We don’t always really know the people we game with online. We might know what class they main, or which zones they like best. We might know what state they live in, or what they do for work. We might know them from high school but not have seen them since. But sometimes, when we’re in-character and thousands of miles apart we might realize that the semi-stranger we’re gaming with really, really sucks.
There are guidelines for breaking up with romantic partners, but it’s uniquely tricky to break up with the edgelords in your Discord group or the guy who goes apeshit when he loses a game of DOTA 2. Whether it’s just one person or an entire online gaming community, sometimes the people we game with make our lives worse. On occasion, it’s a good idea to cut them out and set yourself free.
The time you spend gaming after a hard day at school or work is valuable. Most of us play games to relax and enrich our lives. If another person’s behavior is getting in the way of that, then maybe it’s time to break up.
You don’t need to nuke a perfectly good gaming relationship after your buddy points out your positioning could have been better last game. Similarly, don’t hold it against an online gaming buddy if they had a bad day at work and don’t have the energy to bring the fun one night. If you’ve spent significant time chatting with someone online while you game, you’ve formed a connection, and leaving them in the dirt for some banal reason is callous.
That said, common online gaming wisdom maintains that you really don’t owe anyone shit. It’s easy as hell to hit the “eject” button on an online friendship and never think about or hear from that person again. But how do you know when you’re doing it for the right reason?
Ask yourself: Does this person bring you more joy or comfort than they bring you a) frustration, b) annoyance, or c) fear? If yes, then keep queueing up. If no, then consider ending the relationship.
We’ve all played with people who are annoying or whom we’d probably not hang out with in real life. Maybe that friend-of-a-friend in your party kind of gets on your nerves when she brags about her gameplay or when he disses the armor you spent so long trying to get, but isn’t, at heart, that bad. There are, however, some behaviors that you shouldn’t ever have to tolerate, and you shouldn’t question whether or not to cut the offender loose. Relationship-ending behaviors could include:
- Consistent toxicity or abusive language toward you or others
- Racism, sexism, homophobia or bigoted language, even in memes
- Repeated anger problems or lashing out repeatedly after losing
- Making violent threats
- Making you feel bad about your gameplay every time you game with them
- Regularly manipulating you into doing things you don’t want to do, like staying up too late grinding, or helping them with quests after you said no
- Attempting to find out more about your IRL life than you feel comfortable sharing
- Asking to meet in person after you’ve said no
- Talking about you behind your back to other friends or sabotaging your friendships
“If you are looking for healthy recommendations, I don’t know lol,” said one extremely online friend of mine when I asked how he’s broken up with online friends. “I feel like it’s always drama or just ghosting.”
It doesn’t have to be that way! Talking to someone about why you’re fed up with them can give them a chance to change. And if they respond poorly, it can give you closure that your decision to end things was a good one.
It’s tempting to address a gaming friend’s flaws immediately after they manifest. If they’ve crossed the line—used hateful language about you or another member of your group, or made violent threats—calling that behavior out in the moment might be necessary. In other instances, a more strategic line of action is to wait until everyone’s calmed down—maybe between games or a day later on Discord. People can come to the conversation with fresh eyes, and it’s likely your friend be more open to what you have to say when their heart rate is down.
If this is someone you know in real life and their behavior isn’t on the extreme end of things, you might offer to help them with the behavior. You can lean on your existing relationship to frame your conversation as something you want to address together so that you can keep being friends. Remember that communicating clearly is more likely to get you what you need, even though it may feel scary to be so straightforward with a friend. Don’t write a manifesto about why they suck. Just succinctly point out the behavior and explain how it makes you feel. Say you’re open to chatting about it more if you, in fact, are, but also be firm that you’re not open to debating the merits of racist memes or creepy flirting.
Here’s an example: “Hey buddy, I wanted to talk to you about something a little awkward. Last night’s game got me thinking—I’ve noticed that whenever you lose, you get really upset. It sucks to see you upset because I care about you and I don’t want you to feel that way. It also can stress me out a little when you flame teammates or yell into the mic. I’m just trying to have fun, so I’d love if we could talk about ways to handle your temper.”
If it’s someone you don’t know in real life, approaching them about an issue can be trickier. We don’t always share the same values as people we meet randomly online. In a lot of ways, that’s a beautiful thing because it means we befriend people we might have overlooked at the local pub. In other ways, you don’t have a lot of context for why someone behaves the way they do.
If their behavior is something that’s straight-up unacceptable to you, you should tell them clearly to cut it out. Here’s an example of how to broach that: “Hey buddy, let me know when you have a moment to talk about something a little sensitive. . . I’ve noticed that whenever there’s a woman on our team, you kind of single them out and hit on them, like last night when you did [specific example]. I get that you want to have fun, but I’m not really down with that. It just feels kind of creepy. Would you mind keeping it to yourself?”
Aside from differing values, when people game online, they often detach themselves from the standards they’re expected to live by in daily life. People don’t always consider what they’re saying when there are no repercussions for their behavior. That’s not an excuse. But it can help you strategize on how to talk to them once you’ve decided you’re fed up. It’s not your job to educate people on what good and bad behavior is. But sometimes online, people might not understand how they’re coming off.
Here’s an example: “I appreciate your sense of humor, but sometimes, I feel like you take it a little far. Yesterday, you thought it was funny to spam /all chat with all of the lyrics to “Hey Mamma” by The Black Eyed Peas. That was a little annoying for me. I’m hoping you could tone it down on the shitposts because it’s kind of distracting.”
Hopefully your conversation will go well, and they’ll change their behavior. If it doesn’t end well, you have a few options:
You gave them a chance, maybe many chances, but nothing sticks. Leave. Leave the Discord group. Leave the Linkshell or guild. Stop responding to their texts. Unfriend and block them on Battle.net. Switch servers. Fade into the darkness.
It will sting for a little bit. You might feel a ping of sadness. You’ll miss having that buddy to rank Marvel movies with or queueing up with the one person who actually supplements your tanking. Most of the time, that stinging feeling won’t last. Other people will replace them in your life. In a year, you’ll be like, Sorry, who?
You don’t owe anyone an explanation of why you’re leaving if you felt strong enough in the first place to go. Empathy is a bitch, though. You’d feel bad, confused, and worried if someone you gamed with every night just dropped off the face of the earth.
It’s hard to leave a goodbye message. A lot of people just lie and say they got busy with school, a new relationship, or general life stuff. I’m not going to suggest lying, but it is certainly the easy way out. The alternative is to write a message like this to your Discord group:
“Hey, I’m sorry to say this, but I’ll be moving on from here. Wishing you all the best.”
Or to a specific person:
“Hey, I’m sorry to say this, but I’m not sure it’s a good idea for us to game together anymore. I let you know what was up and nothing changed. Wishing you the best.”
Sometimes a person’s behavior isn’t just damaging to you but to others, too. If that’s the case, you can leave a message like this before going:
“Hey, sorry to say, but I’m moving on from the guild. I’m not okay with the way you guys talk about [X] and this just isn’t for me.”
This isn’t as sneaky as it sounds. If there’s a rift in your group—some people are cool with edgy memes while you and others aren’t—then it’s okay to communicate with people who agree with you about branching off. “Hey all, I know this sounds really harsh, but a lot of us in here aren’t and haven’t been okay with [X]. We tried to sort it out, but we’re at an impasse. The best way forward for us is to start our own group. Feel free to contact me over there and thanks for understanding.”
Some people who decide to stay in the original group might view this as undermining. That’s okay, though. You and others can rebuild a more positive gaming community together. Once you do that, set some ground rules so things don’t get out of hand again.
Have you ever had to break up with an online gaming buddy? Share how you did it in the comments.