Anyone who plays a lot of online multiplayer knows that shared voice chat can be a dangerous place. Quite simply, gamers can be jerks. As a result, players have a habit of muting everyone as soon as they enter a team room or shared lobby, but that makes teamwork a lot more difficult in games like Call of Duty, Counter-Strike, or Halo. It doesn’t take more than a few games with headphones on to recognize the strength of games like Hearthstone or Splatoon that deny players in-game chat options.
Although we all know that loud, rude, and obnoxious oponents are one of the hazards of competitive mulitplayer, it’s hard to identify the exact reason why players feel the need to lash out verbally against other players, especially teammates. It’s easy to boil it down to immaturity or lack of social skills, but a recent study published on PLOS ONE attempts to get to some more specific answers…
The study was specifically interested in whether or not female gamers are treated worse than males by other players, but also why that is the case. The study took place in 2014 and used Halo 3 as its main source of information. After recording data based on over 160 matches (which is obviously far from an all-encompassing sample size), there was enough information to provide some interesting findings.
“The number of negative statements uttered by the focal player was positively correlated with the number of times they died with female-voiced teammates generally receiving more negative statements until approximately 15 deaths, after which male-voiced teammate received more negative statements. In contrast, focal players made more negative statements towards female-voiced teammates and decreased the number of negative comments the better they performed (i.e. with a greater number of kills).”
In short, the data showed that male players’ treatment of female players has more to do with their own performance than with the females’. The worse that a male is playing, the more likely he is to act out verbally against a female teammate. This data is particularly interesting because it counters a typical explanation for verbal outbursts, which is that the victim of the verbal attack is holding the team back. Of all the verbal outbursts against the female-voiced test subject, 13% were considered hostile sexism, while the rest were insulting in a more general way.
As players might expect, the inverse turned out to be true as well. As a player’s skill level (high number of kills and low number of deaths) increased, the player was less likely to act out verbally against other teammates, including female-voiced players. Although this isn’t a concrete answer as to why some players attack their own teammates verbally, the researchers posit that there is an evolutionary explanation for the low-ranking male players to act out against the female players.
“Low-status and low-performing males have the most to lose as a consequence of the hierarchical reconfiguration due to the entry of a competitive woman. As men often rely on aggression to maintain their dominant social status, the increase in hostility towards a woman by lower-status males may be an attempt to disregard a female’s performance and suppress her disturbance on the hierarchy to retain their social rank. This idea is reinforced by the fact that higher-skilled males that should not feel threatened by a female increased their number of positive comments.”
Like any study about video games and human behavior, there are plenty of other logical reasons for the described behavior, as well. Whether players think the outbursts are linked to sexism or not, it’s a safe bet that what we all want is a friendly, more fun competitive gaming environment. It’s possible that the move away from voice chat and towards map clicking and pinging (like in Heroes of the Storm) may be part of the solution, but in fast paced first-person shooters, voice chat will always be the most effective way to speak to teammates.
Why do you think some players act out against other players verbally? Do you usually mute your teammates or try to suffer through it for the sake of collaboration? Let us know in the comments.