How far is too far when it comes to gaming trash talk? And how do you go about confronting a friend, or a stranger, for some seriously uncool comments in chat? On this week’s episode of Kotaku Splitscreen, we brought in Kotaku senior reporter and trash talk aficionado Cecilia D’Anastasio to discuss gaming etiquette.
First, Kirk and I talk about games we’re playing; I’ve been playing Madden NFL 20's new Franchise mode, and Kirk beat Dishonored: Death of the Outsider. He also started up Fire Emblem: Three Houses and Wolfenstein: Youngblood, and I’m still playing Outer Wilds, now with the benefit of a brand new gaming monitor. After that rundown, we bring in Cecilia (35:06) to discuss her article “For Men Who Hate Talking On The Phone, Games Keep Friendships Alive,” and then get her thoughts on gaming etiquette. We close out with off-topic discussion (1:11:32) about our respective Veronica Mars rewatches and Kirk’s music pick of the week.
Get the MP3 here, or read an excerpt below.
Cecilia: I think it’s really important, first and foremost, to remember that you are gaming socially in order for everybody to have fun. If you are trash talking anybody, it’s only to wrap narrative and drama around the situation and increase the fun and canonize a moment. If you’re playing a cooperative game, I think trash talking is almost uniformly a really bad idea. I think it clouds the mood, it can just make people feel needlessly antagonistic, and also it can make you play worse...
Maddy: I would definitely agree about trash talk from your own teammates, unless they’re your best friends and it’s an ongoing joke that you have—that’s the only scenario I can even imagine where that would work out.
Cecilia: Even then!
Maddy: Even then, it’s really rough. Because you’re all supposed to be working together on something. Trash talk should be reserved for people who you are competing with.
Kirk: I’ve found sometimes in competitive Destiny, which I don’t play a ton, but there can be some good trash talk where you’re trash talking the other people who you are not in chat with, to the people that you are in chat with. And you’re like, “Ha ha ha, I just wrecked that guy! I got him back for you!” Like, after he killed you.
This is just a broader thought that I thought of earlier: It can be really healthy when somebody just gets you, even if you’re not in chat with them, to marvel at how well they just owned you. It’s sort of like what you were saying earlier Cecilia, with your Overwatch group, like “Oh, you totally wrecked me. Wow, nicely played.” It can actually be helpful just to be like, “Holy cow, that guy is amazing,” even if it’s a guy on the other team who is crushing you and your teammates, to just marvel at someone’s skill.
Also, I just want to highlight that you said “canonize a moment,” and I think that’s a really cool concept that I’ve never heard before. When a group of friends are like, “that amazing thing happened!” And everyone celebrates it and points out that it happened in order to make it a thing that you then refer to in your group canon. That’s a cool concept.
Cecilia: Yeah, like if you’re playing Mario Party and you steal three stars from someone, you know? You can comment on that.
Kirk: It can be the infamous moment when so-and-so stole the three stars from so-and-so.
Cecilia: That’s a thing to hype up, and your friend might remember that in 10 years, like for example, at your wedding, when they’re giving a speech in front of your whole family...
Kirk: Just as a totally random for-instance.
Cecilia: While insisting they’re not mad!
Kirk: One other thing I wanted to ask about that I think is interesting, or at least something that’s come up for me from time to time and that I know various people that I’ve played games with would probably appreciate advice on, or at least to hear what you think about it. So when you’re in a chat—this is like, what do you do? You’re in a chat with a group of friends and also some people who you don’t really know. There’s people you know, and people you don’t know—a couple of strangers, maybe, who’ve come in who are like friends of friends. And someone says something shitty—maybe something sexist, something kinda racist. Or they’re just using the word “bitch” over and over again. That’s a good example. Or they make a rape comment or something. Something that is the kind of chat that happens. It definitely happens more in groups of old dudes, or at least that kind of thing does. This comes up sometimes in groups that I’m in, and I’ve got a few thoughts on how to handle that kind of thing, but I’m sort of curious if either of you have any thoughts—or if Cecilia, if you’ve put any thought into this, given that you’ve been thinking about etiquette in general.
Cecilia: Yeah, this is a really hard question and something that I’ve had a lot of experience with, especially if I’m playing an online shooter. It’s pretty often that someone will make a comment that, if they made that comment to me in person or if they were speaking that way in person, I’d be like, “That’s fucked up. Don’t talk like that.” But if it’s online, and you’re just in a mood to have fun, it can be really stressful—the notion of calling someone out, I guess is the term, for something they’re saying. There are a lot of instances where someone will call female Overwatch characters weird sexist terms, which is really weird. I wrote a blog about this a couple years ago when I quit Overwatch briefly after a series of harassing incidents I had. I wrote a blog basically just about how important it is to stand up for people who are being harassed or are around language that might hurt their feelings, or that they might be sensitive to. I think that generally it can cause conflict if you’re the person offended by something and you are standing up for yourself. I think that’s a great bar to hit, but it’s really high in the gaming context, and I think that the ideal situation a lot of the time is if someone else who doesn’t have as much of a stake in it as you do steps in and is like, “Hey dude, we don’t talk like that.” Ideally, privately.
Kirk: The private thing is big, right? Usually, when it’s come up in Destiny chat with people I don’t really know, it’s not like they’re attacking someone or they’re saying something about a group or a person in the group that they don’t know may be feeling hurt, or like I would be actually standing up for someone who is standing right next to me. It’s more generalized. The kind of thing you’re saying—that’s a great example, saying weird sexual stuff about female characters over and over again in a weird way that I can tell is making people uncomfortable. You don’t know what to say. The private thing, I’ve found anyway, when it’s a friend of a friend I think my approach has generally been to go to the friend who knows that person, offline, through text, and be like, “Hey, that dude you brought in wasn’t cool.”
Maddy: You guys are so much more polite than me, is what this conversation is teaching me. I do not do this!
Kirk: Do you go for it in chat?
Cecilia: What do you do? Tell us!!
Maddy: [Laughs.] In the moment, I just go ahead and say something. You guys are all like, “I really carefully weigh my options.” That’s probably the better idea. But I just can’t help it. I’m just that person. If somebody’s saying some shit, I’m just like, “What are you doing?” Or I’ll gently mock them and be like, “What are you even saying? That’s not even funny. Like, who are you?”
Cecilia: In real life?
Maddy: Like online, on mic or whatever. But it’s also usually, if I’m playing a multiplayer game online, I’m usually with friends who I know will back me up, which is a luxury. If I’m not with friends, I will admit I don’t do that. If I’m by myself and the entire group is strangers and a stranger is being a dick, I’ll probably just leave the game or I’ll sit it out and block that person. If I’m with at least one other friend, I’ll be like, “we can take this guy.” I’m gonna go ahead and say something. And I have also been known to get into stupid fights at parties with friends of friends who say some shit that I think is bigoted. I will admit I can, at times, be an impolite party guest if somebody says something bigoted.
Cecilia: No, but that’s legit. It’s good to stand up for yourself. I think sometimes I get caught up about whether my friend is gonna have a really bad time if I say something. I’m not saying that’s the best way to feel—
Maddy: I’m not even saying I’m doing it well or correctly, and the fact that I have this personality is, at times, a problem for me and possibly my friends.
Kirk: Well, there’s no one solution for this, right? There’s no one piece of advice that will work for a situation. There have definitely been times where you want to say something, and there are times where escalating a confrontation in front of everybody would actually be really stressful and mess up the vibe or bum people out.
Maddy: For sure, yeah.
Cecilia: My approach to this definitely stems from a lot of cynicism around how people are going to respond to getting called out. My experience of this is, 100 percent of the time that I call out a friend of a friend over an online game, they’ve just blown up and raged and made a huge thing about it. I’m not always trying to deal with that after a nine-hour work day.
Kirk: And it’s all about the thing they said. There have been times when I’ll be playing with a younger player, and definitely with friends like you were just describing, Maddy, where I know there are people that I know really well and we’ve talked and they get it. And then someone will say something kind of messed up, like they’ll be talking about “bitches” or “kill that bitch” or something like that. That can be a really good opportunity to super gently turn it into a teachable moment, which is possible if you’re in the right circumstance. It’s definitely a case-by-case thing.
Maddy: It’s also a personality thing. I totally get that not everybody is that person. Some people are me. Some people would rather DM the person after the fact and be like, “Hey, that wasn’t cool.” I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to approach that. I will say that I think that not ever saying anything is not great and leads to long-held resentments in your gaming group, where you’re like, “There’s this guy that we all can’t stand.” Maybe it’s not a guy—this person we all can’t stand, and they say things that we hate, and we’re just not going to say anything. Don’t let it get to that point. You can approach it in a few different ways, but definitely find some way to talk to the person, because they might not even know you feel that way, and I feel like it’s more respectful to them to at least get over that hurdle somehow. Tap your bravest friend and be like, “Somebody’s gotta talk to this person and make sure that they know they’re making us uncomfortable.” And then, what happens after that—who knows?
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