Monday, October 30, 2017

Fighting "Toxicity" One DM At A Time

A lot of you know John and I are currently addicted to Overwatch, the online mutliplayer battle game. Since I first wrote about it in June we've both gotten quite a bit better, learning, leveling up, watching tips videos, and generally falling headfirst into the fandom.


There's a problem with Overwatch, though, particularly as you reach the higher levels. Something gamers calls "toxicity." We'd read about it, of course, but since neither John nor I use voice chat in the game, we figured we were immune from the nastiness and bullying you hear about in discussion boards and comment sections.

John's more of risk-taker than I am, so after a few months he jumped into the harder aspects of the game: 3 on 3 battles, and even the officially ranked Competitive Play. These are where the serious players come out, and it made John feel good to hold his own with increasingly skilled teammates.

This is more John's story than mine, so I'm going to let him tell you what happened next:


"A couple weeks into playing, I was doing pretty poorly and we lost. All of a sudden, a little icon popped up on the bottom of my screen, showing I had a message from one of my teammates. That never happens. Surprised, I opened it and read, “Why don’t you learn how to aim. You suck.

Ouch. I did my best, the other team was better, no big deal, right? But here was this random person telling me I sucked.

I'll be honest, I didn’t want to play anymore after that. I moped around, I thought about responding with something snide or mean. What, like this guy never had a bad game before? 

A day or two later I shook it off and started playing again, but sure enough, there were more angry messages. Teammates blaming me for our losses, even when I did well, or angry because of the character I chose. (The perils of being a Symmetra main.)

That's when I had a sinking thought: what if ALL private messages in Overwatch are like that? Mean, critical, lashing out? So I did a little Googling, and yeah, they are. That's pretty much all the players use the messaging feature FOR. I guess that’s what they mean when they say a game is toxic.

I decided then and there to be different. I decided that every chance I got, I would send notes of encouragement and praise to fellow players, whether they were on my team or playing against me. 

“You're a great Hanzo.”

“You killed me SO MUCH. Awesome!”

“That was unbelievable. You are so, so good.”

Just short little things, since I'm typing with a controller. A lot of times it's just an "awesome Reaper" - or whatever character they played.
The reactions were amazing, once people got past their suspicion. Everything from a simple "thanks" to returned compliments to friend requests. So many friend requests. Because NOBODY DOES THIS. When you see that message icon pop up, it’s always somebody being mean to you. That’s just the way it is. But because this small touch of kindness was so unexpected, it was so much more powerful."




Jen, jumping back in here.

John and I talked about this over lunch back at Dragon Con, about how sending a positive message in Overwatch was completely subverting everyone's expectations, and whether that was even a good thing.

"You realize just by messaging people you're making them think something bad is coming, right?" I asked. "I mean, that little ding from a DM is awful; it scares the crap out of me."

"Yes," John said, "But people only expect the message to be bad because they've only gotten bad messages, or read that they're all bad. What if they started getting good ones? What if they got so many good ones they stopped expecting DMs to be mean?"

I sat there and thought about all the times I'd already watched John lose a game in Overwatch, all angry and frustrated, then immediately message the person on the opposite team who'd killed him the most times - and tell them what a great player they were. I thought about the day I found him looking blankly at his laptop, game system off, because the first of several strangers had told him he was terrible at doing something he loved.

I sat there in that noisy food court, looking at this guy who'd made the impossibly hard choice to repay evil with good, and marveled. Sure, it's only a game. But it's more than that. It's a tidal wave of angry people lashing out in frustration, ruining people's days, hurting feelings, ostracizing and excluding behind a veil of online anonymity -  and here's my hubby, pushing back, one DM at a time.

I know most of you don't play Overwatch, but you do interact with people online. So I'm issuing a little John Challenge today, to you and to myself: Put more positive than negative into your fandoms, your tribes. Stop yourself the next time you feel like lashing out online, and instead find someone to praise. Give a little unexpected kindness. That's the best kind.

And if you do play Overwatch, let me challenge you to send out a compliment in-game this week. Bonus points if it's to someone you just lost to. (This challenge is also for me, since I've never messaged anyone before!) Let's make it a habit to send out at least one nice note every time we play. Maybe make that your signing off routine, after your last game.

It's not much, I know. It's just a drop against a tidal wave of toxicity. But drops have a way of running together, growing stronger, and forming a flood.

So pass it on.



PS. I found these memes while I was looking for a good Overwatch screenshot, and they made me LOL:







(For you non-players: Anna has healing darts in-game; she has to shoot you to heal you. :D) 

***

Now let's announce this month's art winners!

My wild card winner is: Max Martin
The winner of the Marvel Roundup print is: Wordwitch
And the winner of the Sailor Moon print is LizSie

Congrats, you three, and please e-mail me your mailing addresses!

48 comments:

  1. It isn't just in Overwatch that this toxic conversation occurs. We pulled my Step-Son off Mind Craft a few years ago because when I heard he was purposely destroying people's creations/worlds and then heard the fowl language coming out of his mouth-- mortified just starts the description. I thought Mind Craft was for the "Younger Generation." Yikes!! Sadly, through him I have seen this toxic interaction grow into other games. I think many feel that since they are behind an avatar and some sense of anonymity they feel "safe." Please send a heart felt "thank you" to John for starting this conversation and starting the positive comments. You will never know how much that little positive comment or random act of kindness will mean to another Player.

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  2. This. My husband loves playing videogames online, but he has a tremor. He can't play with controllers, his fine motor skills just aren't good enough. He had to give up playing DOTA because of the community. The international players were just horrifying. I mean, it's a GAME. All he wants to do is play and have fun. Why do people feel it necessary to threaten to kill him, or me, or his mother, and on and on.

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  3. You won the husband lottery. John is an awesome guy.

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  4. This is an every day lesson folks should learn. It used to drive my husband crazy that I would pass out compliments to random strangers when we were out where it's peopley. "Hey! That's a great tee shirt!" "Ooooh! I love that color on you!" "What a cute pair of sandals!" "i just love seeing a friendly smile! How refreshing!" "I really dig that dress you have on!" .... doesnt matter what it is. What matters is, especially if that person has a RBF on, they are always smiling when you part company. And in gaming, a little encouragement goes a long way towards someone making that extra effort next time! (The hubs and I lead a clan in CoC). The whole world aint Love and Light to be sure but, Kindness is free to give away and priceless to receive! Pass it on, yall!!! <3

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    1. I do the same thing. A long time ago I realized that if I didn't change my "mind speak" to myself about people, then I became a pretty miserable person. So I started thinking like someone could read my thoughts, and consciously tried to make them more positive about the people around me. Then I found it easier to just voice that to them rather than just thinking it. It is a little sad to see that they sometimes look a little wary when I go up to them and start with "I just have to say...", but at then end they have a big smile which makes it worth it!

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  5. I play a lot of Destiny, and I strive to do this same thing as well. I got so tired of being cussed out for "sucking" at a game I love that I started trying to be encouraging...especially towards the ones I smacked down a lot. When all you're getting is kicked in the teeth by those better than you and then you're punched in the throat through condescending messages (to put it lightly), it makes picking up a controller a difficult decision. So... I guess John and I have the same mindset: tell people they're doing well, to believe in themselves, and that you enjoyed playing against them, and hopefully they'll walk away feeling better about what's just happened.

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  6. Go John! One of the reasons I don't do multi-player games is because I already know I suck so I don't need people telling me I do. I just skip it instead.
    I love finding or creating positive communities! My husband has a Twitch channel that focuses on positivity and is family-friendly. Some days trolls pop in and make him feel like he's not having any impact, but then a regular mentions something about how they work to make sure they filter their language and it's safe place to hang out to avoid toxicity and saltiness (he calls it a low-sodium channel). We've even turned some trolls into regulars because our positive focus is unique in the gaming world.

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    1. As someone who's always on the lookout for more Twitch channels like this, where it's safe and comfortable and fun to be in the chat and be part of the community, would you mind sharing his twitch name?

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  7. My son hates the toxicity too. He started making a point of playing with new players in Destiny. He and his buddy would be the "mommies" to a bunch of "babies," taking them around the game and explaining how it works and what the best strategies are. He said he enjoys it a lot because it's a much more positive experience. There are a lot of people who won't play with the new players and try to shut them out, but that's an great way to get your game shut down. Player attrition is inevitable as people move on to something else. New players mean new blood mean new money for the developers to keep your game running down the line.

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    1. That is SO sweet. I hope my son will be like yours.

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  8. That is fantastic. Both of you are amazing. I've been working to get over my social anxieties to hand out more compliments in person as well as online...and it's so worth it!

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  9. John is such a great person (and you are, too!) You both won the spouse lottery.

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  10. Props to John for trying to change the culture! Online jerks are part of why I don't play Team Fortress 2 anymore - in the relatively few times I've played it, I've been insulted, sexually harassed (because I had a female username - changed it to something gender-neutral after that incident :/ ), and voted out of a game for not being very good. Maybe if there had been more Johns in the game, I wouldn't associate it with all of these painful feelings now.

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  11. This is heartwarming. I enjoy games but I hate playing online for this very reason. My husband plays numerous games almost exclusively online and the number of messages he gets with that negativity are disheartening. I feel like people forget that these are games meant for fun, and while winning is fun it's not the only way to enjoy something. I only hope that if I wade back into online multiplayer I can be and find people more like John.

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  12. Just more proof that John is A Good. My fandom philosophy is basically support the stuff you love instead of paying any attention at all to the things you hate. Life is too short for that noise. Good on John for pushing back in the best way!

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  13. "Be the change you want to see in the world." Indeed. Well done.

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  14. And now I'm crying. What a beautiful story, one we can all learn from. Thank you for being the good in the world.

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  15. Man, I am also a Symmetra main (and I blame you guys because we only started playing after your post!). I love Symmetra so much and I'm actually quite good at her on both attack and defense on most maps (curse you Eichenweild!). I got so much shit from so many people, that I ended up turning chat off entirely. They would start yelling at me from the very beginning before they had even seen what I could do. I would then feel terrible, play worse, and just generally hate the game. Especially since I would switch to try to make people happy and would end up with people Im bad at (no, please don't make me be Pharah!).

    Anyways, I turned off coms, but then felt isolated. So I turned them back on as I picked up a flex character (D.Va!) to switch when I was struggling with Symm. People were still horrible, but mostly to each other. So I would try to be the little positive voice to encourage my team and make sure people were having fun. It works...some of the time.

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  16. Thank you for this. I've cut way back on online games because the anxiety of thinking I was going to do bad and make people angry outweighed having fun in the game. Maybe if I try this and be more positive about others I can enjoy them again.

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  17. Wow, I am in tears and sniffling! This is such a great attitude. I always say be nice if you can, you never know what the other person is going through and a little love goes a long way in the world. John is awesome :)

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  18. This is a wonderful idea from you and John! (John and you? it feels odd to say it the other way around).
    Also, I'm not sure if you were notified about this, but your Twevo the Jawa was featured in an article on amazing home-made costumes on Cracked.com today! (it's at .cracked. com/article_25147_5-jaw-dropping-diy-costumes-made-by-regular-people.html (space added before the .com in case that causes this comment to be read as spam).

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  19. I stopped playing overwatch a while ago for this very reason. I love team fortress 2 which is very similar and was drawn to overwatch's characters but playing it just gave me anxiety. I never even played ranked but my husband did and the thought of all those angry people directed at me just ruined it...

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  20. I don't play Overwatch, but I read a LOT of comments on YouTube and Reddit. A while ago, the Vlog Brothers put up a challenge to help quash the trolls. Whenever you see a comment you like on YouTube, instead of giving it a thumbs up, which does nothing for the algorithms that rank comments, instead you should respond with a plus sign (+). What this started doing was putting good, thoughtful comments at the top of the queue, so trolls got pushed further down, and the discussions became more welcoming and less toxic.

    Kudos to John for not repaying evil with evil, and to you for honoring him and sharing his generosity, and for challenging us so we could all start shining our lights a little more in the darkening world.

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  21. Sort of the sports equivalent of all the players lining up up after the game and telling each other good game. I don't game but maybe because those players don't have that after game line up they just turned to negativity because someone did it to them. Hopefully you start a new gaming tradition just like that tradition at the end on ball games.

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  22. I absolutely love this! I don't know much about video games, but the hate-speak that I see so much on the anonymous web is painful to read...even when it is not directed at me. Thank you for being the change and sharing your story.

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  23. Sadly this happens in a lot of games, but I've heard of it especially in Overwatch and League of Legends. This is why I often avoid PVP as much as humanly possible. I once did a raid with my SO and some random people (so that we had a full group) and one guy started screaming at me using terms I didn't know, so I didn't know what he wanted...then screamed at me more because I wasn't responding to his orders fast enough. SO who I was on voice chat with (just typing to everyone else) had to hear me try not to cry and then dissolve into tears because I was trying my hardest and this was one of the few times I had agreed to play with people I didn't know. Before my SO could lay into the guy we were surprised as the rest of our party, who we didn't know, started tearing into him and telling him to lay off and just enjoy the game...then turn around and send me encouraging messages. It was quite an experience that started horrible, but got better. :)

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  24. LOVE THIS AND YOU TWO! Such a great idea! I'm going to start doing that in all my online interactions! Also, loooong time fan of Epbot and Cake Wrecks.

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  25. I do something similar. I do walk by compliments, if I like your shirt, dress, shoes whatever I’ll tell you. It brightens my day when people notice something about me and I hope I brighten someone else’s. Bonus points when it it’s something geeky I love too.

    Also I was at the wizarding world of Harry Potter yesterday and thought of your amazing Halloween Party. I love the photos you share from it.

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    1. Christmas. I’ve got Halloween on my brain.

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  26. Yet another example of how awesome both you and John are. Thank you for being.

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  27. I have found when playing TF2 and other such games that being positive and supportive REALLY improves the game. I don't just mean 'making it pleasant', I mean it actually makes you and your teammates play better.

    Don't criticize, support. "Nice run there! That bit's tough, don't give up!"
    Don't tell people what to do, tell them the situation. "Okay, they have a sniper at the silo, and their tank is on the left waiting for an easy kill."
    Don't give the jerks what they want - if you get mad, they win. "Well, you have to admit, my aim is pretty good for a blind orangutan!"

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  28. I would guess that none of your Epbot readers would act this negative way to others, but who knows what hidden personality or frustrations these kind of games bring out? I've never played an online game (no time or inclination, I used to play Tetris on my daughter's gameboy, that's the extent of my gaming) can one just play against a computer, instead of "people"? (To not expose one's self to undeserved hate)

    I hate what the internet has done to people, the anonymity and the immediacy makes people say horrible things to each other. And now it is spilling over into the "real world", where it is suddenly becoming very common to be rude/mean/evil to other people in person.

    Jen and John, I'm glad you are on the internet as a force for kindness and understanding, and making people think. You guys are terrific! And a wonderful example to others!

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  29. We used to call this good sportsmanship and teach it to the next generation. Thank you for keeping up with civilized traditions and making sure people know that there is still good in the world.

    You are both awesome!

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  30. I don't like video games, but this fantastic rule can apply to all aspects of life. Yeah for being the good in this world.

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  31. Kudos on the positivity! :) I used to play Everquest, back in the day, and it was never that bad, with nice online communities, but I haven't played online gaming since then as I don't want constant abuse. We only now play games that have co-op play and my son only plays on private voice chat with his friends, where we're teaching him not to be an ass. Hopefully. ;) x

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  32. Yes! Yes, yes, YES!!! This! This in so many ways! It costs nothing to be kind, and you may be the difference between someone having a good day or a bad day...you don't know what another person online is going through, and being mean is being a coward.
    I've left groups because members were unkind. Including groups that were supposed to be "inclusive" because I didn't think exactly like they did.
    Maybe another way to do the challenge would be this: when you get a mean DM, reply by saying, "I'm sorry you feel that way. You did an awesome job, I was just about to DM you and tell you."
    John: you are awesome!

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  33. This is the reason I quit playing World of Warcraft many years ago. It just wasn't fun without any good people to share it with, and toxicity in the dungeons. And I've mostly stayed away from online play ever since.

    A couple of years back though I decided to try an mmo one more time, Final Fa task XIV. I've been a FF fan for a long time and it seemed interesting. I'm finding the community there is so much nicer than in most other places. Maybe it's because I play on EU servers, or because the game has very little focus on pvp, or the pace is relatively slow, but in three years of play, the number of times I've had truly toxic encounters is probably still in the single digits. I mean there is some salt here and there, of course. But it seems pretty rare. And I've made some good friends there.

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  34. On Facebook, I *ONLY* post positive stuff. No politics, no negativity...and when I respond to things, I try to be positive.

    It would be amazing to see what a little positivity does in the world.

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  35. I love this. Don't play Overwatch, but 100% agree that a little kindness can go so, so far.

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  36. You guys are beyond awesome.

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  37. What I am sure everyone who gets a message from John is doing when they read a message from him! Wowie, you're both such great examples of the element of kindness!!!!!

    Pinkie Welborne, 17
    Indiana

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  38. I love this so much. The world feels a little brighter tonight. Thank you.

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  39. This is such a lovely story! I have been trying to counter the negativity in my workplace with cute facts like a baby armadillo is called an armadiglet (this has helped so many people smile!). The positivity does win out.

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  40. Thank you so much for this; both of you. I don't play overwatch anymore because it was becoming mean and toxic. I'm a high school teacher and take a fair amount of abuse from students on a daily basis so the idea of getting "virtually" yelled at was very unappealing. It's nice to know that someone out there (in my hometown no less) is making the world a little bit better

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  41. Thank you for this: both the post and the action. Overwatch can be toxic enough that I haven't even told my FRIENDS my gamertag in fear of what they say in frustrated moments. I'm going to start sending positive messages...after I look at some more memes.

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  42. I dig this post. I only recently started playing Overwatch (I'm a mediocre FPS player, at best) but would love to see these myself. I play Star Wars Battlefront regularly (and soon Battlefront 2) as well as Battlefield 1 and I've seen a number of these from the Battlefield community. I play on the XBox as well so if you want to add me as a friend, feel free (AmbientPlatypus). Just let me know where you've added me from so I know.

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