Space for Rent:Ownership, Tribalism and Toxic Gamers


Tweet of the Day: When Your Favorite Writer is an Asshole


Or a Step too Far….

Lets backtrack for a second. Earlier this week an interview titled, “We Need Toxic Players, According to Orcs Must Die Developer“, popped up on The Escapist.  In it the developer was quoted thus:

“Haters gonna hate,” says Orcs Must Die developer, “There’s probably something good about the toxic players showing up and sticking with your game.”(bolded in the original piece)

He went on to say:

“You need those people there. They’re driving the game. They’re giving it longevity. They’re giving it passion. And when they find something about your game that they love, they defend it to the death. Those are the same people that can go to bat for you.”

Later the company sent links to a page clarifying their position on so called Toxic Gamers/Players:

Before we get started, let us be crystal clear – toxic players that worsen the experience for the Orcs Must Die! Unchained community absolutely will not be tolerated. Earlier today a headline suggested that Robot Entertainment welcomes toxic players in Orcs Must Die! Unchained. In the full interview, we acknowledged that toxic players are an unfortunate facet of multiplayer gaming. We made clear that we want to hear from all players no matter how passionate they may be. Passionate but not toxic. We have an active community management team in place that will address toxic players quickly and decisively.

A good response as far as it goes. They will not accept toxic players, full stop.

Good for them.

However, toxic players exists not only in MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) style games which by definition are highly competitive, but in all manner of shared online spaces, on and off a specific game. But what attracts or brings about this type of behavior? The simple or should I say simplistic answer is that these are highly competitive games and that the endless stream of gender-phobic, racist and bigoted language thrown around is just trash talk.


It is more than just trash talk or at least it is talk designed to make people feel like trash, unwanted, and easily disposable. It is about ownership of the space and the sense of tribalism that comes with it. To wit, many a toxic player displays toxic behavior to a) mark their territory (in the online space) and b)to push away those who are not, “true,” players, those that don’t belong in a given space. That is why the bulk of the toxicity is racial, phobic, and bigoted. It is exclusionary language designed to delineate who is and who isn’t a member of the tribe. All of which creates a sense of ownership about the product and the space within it. It is far easier to define yourself in opposition to other rather than define what makes you stand out. The toxic player is often what I term a (self)Identifier someone who creates an identity around an object, ideology or hobby. The more exclusive the identity, the better they feel.

But why would anyone tolerate such people? Because fans equal consumers. The more invested the fans are the more likely they will buy, donate, watch, and play. The fans are the buyers. And in the world of so called Free-to-Play, where the basic game is offered for free but add-ons (clothing, weapons, abilities, etc) are offered at cost only 10% to 30%(link, link) of players actually pay any real money for in-game purchases. Guess who those people are? Those invested, emotionally and financially in a game are more likely to justify that investment. Someone else is less likely to go out of their way to defend the space since they simply lack the same level of investment. And as the creator of the game you might be willing to sacrifice your ownership of the space for the revenue.

But in the end it is a path that offers diminishing returns. Nor is it limited to games. Books, TV, movies, religions and politics, anywhere where identity and space mix has the same problem. Far too often the content creator loses or willingly gives up any sense of ownership for the meager returns of a few devoted followers or they are driven away by the attitudes displayed their in. While people are entitled to their opinions once toxicity levels are allowed (or encouraged) to rise, the space becomes a slippery slope into a poisonous cesspool from which very few escape.

2 comments on “Space for Rent:Ownership, Tribalism and Toxic Gamers

  1. Food for thought. Good post!


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