A Cup of Toxic Skill, Please

By Sacharrine on Sep 19, 2017

We’re unfortunately entering a marvelous age of technological wonder. Last time, it was considered a miracle, a godsend even, when you did your shopping online and then a month or so later, the product arrived at the door. It was cheaper too. Now though? If you live in Germany, you could soon get your online bought goodies droned in, like in Cowboy Bebop. GPS? Old hat. Your car not only has it built in but it can now drive itself to work, with or without you. It can make calls too, probably to let your boss know that the car has arrived but not the driver. Even currency is being affected, as you’ve probably seen from the billions of bitcoin ads telling you what a sucker you were for not signing on as soon as it appeared. The scarier bit is probably AI and how it will automate the jobs of not only Blue Collar Worker Joe but Office Worker Willy as well. This is along with the fact that we shall no longer have to do any work because we will have UBI… which actually isn’t a potato, it stands for Universal Basic Income. That is fancy talk for a dole system more or less. You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this since this is a games news website and not a political commentary section. Actually, it is related because the automation thing has extended to games itself. So now, you can sit down with your phone and actually not have to do the hard work of tapping on the screen anymore, because the phone game will automatically do even that for you. I’m sure that some of you out there already have such games on your phone and have already blitzed past millions and billions of levels by the time you read this.

Now, you can probably understand where I’m going when I say ‘unfortunately’. What is the point of getting a game that you’re never going to get the chance to actually play? Definitely not a chance in hell especially not when an AI is doing all the work for you and making all the choices for you. Doesn’t really seem to make much sense, does it? What birthed this tirade this time you might wonder? Funny story actually. It begins with a game with skill. Sort of.

I was actually logging onto Rainbow 6 Siege the other day when a buddy of mine sent me a message over Facebook with something along the lines of: “Dude, read this. I don’t even-?!” The message came with a link to an article and then when I read it I went: “What even-?!” I’d just only read the title mind you. The title is spectacularly worded as: “Video Game Culture Needs to Stop Fetishizing Skill”. You can almost hear the exclamation mark at the end. Now, hold on. Surely there is a backstory to this backstory. Yes, actually.

Long story short, a now infamous for the wrong reason Dean Takahashi was recording his gameplay of Cuphead at Gamescom in Cologne. The game Cuphead is the now also infamously difficult side-scrolling shooter that seems to purposely lack certain ‘modern’ features such as enemies glowing when they are hit and has no boss health meter. The game is designed to be a sort of throwback to the good (or bad) old days of gaming. It seems to be doing it well enough. Mr. Takahashi’s involvement in this is his recording of his hilariously bad gameplay. It’s just… bad. Moreso, if you’re Mr. Takahashi because he not only has over 20 years worth of experience in the games journalism business, but he is also the lead writer for VentureBeat, who also reports on games news. Naturally, this leads people to think he’d have a bit of game sense or skill. Evidently, either he lacked the skill or practice and seeing as it was literally his first attempt at the game, one might actually consider forgiving him. But, welcome to the internet, where whatever bad thing that happens to you, is forever archived away and criticized destructively to no end. The real mistake here for Takahashi seems to be not going with his gut feeling and not uploading the video to Youtube which would definitely have saved him a lot of heartaches. But we’re going off topic. The interesting part of the whole fiasco was the ‘unexpected’ backlash of sorts Takahashi got but not quite for his gameplay.

 Image credit to : Studio MDHR
Image credit to : Studio MDHR

No, Mr. Takahashi, you didn’t commit a crime in gaming, but you did show a degree of unmistakeable incompetence as a games critic. As I said before, this is the internet and by rather willingly uploading the video and hoping for the best, you’ve instead exposed your rear for a perhaps, well-deserved arse kicking. While I’ve no doubt that some of the people you’re being subjected to are indeed trolls, I think there is definitely also something to say about Takahashi’s overall understanding of Cuphead and its basic mechanics. However, I’ll have to save that for another time because we’re talking about toxic players in general. Because while Takahashi is in no way innocent, he does bring up an interesting issue. Just to be clear, Takahashi’s bad gameplay is fine, it’s actually more of him not understanding the games he plays, which then affects how he would write about the games. This is sort of exactly why I’ll have to save that for another time because there’s a whole lot more to this saga than one would initially think. To also quickly respond to Paste Magazine’s article: no, you don’t need to be brilliant at playing games, but in order to actually give a good and reasonably objective view, like a good critic should, you do need to be able to understand the concepts being shown to you, which… Takahashi, whatever said and done in his video and initial first look article, didn’t seem to be able to grasp.

However, back to the point that both Takahashi and the recent article on Paste Magazine seem to be suggesting: toxic players. You know the toxic, salty players you’ve likely seen if you’ve ever played Overwatch, Paladins and especially Dota style MOBAs. The ones who yell ‘NOOOOOB!’, verbally eviscerate first time playing teammates for failing to do something useful and grumble about ‘Trash’ or ‘Noob team’ whenever they lose, instead of looking at themselves? Yeah, those…

The Paste Magazine article is a short one about how people value skill over all else and which then let it cloud their judgment on things and people. The writer also laments that because of this issue, game development has been tainted by this need to place an unnecessarily large amount of emphasis on skill. This is the part that made me read the article about 3 times.

Well, the writer Dante Douglas and I will probably disagree on what makes a good game or what makes a good game critic or even that the gene pool of game development is being tainted by some players placing skill above all else, but he is entirely spot on when he says skill ‘fetishization’ (I had no idea that word even exists) is a thing. This skill fetishization or toxic player problem isn’t exactly a new phenomenon, but it is perhaps and most likely, being made worse now that e-Sports is a thing. You need to understand that in this climate of streaming, kill video montages and competitive gaming, skill is in fact so utterly in demand it becomes some gamers’ only concern. Obviously, this isn’t right due to the fact it is breeding overly competitive cry baby players who then proceed to throw their weight about and whine whenever they lose.

Ok, so to play devil’s advocate, let’s consider the argument of removing skill altogether from games. This is the real reason I was thinking about self-playing games because that would entirely remove both skill and players from the equation. Or perhaps you would just somehow create a game that requires an extremely low skill bar. Would that fix the problem? No, it wouldn’t.

Throw skill out the window? Well, I’m sorry but I wanted to play a game, not watch a movie thank you kindly. A core foundation of any game is the development of certain skills. I might be talking out of my arse, but let’s use some examples. Strategy, RTS and RPG games help train up people’s organizational skills and long-term planning (or so they say). FPS games train up people’s reflexes. Even silly games like Candy Crush train people’s ability to spot patterns. Starcraft trains people to develop abnormally high APM… I suppose that’s a good thing for some reason. Anyway, you get the drift. Part of playing any game is the development of skill without which, you wouldn’t even have an e-Sports scene let alone the whopping millions of strong fans backing it up. Even Mr. Takahashi in a follow-up article’s non-apology section recognizes this. Nobody is born with perfect skills. They may have an aptitude but it is the willingness to continue on and to become better that makes people better at games.

That being said though, I can also understand where some of Takahashi’s detractors are actually coming from. If you go through Takahashi’s gameplay video, you’d notice that despite the helpful text boxes in the tutorial stage, it still took a good long while for him to put all the concepts the game was throwing at him together. I also went through this when I was reviewing Nefarious. Nefarious has a grenade jump mechanic that is difficult for some people to master and because of this, said people deride the game as unnecessarily hard. Which isn’t true, because I figured out how to grenade jump and so did my brother when I introduced the game to him. It took some time to be sure, but it isn’t undoable. I’ve no doubt that if Takahashi had a couple of weeks or months with Cuphead, he’d probably at least figure out Cuphead’s mechanics as well. Anyway, this still is an issue for gaming in general because evidently, toxic players don’t care whether or not you are new or don’t yet have an adequate skill level. All they care is that they’re losing and you’re crap at playing. This behavior, in turn, causes angst among players and ultimately, creates a rather bad gaming experience

Image credit to : Apotheosi @ deviantart
Image credit to : Apotheosi @ deviantart

Nobody likes being called trash, especially if it is coming from another piece of trash, you see. I probably won't need to go into detail about how people come to play a game to enjoy it rather than be constantly verbally abused for not being good enough. To game devs, toxic players can be a bigger problem because if there are more of them than the usual average gamer, you're probably going to see an exodus of players who've decided they don't need to get a daily dose of salt... probably why Blizzard is also clamping down on player behaviour as of late.

So, what can we do about this toxic player/skill fetishist problem? Simple. Foster a more caring game community. Actually, that’s a lot harder than just saying it, but we’ve to start somewhere I suppose. A good, healthy game should have players that help one another or at least are quiet enough to allow the noobs to fumble about without snickering too loudly. Game companies can’t actually do this. Game companies can try to curb some toxic players’ behavior through punishments and some other form of control, but ultimately, it will be up to the community and god help us if you decide to try and change the mindset of entire, heaping groups of people. So, here’s what we’ll do instead. You, the player, will be the change. Help your teammates or friends develop their skills, rather than break them down and call them trash. Part of the reason some game communities last for so long is this exact willingness to come in and help out newer players and in the process, help the community to grow and last. Along the way, you may lose some game matches. Losing games because of unskilled players is inevitable but it happens. It is perhaps very difficult for some, and more so with the more kiasu among us to lose with any grace but you’re playing a game. Losing is part of playing. Learn from it, get better, live happier. As someone told me, you need to suffer defeat sometimes to enjoy victory later. Also, in helping to create a better community you’ll get better value for your games when you're a community that is both active and helping one another. Maybe you might even be helped and get better at it yourself

Image credits to Dreeps
Image credits to Dreeps

As for the future of self-playing video games? So, far this looks mostly restricted to just phone games, which in itself is a bit weird because I’ve not yet heard of a dedicated gaming phone yet. I mention this because phone gaming, lucrative as it is, hasn’t yet quite developed the same fervour in hardcore PC or console gamers who have dedicated rigs and consoles with the assorted improvements for them. Sadly though, this trend seems to be growing with a number of games like Dreeps already existing. It’s a little worrying but then again, hopefully good sense prevails. I mean, I can’t think of a good reason the developer didn’t just up right go and fund an animated movie instead. Actually come to think of it, I haven’t yet heard anyone on the street go: “a game that plays itself, what a brilliant idea!” either.



About the Author
Part-time gamer, writer and artist. Full time kitten petter. If found, please feed potato chips.
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