Inclusivity has become a buzzword for many that when used will often create presuppositions towards the writer in a fairly large audience immediately, regardless of whether they are familiar with who wrote it. The word has become a particular worry within the gaming community. A recent article from Matthew Ballinger over at PC Authority wrote about inclusivity in gaming for people new to games and gaming, but shed it in an exceedingly negative light.
Matthew spends much of his article describing his experience with Dota 2. He notes that he often plays his favorite hero, Bane, in a way outside the role Bane is designed to be played to be the most effective for the entire team, and is often chided for doing so. The italicized part is not something Matthew addresses in his article, but the clarification is a necessary one.
He fails to acknowledge that Dota 2 is a competitive, team-based, multiplayer game. His choice to play as he wants, outside of that hero’s role it was designed to play best, has a fairly good chance of affecting others’ enjoyment of the game. Is Matthew wrong for playing the way he finds most enjoyable? No. But he should not be surprised when others get annoyed at him for affecting the way they play the game. His choice of hero may affect someone else’s choice of hero, who is likely basing that decision partly on the assumption that Matthew would be playing Bane in the assumed role. Not doing so messes up team composition, which can lead to less synergy, which makes it harder to work as a team, which makes strategizing a lot more difficult, which makes the team rely on individual skill, which …
As you can see, his choice to play that way has a near certainty to affect someone else’s enjoyment of the game.
He says he receives these comments regardless of whether or not he is successful playing his way or if the team is successful. That doesn’t tell you all that much. Is the team successful because he is successful? Is he successful by himself but leaving the team behind? Did the rest of the team alter their play and hero choice to try to strategize around Matthew’s choice to play the way he is, thus causing success or failure?
People calling Matthew a “scrub” or questioning his way of play, offering better solutions, is just how some voice their annoyance. Imagine playing basketball and someone insisted on shooting the ball every time they had it and only used hook shots. That’s the way they get the most enjoyment when they play, and sometimes they are really successful and the group ends up winning. I think we can all see how that could become annoying.
What Matthew experiences in his time with Dota 2 is just what he would experience in any other setting involving competition. Michael Jordan is fairly well-known for having been a pretty ruthless trash talker, listen to any of Mike Tyson’s interviews when he was boxing, or take a look at any sport out there for particularly vocal players. To be fair, they usually trash talk their opponents, but what do you think they do with teammates that don’t play that well? They just don’t play with them anymore—they get kicked off the team, let go, whatever. Unfortunately, for something like Dota 2 with matchmaking, gamers don’t have the luxury, unless playing with friends, to choose their teammates. They’re largely stuck with who they were matched up with and just have to deal with it. If they leave or abandon the game due to a player affecting their enjoyment of said game, they’re punished. So, they have little recourse but to stick it out and, in Dota 2‘s case, probably waste at a minimum 30 minutes.
So not only can Matthew’s choice to play his way affect the enjoyment others have with the game, but it wastes their time as well. I’ll repeat it again: Realizing that, how can anyone be surprised that they may get some comments from players criticizing the way they are playing, being annoyed with them or anything else, when their choice of play can have this sort of negative effect on others?
There are already systems in place that will make people new to games, and those that just play how they want like Matthew, to have more fun. Many games have different modes, some sort of ranking system so you play people of your skill level, and more. People will still vent their frustrations—maybe because of you and maybe because of themselves—and I’d encourage people receiving said ire to treat it like constructive criticism. What can I learn to do better? Or just ignore them because you’re playing the way you want to.
Another significant thing that gamers don’t have with their teammates is context. Unless they haven’t played with you before, they don’t know how skilled you are at a game, how experienced, how knowledgeable, etc. They can only go off what you’re doing. So those that send messages out of annoyance are reacting in one of two ways. They either see you playing a different way and assume you don’t know better, thus believing they have some dead weight they’ll have to carry through the game, or they’ll be annoyed that you are intentionally playing a character in a subpar way, which can affect the success of the team—success often translates to people’s enjoyment of said game. The latter is the more likely case with Matthew, as he said in the article he announces his chosen way of playing at the beginning of a game.
The final thing to address is the argument that all of what I just wrote above is irrelevant because it only really explained why there is a toxic community, not refuting the existence of one. In Matthew’s particular case, and to anyone out there that has competed in any team-based competitive thing before, how you act and play directly affects how people will then react to you—this is true in all life really. If it is just you, or certain people, receiving these messages all the time, maybe it has something to do with that and not the fact that the community is toxic. Maybe how you play, and possibly converse, with others is abrasive to a good chunk of the gaming community. I’m not sure, the only times I’ve been treated similarly is due to all the reasons I listed above.
To me, Matthew is just asking the wrong questions and approaching this incorrectly. Nowhere did he insert himself into the equation as a variable. He was asking about whether the community was inherently bad rather than trying to figure out why he may have received certain reactions from the individuals themselves. The sole way he could truly answer the question of the community’s toxicity is through testing himself as a variable in many different ways. So this opining offers little more than to reveal some presuppositions Matthew may have about the community. He makes the mistake of conflating his own experience, and that of a few others, to the community at large.
Gamers aren’t toxic; Matthew just simultaneously experienced both competition and how one’s actions can affect an interdependent group all at once. His experience is not something unique to the gaming community. Any setting, any game, anywhere that puts people in similar relationships as what happen in Dota 2 will be the same in how people react. How well you compete, how well you help the group, and how you conduct yourself will make up the vast majority of reactions you receive from those you’re playing with.
In the end, this has all just been a discussion of human nature with a gaming veneer.