How Gaming Communities Become Toxic

Gaming communities are essentially little snapshots of life. You get your different personality types and behaviours. Often, the quirkiest personalities are those who have become very successful at gaming, and are well known for their skills. However, sometimes these communities can be incredibly toxic. This can lead to harm and stress for the other people in a gaming community. We thought we’d take a look at the problem and try and work out how a gaming community made up of like-minded individuals can turn into a deeply unpleasant space.


This thing happened about five years ago. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when it happened because there are more than a few conflicting reports around it. However, we’ll try and give you a rundown because it’s perhaps the most famous example of a toxic gaming community that very nearly caused devastating damage to the life of a gamer.

The gamergate community is now very much known as a toxic, horrible group of people. They actually play video games, or at least most of them do, but they are responsible for directing some very horrible and personal attacks against one of their own. This was a woman called Zoe Quinn. She is a game developer, but for some reason this online community decided that aspects of her sex life needed to be discussed online.

Back in 2013, Quinn tried to develop a text-based RPG called Depression Quest. It became famous, but online gamers decided to attack Quinn with messages meant to intimidate. It became so bad that Quinn abandoned her home and slept on friend’s sofas.

The rest

There are a few games that are now well known for having particularly toxic communities. The player base on these games is usually contaminated by toxic younger gamers, and while this isn’t always the case, this demographic is one that has caused a lot of problems.

Perhaps the best example of a young demographic causing trouble is the Call of Duty series. It’s ironic that children who shouldn’t play these games (due to age ratings) makeup such a  large segment of the player base. They do, and when they are on there they are not averse to calling out other players. Sometimes this takes the from of quite nasty verbal abuse, and it has even caused acts of violence in the real world.

Then there is Counter Strike, a huge game, and one that has an incredibly loyal fanbase. It’s hard to see why, though, when you note that some of the more skilled players on the game have a very toxic attitude to new players, or ‘noobs’.

It’s pretty common to see the noobs verbally bullied online. They are sometimes even kicked from games because they are new to the game, and not as skilled as the other players. It has been this way on Counter Strike for a number of years.

So why does it happen?

There is an obvious reason why it can happen. This isn’t the only reason but it’s a way in to understanding why toxicity seems to prevail in gaming.

Whichever way you look at it, it’s possible to be mean and offensive online without being caught. The Internet has given us many things, and one of those is anonymity. Of course, if you’re spreading hate against minorities, for example, you will get found out. But the majority of toxic people in gaming have a name online that is not their own. It’s an alias, and that’s why we have a problem.

This anonymity sometimes spreads around, building up whole communities of people. And when they’re angry too (and don’t forget they can get angry because of a high score that didn’t materialise) it can become very toxic, very quickly.

Then we have the way the situation is handled. On console games in particular, the moderators that should be in chat simply often aren’t, and this leads to people being left to their own devices. When a screaming kid is allowed to scream at people for even just a few minutes, no one is really there to notice until after the event.

It’s a tricky situation. Because games can be sold to anyone, you can’t vet people, and you certainly can’t expect them to pay due attention to age ratings. It’s just not going to happen. So that’s why we end up with gamers who are essentially haters, and just want to make everyone else feel bad. We doubt we’ll ever see gamergate again, but there will be a similarly toxic community coming up at some point in the future.

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