Before I start, I do want to give a warning that there is some pretty heinous stream chat clips that have lots of transphobia. If that’s not something you can handle today, please be aware!
2019 has barely started but the Fighting Game Community never stops rolling. Both the Dragonball FighterZ World Tour and Genesis, one of the biggest Super Smash Bros. tournaments of the year, happened within a week of each other, and both were great watches for any fighting game fan. Genesis, in particular, had what will likely be one of the biggest upsets of the whole year when Magi, an up and coming Super Smash Bros. Melee player who recently cracked the top 100 on the Melee Global Rankings, upset Joseph “Mang0” Marquez, long considered amongst the very best SSBM players.
But the more we see new faces upset old legends, the more some terrible things stay the same.
During the DBFZ Last Chance Qualifier tournaments that took place before the grand finals, Dawn “Yohosie” Hosie, one of the better US-based DBFZ players, was up on stream several times in her attempts to qualify. Naturally, the chat was an absolute shitshow, and the only minor attempt at moderation was one mod coming in to scold a user for using too many images in a row. Progress?
The chat at Genesis was actually too lost in the hype during the set between Magi and Mang0 to be egregiously heinous, but a few gems slipped through:
Both Hosie and Magi are trans women (although Magi has a bit of a special case with regards to her identity) and usually get this response from the chat when they are on stream at a major event.
Women period, cis and trans alike, get this kind of rancorous reaction from a stream chat anytime they are visible on stream, whether it be as a member of the audience, commentating, playing, or just existing in a space. And the sad part is, everyone seems to know it’s a problem, but very few seem to want to take actual steps to combat it.
To be more specific, there seem to be two different camps that most people seem to fall into on the issue of dealing with stream chats or otherwise exclusively online bullying in the FGC:
- “Oh, stream chat is not the FGC. If you come out to events, you’ll see that all of us just want to play games, and the bad apples just stay online!”
- “Yeah, it’s a huge problem, but what are we supposed to do about it? If you’re going to play in public, you have to deal with this sort of thing from time to time, everyone does!”
Let’s break it down, starting with the first camp:
“Oh, stream chat is not the FGC. If you come out to events, you’ll see that all of us just want to play games, and the bad apples just stay online!”
This is probably the most common expression you see, and it’s usually meant as a positive statement encouraging people to not judge the FGC by what happens online, because that doesn’t count. Here’s SoCal FGC stalwart Alex Valle expressing as much:
The key point is always that it is not the FGC responsible for all the toxicity, it’s the dreaded online chat that can’t help but be toxic. If you go to events, you’ll find that everyone is friendly and just wants to play games, just like you! While that is a nice thought and may be comforting to hear, it’s ultimately a rather glib expression, because it ignores that the vast majority of the FGC does not compete offline.
I’ll repeat that, because I know a bunch of people just clicked out of the page: the majority of the FGC does not compete offline.
When you define a community, you have to look at the people who make up that community, and not just whatever is convenient for you. Noted museum curator and scholar Nina Simon feels that communities can be split into three different lens: geography, identity, and affinity. There’s a strong case to be made that the FGC could fit into both identity and affinity, depending on how you look at it. For some, it’s a lifelong fandom of video games combined with a freedom of expression that only fighting games can give, and for others it’s a fun hobby that they enjoy doing in their spare time, regardless of skill. Either way, both would fit the criteria for community.
As Simon writes, the strength or connectedness of the members is not ultimately the defining factor of the community, so much as the shared attribute, in this case fighting games. This would mean that anyone who buys and plays the game via netplay or participates in online discussion about the game would reasonably fit into that definition of community. Even as FGC tournaments are getting bigger and bigger, there’s way more people that fit into the online category than the offline.
While I agree that people who would enter a community only to cause harm to another don’t deserve to be part of the community, the reality is that, as Simon says (ha!), the community exists whether the bonds between its members are weak or strong. And that means, unfortunately, the FGC has to be real about the massive amount of jerks within its ranks. I highly doubt the stream chat, filled with tens of thousands of people though it is, is comprised of absolute randos who have no association with fighting games other than needing to get their daily harassment quota in. Stream chats are often filled with not just people deeply familiar with fighting games because they play them, but people who may even attend offline tournaments, too.
In the NRS scene, there’s a fella from the midwest who has gone by a few names, but most would probably recognize him as Limbodawg or FrightNightTV. This dude is the biggest hunk of shit online, going into any stream chat he can and just throwing out waves of harassment at players. At one point, he was even telling Ryan “SylverRye” Amaechi that Amaechi’s daughter should be embarrassed to have him as a father and that she would grow up to be a disappointment like him. Awful, awful stuff, but that dude attends tournaments! He goes to the Galloping Ghost Arcade local in Brookfield, IL and has attended majors before. Now the dude is an absolute coward and would never dare repeat any of that horseshit to someone’s face, but isn’t that ultimately the story of most of these online pricks?
Whether we want to admit it or not, a person like Limbodawg is not some rare exception. There are plenty of people that attend offline events who use online pseudonyms to say heinous shit online in the stream chat that they would never say offline. But when the FGC optimism industry comes to regulate, these stories are erased, now becoming “a few idiots,” as if it’s a real anomaly. There’s also this idea that if you beat them at the game they are now forever and eternally owned, which is such a weird thing to focus on. When most people talk about the stream chat, they are not talking about someone saying they’re bad at the game, it’s far worse than that. That doesn’t go away once the giant KO flashes across the screen.
A large majority of people who are taking baby steps to start attending tournaments do so online. Whether it be through being invited to a specific Discord chat, or trying to get online sessions going through Reddit and Twitter, or posting clips of them playing to YouTube, these are all inter-communal actions by people who would consider themselves part of the overall community. To act like whatever happens online just “isn’t the FGC” is ludicrous, and I think is a convenient way of brushing aside some of the absolute worst aspects of the community experience. After all, it’s easier to say “well, it’s not our problem,” if you don’t consider them part of the community.
I also have a scorching hot take about whether or not online harassers are part of the FGC: so what? Whether or not these assholes fit into some arbitrary definition you have in your head of what a community is, that doesn’t make the behavior any less unacceptable or hurtful to people. I’m sorry if it breaks the peace of mind or the positivity train, but I still hear way too many stories of people who can’t even enjoy watching a broadcast because of rampant toxicity in the stream chats and other online spaces. That is a problem worth addressing.
But of course, it first has to be seen as a problem, which leads me to the next most common defense of doing nothing:
“Yeah that sucks, but who doesn’t get harrassed? If you’re going to play in public, you have to deal with this sort of thing from time to time, everyone does! You can’t police the internet.”
I want to start by saying that I can…kind of understand the sentiment? I mean, it is a pretty tricky situation. Most of us have the privilege to be able to go to locals with our friends or play on stream at majors and only really have to deal with getting clowned about our skill in the game. I’m not saying that feels good or the stress of that doesn’t get to people, but a lot of people’s love for the game is able to overcome being told that they aren’t very good at it. From that viewpoint, these issues of the stream chat and online interactions may not seem like that big a deal.
What we have to keep in mind is that it’s one thing to be told you’re not very good at a fighting game after losing to a more skilled player, and it’s another thing entirely to be told that your identity is not valid, to get repeated comments about your appearance, to have your sexuality be the target of ridicule, or being told that you’re at a tournament for the express reason of providing sexual favors to strange men. These are deeply personal and hurtful comments that would cause someone to feel that the community outside of their immediate friends is both hostile and cruel to them. That is the kind of harassment that women and other marginalized groups frequently run into.
When you identify as a member of group that has been systematically depowered and disenfranchised, it’s very common to be gaslit into believing that you’re being too sensitive, or that it’s not that bad. As such, this gaslighting can cause many to develop things like anxiety, depression, etc. Believe it or not, even the “invisible” stream chat is enough to trigger those anxieties or that depression, because it is again a cruel reminder that no, your worst fears are often confirmed: you’re not valid, people hate you for the way you look, or that you don’t belong in the community. The idea that the simple solution to getting bullied online is to just unplug is ignorant of the fact that for many of these marginalized groups, being online is their solution. Look at someone like Magi, who can’t be out at home due to harsh rejection from her parents yet can live her identity online. Telling them to “just ignore it” means letting go of one of the only spaces they feel like they can be themselves, and that is just unbelievably cruel. Some folks, like Yohosie and Magi mentioned above, are often able to put on a brave face and ignore those rotten chats, but not everyone is, or should be expected to. Being inclusive means acknowledging that not all targets are equal, and that there are some groups that receive a disproportionate amount of harassment online and need the help of more powerful allies.
And yet somehow, this is never understood?
I don’t know whether it’s an incredible naiveté or just plain ignorance, but a lot of even prominent FGC folk seem to equate getting “blown up” (for the folks at home, this is often shorthand for losing a match real bad, getting popped off on, being told you’re not good, etc.) to “targeted and plentiful harassment about who I am as a person.” Even if you go back to my earlier examples, I don’t think either of those female players would be all too bothered by the comments saying that they’re not good or that the match is free. It stings, I’m sure, but like I said, a lot of people have enough passion for what they do to not let those kind of comments get them down.
It’s the other stuff that makes people not want to participate. I’ve written about it time and time again, but it bears repeating: just because harassment happens online doesn’t make it any less legitimate or hurtful. The Pew Research Center put out a study in 2017 that shows 35% of women polled found incidents of online harassment to be “extremely upsetting,” twice as much as men (16%). I don’t know how in 2019 we’re still having to debate the merits of whether or not online harassment is legitimate, but it’s almost impossible to have this discussion amongst not just the FGC, but any gaming community, without getting one of two responses. This:
Or you get some milquetoast, obfuscating response that talks about how “Everyone gets harassed online,” or that attending to these specific gendered issues means promoting one group over another, and now you’re the one who’s being unfair. Much like the tweet from AFoxyGrampa above, a lot of players seem to think that just because everyone gets harassed the playing field is totally level, and that the real problem is trying to coddle these specific types because it’s not…I don’t know, true to life, or something? Never mind that the age-old tactic of crying about inequality is a favorite strategy from dickheads to use against groups with a history of disenfranchisement and depowering, it’s just a complete misunderstanding of the issue.
Right now, the FGC (and, again, most gaming communities) seem to operate on a bizarre social contract: if you volunteer yourself to participate in this community, you have to accept the responsibility that you are going to get harassed. In other words, being an active member in the community means accepting a pre-existing notion that cis and trans women, LGBT-identifying folks, and others just have it worse, and that’s how it is. We can’t fix it, we can’t stop it, it’s just a way of life that you’ll have to get used to.
I’m not bothered by the people lamenting the difficulty in reigning in this kind of behavior, because it’s a legitimate, concerning issue. No, what bugs me the most is the refusal to acknowledge the problem and even try to get a handle on it or to question why participation is akin to consent to harassment. No one is really okay with the status quo, but even people with the power to do something seem to kinda just shrug their shoulders and go “Eh, what can you do?”
But as we have seen, there are some things people can do. One of the biggest FGC streamers is Victor “Spooky” Fontanez, and in 2018 he decided to turn his chat into a subscribers-only chat. What this means is that without paying a fee, you cannot actively participate in the chat. This was done as a means of tuning out a lot of the noise in chat, which comes from dirtbag users taking advantage of how easy it is to make a free Twitch account and start spamming the chat. Naturally, he got pushback:
If you look at some of the responses to this tweet, you’ll see some people accusing Fontanez of “selling out,” others of encroaching on the “freedom” they had to be in the chat, and some telling him that he was curbing the “excitement” that comes with spamming a million emotes during a particular moment. Keep in mind, this was for Sunday chat being sub-only; as Fontanez explained, he felt the stream chat was disproportionately worse on Sundays, so he started with that. Even someone like Victor, who has probably been streaming longer than anyone in the community, can’t escape the massive blowback.
Heavy moderation is something that will always get the shithead crowd fired up. Every time someone brings up that they want to moderate their chat more intensely, a ton of people will cry free speech and talk about how censored they are. These are crocodile tears, because no one is more censored by rampant hateful stream chats than the people being discriminated and hated on. Getting actively punished for spamming a pejorative used to refer to trans women is not waving a fascistic iron fist, it’s letting trans women, cis women, LGBT folks, etc. know that they have a right to exist in a space without receiving wave after wave of harassment from faceless randos. Shouldn’t that be more important than the impotent screaming of children on the internet?
Look, this is a hard undertaking. Trying to curb what is, at this point, decades of systemic issues that have contributed to women and marginalized groups receiving disproportionate amounts of hate online is like asking to rewind time. But I am not asking for the perfect solution right now, I’m asking for an attempt at finding empathy for these groups via enabling some practices that would seek to fight online harassment. Trust me, when you’ve got the stream at like 40k viewers and there’s not even enough time to blink before a whole swath of the chat goes by, I realize that plucking out targeted harassment isn’t really going to happen. Staffing would be an issue too, as streaming is, true to the saying, a blow-up, and having dedicated people who are just going to mod the chat may not be something in the budget or even possible. But the effort is worth it; the FGC may never know how many tourney attendees have been lost because of horrible online experiences like bad stream chats and other targeted harassment.
I love the FGC; it changed my life in a profound way, and it continues to do so to this day. I got to attend an exclusive event in LA that revealed Mortal Kombat 11 to the public for the first time because I was involved in fighting games. How cool is that!? Even still, I love the FGC so much that I feel like if no one wants to speak out about these very apparent problems, I will. You can disagree with me on the specifics, but to me, it is very hard to disagree with the one basic truth: the larger online gaming community is full of toxicity that is primarily done online through faceless, nameless avenues like stream chats, and that toxicity disproportionately falls on the heads of women, queer folk and PoC. It’s not an easy fight, it’s not even a clear fight, but it’s a fight that we need to engage in, because I don’t want anyone to miss out on the kind of experiences I’ve had due to the status quo’s refusal to change.