TL; DR: This post is looking for new ideas for game designers to pre-emptively reduce toxicity in-game, not reasons toxicity won’t change, or why you don’t want it to change. Be willing to be imperfect with your proposal – “perfect is the enemy of the good.”
I play a couple competitive multiplayer games regularly, and only one I know of has actually implemented a few strategies that, in my hours-played experience, reduced toxicity. The other competitive games I play have honestly stayed as enduring cesspools.
Rocket League, for instance, has no report function for “racist” player names, which I see often. Leaving a match, throwing, even saying you’re doing as much in chat, is rife in-game, with seemingly little-to-no consequences. And while I get that Counter-Strike is a meme for its community, I have actually seen questionably legal images as player icons, and wild amounts of racism in that game.
Frankly: none of this should be acceptable, and most players, barring trolls, would actually enjoy an environment without the hostility, harrasment, and griefing.
So, here’s my two out of-the-box ideas. Feel free to criticize, or just discuss your own.
1) In games that require coordinated teamwork, I think competitive queues should accept, even institute, some form or means of offering legit criticism. I’ve actually had better players tell me to do something different in-game or after a match, because I wasn’t good enough in my role, and some of those pieces of advice have improved my playstyle. If someone is being toxic in the feedback (e.g. racist, threatening violence, harassment, rage), then that’s dealt with via a report system, or even directly.
I think the idea that competitive queues shouldn’t involve negative feedback is a bit coddled. Playing on any competitive sports team IRL creates a real pressure to not let your teammates down, and I think that is missing from competitive multiplayer video games.
2) It receives a lot of criticism, but "The Broken Window" theory is something I think a lot about in gaming. To really simplify it, if an environment appears destitute it is more likely to “attract” criminal behavior. In this regard, I think that game lobbies, splash screens, loading screens, player select screens, even in-game environments could be better designed to facilitate amicability amongst the players.
For example: I never fail to notice in Overwatch matches on Busan maps that if my teammates are messing around together with the karaoke set-up or the DDR mini-game, they are more likely to be friendly. I think basically anything design-wise that fosters friendly feedback loops into toxic multiplayer environments could be a game-changer.
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