Insults vs Insights: how toxic talk hurts the video game community

Trash talk and competition

When I was a young gamer, playing console games with the kids on my block, I remember we would play games against each other and talk trash. It was all in good fun and we would tease each other for an especially poor match.  In the match results for Goldeneye 007 multiplayer, I was often the recipient of the much lamented “Most Cowardly” award, after spending the match hiding behind a wall of well placed proximity mines, too afraid to venture out of my corner and face our friend Chris’ legendary Oddjob killing sprees.

It was a matter of competition so naturally, with prides on the line, we made a habit of busting each other’s chops for using cheap strategies or tactics to win unfairly, and boasted every time we had a minor victory.  We were all out to be the best, and if you were the worst, like I often was, you were just trying to entertain your friends or depose the best player through sheer luck, as I discussed in my article Off the top ropes: always playing the underdog and only winning by an upset.

Insightful discussion

However, I had one interaction with an older friend, my pal Gordon, which changed the way I thought to talk about video games.  While we all had Nintendo 64s, Gordon was one of the few kids who also had a Playstation. He told me about the experience of playing Final Fantasy VII, how rich the narrative was, the amazing world he was exploring, the deep mechanical systems of a turn based strategy game.  He showed me that games could be about so much more than jumping from platform to platform, that they could be serious, meaningful experiences, but more importantly, that we as gamers could take the experiences seriously and discuss them with intellect.

Insight met with insults

As I grew up, I found solace among my real gamer friends, but soon began to see that when those gamers moved online and gained anonymity, they had a tendency to run hot and lash out at other players.  This was troubling, because the same friends I would dive into deep discussions of gameplay and the meaning behind choices with, seemed to devolve into internet trolls the moment they got online.

Suffice it to say, we are all now well aware of cyberbullying and the existence of trolling on the internet, it happens everywhere. Yet the place it has seemed to have a significant foothold in has been in the discussion of video games.

For this very reason I was never interested in interacting with the gaming community, since it seemed to be a toxic place for people to spout what they believed was right, with fervent anger spewed at anyone who disagreed.  With this toxic environment in place it seemed that an insightful response to an insightful opinion wasn’t welcome, or worse yet, irrelevant to the dialogue since once people started arguing and insulting each other that’s all they seemed to want to do.

I recently watched a video on youtube by content creator VinylicPumaGaming, who took on the challenging question of whether or not the Minutemen in Fallout 4, the faction universally accepted as the “good guy” faction, was actually evil or at the very least bad for the Commonwealth, Fallout 4 Theory: Are The Commonwealth Minutemen Evil Villains? #PumaTheories

After discussing his research and evidence, he postulates that the direction the faction is headed at the end of the game; the establishing of artillery weapons, unrivaled power, and the faction’s history; infighting among the leadership, desertion and rebellion, indicate that they could be headed for ruin, and worse yet an all out civil war for the Commonwealth.

One of the top comments with the most responses on this insightful analysis of the game’s expansive backstory reads as such:

“Holy crap what is it with you and retarded theories about bethesda games? All of your arguments in the video are nonsense.”

Instead of entering the dialogue with a recognition of his fellow gamer’s take on the game world, this person decides that his opening statement should be a disparaging rejection of the gamer’s views entirely.

A great explanation of the issue as I see it

What Vinylic Puma is trying to do with his video is open a dialogue about what is presumed to be true about the Fallout 4 universe. Instead, he is met with an unwillingness to discuss the topic, and a desire to end the “argument”. This troubling behavior is what makes the study of games difficult.  

I applaud Vinylic Puma and content creators and gamers like him, who wish to study games and their worlds beyond the moments of epic gameplay and good / bad binaries. I believe for the gaming community to move forward we must dig deeper, study our games closer, and come together in our love of what games can be.  We can disagree on what we believe games mean and how they play out, but we must understand that the person on the other end of the discussion is another gamer, just like us, with the same passion and love for games we have.

Do you enjoy discussing games with your friends? Have you ever been teased for the games you play or your playstyle? Do you ever wish the gaming community wanted to get deeper in their discussion of a game than just surface elements? Do you believe that the gaming community will be able to mature enough to have an open and respectful discussion about the medium one day? I welcome discussion on this topic, if you liked this article or have something to share, please leave a comment below or write in to

Andrew Mantilla is a ludologist and video game journalist for Play Professor.  You can check out more of his content on FacebookTwitterInstagramand Youtube.


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