bug you.||They’ll get bored and find another target who will react, since you won’t.||Potential for the insulter to find people to gang up on you with, if they’re really determined. Also, sometimes they will push the wrong (or right) buttons with you, and ignoring them becomes an ordeal.|
|“Eye for an eye”.||Satisfying in the short term, and effective if you’re creative about it.||Why bother lowering yourself to their level of immaturity?|
|Quit gaming.||Never having to deal with immature gamers again.||No more Gaming?? Are you Crazy???|
|Shows your maturity, and might start a new trend in gaming – respect. This also makes an impression on other players who are annoyed by nasty insults.||Impact of your maturity may well be lost on those who have none of their own.|
|Beat them at the game.||Satisfaction of winning.||If you gloat, you’re not being nice. They’ll know that you won without you telling them so 25 times over. If you aren’t that good at the game yet, keep playing, and you’ll get there.|
|Never start gaming in the first place.||Never having to deal with immature gamers at all.||No Gaming?? Ever?? Are you Crazy???|
Smack talk isn’t going away in the foreseeable future, but there is hope: always remember that the nice people DO outnumber the obnoxious ones… they’re just not as vocal.