It takes a lot to genuinely piss me off. I might get jokingly angry, but it’s usually to amuse my friends. But there is one thing that sometimes sets me off like a short-fuse dynamite stick: video games. 

I play video games in my spare time to relax and to escape the problems of everyday life — like the assignment I should be writing right now instead of writing this article. But occasionally, I’ll play a match of Halo: The Master Chief Collection and lose my mind. Either I get killed more times than I can count, or I have a teammate with the mental acuity of a half-starved, feral ocelot that has been hit over the head one too many times. No matter the reason, sometimes I just lose it when I play video games. 

Now, I understand what you might be thinking if you have gotten to this point: “Why the hell doesn’t this guy do [an] anger management [program] or just stop playing?” My answer to that question is that I think it runs deeper than any personal emotional states. The problem is video game design itself. 

Poor game design, especially among competitive games, is causing a severe wave of toxicity within the gaming community. On a platform based on competition, toxicity has always existed; however, now more than ever, that toxicity is ruining an otherwise relaxing hobby. 

No angels in Halo Infinite 

The game design of Halo Infinite is one of the most recent iterations of poor game design leading to toxicity. Now, Halo is easily one of my favourite military sci-fi franchises of all time, but its latest iteration has caused me immense frustration. The game developers decided that in order to foster a sense of competitiveness, they would modify the weapons used in the game so that all weapons would function more or less equally — barring the rocket launcher and energy sword. This means that I can use a dinky little pistol to easily take down a character with a machine gun. 

Due to this balancing, a game series that I once found relaxing became a sweatfest interspersed with curse words that would make a sailor blush. More importantly, such balancing issues create a sense of mean spiritedness that fosters toxic environments based on skill. Sometimes at the end of the day, I want to come home to a game that I don’t have to sink hundreds of frustrating hours into to get good. While I’m not insulting people who like games where mastery takes a long period of time, sometimes that mastery creates an air of superiority that neglects the fact that some people play to just relax. 

Counter Strike: Global Offensive is offensive game design 

Hell, the toxicity of another game, Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), a competitive online shooter, spawned an ill-fated venture known as Bully Hunters. This group was created by FCB Chicago, an advertising agency based in the United States. Bully Hunters was self-described as an elite squad of female gamers who you could get in touch with to handle a harasser specifically in CS:GO. 

However, the group received severe backlash with some accusing them of making problems worse by antagonizing trolls when players should ignore them. This, compounded with the troubling history of one of the hosts — who used a homophobic slur — helped contribute to the first and only stream of Bully Hunters getting shut down after its brief life. 

Bully Hunters is just one example of the toxicity that results from poor game design. CS:GO itself, from what I hear from my peers and from the cursing-filled videos I’ve seen, is a game mired in toxicity due to its design elements that heighten stakes and thus promote winning at any cost, like having only one life per round to kill your teammates, it’s no wonder that such a toxic atmosphere surrounds the game. The environment that the game fosters from its design in turn infects the player. 

Battery half-full: Positive game design 

Game design can also positively affect a game community, like in Deep Rock Galactic (DRG). Now, CS:GO and DRG are two different beasts, but both show how design can affect the player community. 

In DRG, players are encouraged to support each other fully. Each of the four classes serves a specific purpose that helps to foster a sense of comradery that gets each of the players through a mission. As in CS:GO, there is friendly fire, but you can take a perk that decreases damage dealt by teammates which helps to cut down on trolling. Moreover, you can emote and let out a cry of “Rock and Stone!” which is the main catchphrase of the game. Doing so often elicits a similar response from players, which helps in creating a sense of community. 

Both games attempt to create an atmosphere of fun but, in my opinion, DRG does so more successfully. While it is fundamentally a different beast in being a cooperative game instead of a competitive one, DRG’s design makes it inherently a less toxic game than CS:GO. Games like the original Overwatch — that was a blend of competitive and cooperative — were still riddled with game design issues that made it supremely frustrating. The system of role queue, for example, made it so that even if you were a really good damage dealer, you would have to play multiple matches as either a support or tank before you could put your skills to use, which led to people screaming that you were crap at the game, largely because you weren’t able to play the role you were good at.

Creating these positive spaces in games, like in DRG, should be the new normal, as it can cut back on the toxicity that modern video games have started to create. By doing that, we can make sure that an otherwise relaxing hobby isn’t turned into a rage fest.