Welcome back, everyone!
In the last article of this two-part mini-series, we spoke to Two-Way’s SparkleCat and learnt how Two-Way got started and their views on the online gaming space.
Two-Way’s other co-founder, HayzTee, has also kindly agreed to speak with us, answer a few questions and share with us their experiences with bad behaviour in online gaming. Let’s dive in.
In case you missed the first article, I will quickly explain what Two-Way is.
Two-Way are a collective of gamers and streamers that aim to tackle abuse in online gaming by creating a network of like-minded gamers and streamers to play with, watch, and interact with. They are currently centred around the Two-Way Discord server.
Two-Way's motto is 'PACE' - Positive Attitude Changes Everything, and this is at the heart of everything they do.
I highly recommend watching the video below before reading further, since it will explain what Two-Way is in more detail. I also highly recommend reading the previous article, where we cover Two-Way’s six core principles and their associated mascots.
Two-Way Introduction Video
NB - I wrote the script for the video, but I wasn’t involved in its production or its narration - Nomad still has a voice for print 😉
Video by Two Way Official
The Interview: HayzTee
Nomad's Reviews: What was the inspiration behind Two-Way?
HayzTee: For me, my personal inspiration behind my input into Two-Way stemmed from the idea that there is always another way, other than just accepting the fact that toxicity exists and feeling unable to do anything about it. The knowledge that mental health, stressors and major life events can gradually set even the kindest people onto the slippery slope of becoming a more toxic version of themselves. I wanted to be a part of (and help create) something that tries to change the way in which we engage with, look at, and understand toxic behaviour, how it can be prevented, and inform others that it's never too late for anyone to change.
Nomad's Reviews: How prevalent is the behaviour you are seeking to tackle, and are there any specific games or genres that are more affected by it than most?
HayzTee: Online multiplayer games are a prominent source of toxic behaviour. Especially any that have survival/competitive aspects. I have noticed that in games where there is a competitive rank/status at stake, people can get rather angry and toxic if their games do not go well. They can often verbally lash out at others on their team. It seems to me though, that people revert to this because they see everyone else revert to it. As time goes on, you even see newer players being subjected to abuse in-game as soon as they start playing, and then engaging in verbal abuse towards others in-game themselves. A good year or so ago, you would often find little bubbles of kindness within the new player bracket, before you levelled up enough to be matched with higher players more often. Now, you tend to see more people being hyper-critical and toxic towards others and playing "blame games" even at the lowest levels and ranks. I also found the same issues commonly within survival games, such as Ark, Rust and The Isle. They all have components of either building up a base through grinding out certain in-game resources and tech trees, or they risk a great amount of time and effort being ripped from under them during a quick fight. Where there is a great risk of game progress, titles, or assets lost, it quickly can turn from a friendly duel/fight/battle into a game of who can be the most verbally malicious. I think when we have a lot of our own work and progress at stake, it is easier to get mad and to forget that there are people on the other end of that other screen, and that sportsmanship is possible... Due to the time people invest in such games, whether it is survival, competitive or just general multiplayer genres such as FPS, toxic behaviour often comes alongside a great loss in-game, whether that is competitive rank, a dent to their stats, a lot of resources and time, or a base they have spent a long time building. I have found that toxicity isn't typically as bad in non-competitive multiplayer games. Sadly, this is starting to change, and it is now not uncommon to encounter it multiple times within a session for a lot of games outside of the survival and competitive genres. If you take Among Us as an example, it originally started as such a fun, chilled game where you'd either be working with the crew as a crewman to find the imposter, or you would be trying to outsmart the crew and go unnoticed until you won as the imposter. People would joke together and no one would have any hard feelings. It was a nice breather from the competitive feel of other games, the pressure that those brought, and the horrible verbal and text encounters with other players. Among Us has now become more like the games we used to use Among Us to escape from, in terms of how players engage with one another. Currently, in Among Us, players can often be seen to be quick to throw around insults, get mad at other players, and try to make others leave - especially those who don't play it the way that they (the abusers) want it to be played... or people who are just generally trying to upset others because they (the abusers) didn't win. Some will go mad at others because they didn't get the imposter, or they did get the imposter but the crew won because the crew played it smart. What used to be a game where people didn't get so mad, and a game which, in the grand scheme of things, you don't have anything to lose if you should lose a game, has now become the victim of the same problem we see everywhere else. In Among Us you don't lose progress, you don't lose competitive rank, nor do you have resources to lose. Yet still, because it has the element of "win" or "lose", "succeed" or "fail", people turn it into a bigger deal, because somehow, due to the climate of gaming, if you fail or don't win then you're "Not good" or "Not good enough".
It is also possible that residual feelings of being picked on for falling short elsewhere and being punished by other gamers can have the knock-on impact of those same feelings being brought up in future losses... which creates a vicious cycle. When we are hard on ourselves, we are harder on others. If nothing we do is enough to meet our own standards, then no one else can meet those either. When we are taught, via verbal abuse in gaming, that we are never enough, and that any slip-up warrants abuse... it creates an unhealthy relationship with gaming and other gamers, and a very unhealthy mindset.
I feel too that those who are on the receiving end of toxicity are more likely to end up engaging in toxic behaviour themselves than those who are not, especially so in some game genres, where it's become normalised and expected by this point. People are more shocked to see someone be genuinely nice to others in chat. After a while, everyone seems to just take the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" attitude, and end up dishing out back what people dish out to them.
Nomad's Reviews: Conversely, are there any games and communities that are largely unaffected by it?
HayzTee: Some genres seem to be less affected, often those that enable a player-base to interact in only a community-like manner. For example, Planet Zoo is a game which is primarily single-player. However, it does have an online animal auction and community challenges that everyone must work together to fulfil to gain the rewards.
There are some FPS games which appear to have a largely supportive and friendly player base, such as Squad. During my and my brother's time on that game, we found it was very new-player friendly and often people would jump to help you out as well as be more forgiving of your rookie mistakes. Which, for the FPS genre, is not the norm to encounter. In games where you only have Co-op options and you are not competing against one another - e.g, Warframe, The Hunter: Call of the Wild, Don't Starve Together, Dauntless, and the Borderlands series - toxicity is far less common, and it's because everyone's working together towards a mutual goal. No one is risking losing everything if someone is struggling to keep up. There's no blame game to start with one another. It's easy-breezy teamwork vibes for the most part. Granted there are exceptions, as with anything. But, generally, purely Co-op games where everyone's working towards a common goal are better should you wish to avoid most of the toxicity within gaming.
Nomad's Reviews: What have your experiences of online gaming been like?
HayzTee: Mine has been rather mixed. I have found some games where I love the game itself, but the player base ends up being toxic and verbally aggressive. Within some, such as The Isle, you find servers or communities which are not that bad and may pleasantly surprise you, but the community as a whole can be horrible to one another. With FPS games, in particular, I have found it has been very mixed. There are weird but nice periods of time where I will encounter other positive-minded folks who end up being equally shocked to meet me - i.e., someone else trying to be as friendly as possible, just like them. Yet still, it's extremely common to come across more negative people who like to insult anyone around them at the first chance they get. It makes me a bit sad, in some ways, that gaming and team-based games - Overwatch, for example - have become such a pit of toxicity with people who would rather spend a game typing nasty remarks to others than actually trying to play and help win the match. I love to game, it has been a hobby of mine ever since I can remember, but over the years it seems that as a whole, people are allowing their anger and frustration to get the better of them more than they used to, and seem to be quite happy to take it out on others. Even when I'm aware that it's them projecting the anger of their day out onto me, it doesn't make it any less horrible to encounter. We all game to escape day-to-day stressors and struggles, so it is a shame to come online to a barrage of abuse and end up feeling in a worse place than you did to begin with. Sometimes now, I have to avoid certain game genres, e.g. FPS like Overwatch, if I've had a bad day and I’m not mentally able to "brush off" the abuse that is bound to pop up within the first few matches. I recall playing Unreal Tournament 99 as a child and enjoying shooting the enemy team with the yellow gun that was like a shotgun mixed with some little blob of nastiness. Occasionally I would be laughing my little head off whilst I used the "Burn b***h!" taunt among the rest. It was also just as hilarious to receive it. But that was an in-game taunt line, and was all in jest, even despite it being seemingly aggressive.
Now though, people stray from good-humoured in-game sassy lines and taunts, and veer towards comments that are personal attacks.
If I could have a pound for every time someone told me they have "f'd" my mum, called me an awful swear (e.g the C-word), or told me to kill myself, I could probably be living a comfortable life of luxury now.
These types of comments are not UT99's or Moira from Overwatch's sassy voice lines. They are personal attacks meant to cause some form of emotional response. They aren't a trademark taunt from a fictional character in a fictional universe, they are personal attacks aimed to upset, hurt, and anger, or provoke a reaction out of me. I can laugh at any in-game voice line - so long as it isn’t spammed, as that's just infuriating to listen to, lol - but listening to personal attacks on myself, that's not so easy to just laugh off. I hope someday, I can enjoy more friendly and fun matches and days of gaming with others, without being called lots of horrible names. It seems like people have forgotten why we, as people, game in the first place. Which is, first and foremost, to have fun. Any victories or in-game goals met along the way should be a bonus, and not the primary reason to pick up a game again. If you are not having fun, then you are doing something wrong and likely need a little break from that game. I myself take regular breaks from games I play more frequently when I feel that I am bored of or frustrated with that game. Then I resume it once I feel I am ready to thoroughly enjoy it again. I feel that if I was to take out my frustrations on others, just because others do so to me, it would only add to the existing problem and give others the same issue that I have with those games. Just because I'm not having fun, or because my day has been bad, or because I'm experiencing a horrific life event... that doesn't mean I should make others feel that same way. That doesn't fix my problems, or anyone else's, it only adds to them.
Nomad's Reviews: What aspects of online gaming are you most concerned about and why?
HayzTee: Since gaming isn't just for adults, I am concerned that children and teenagers are also encountering such horrible behaviour, and as a consequence, are picking up that behaviour over time and having it normalised for them.
I have gamed since I was a child, and I do recall during my FPS multiplayer Call of Duty years that I would - even as a young teen - receive hate and horrible things in voice-chat or private messages on Xbox Live. It got to the point where for years I just didn't check my messages on Xbox Live, and opted for no vocal communications in games. The truth of it is, now more than ever, young people are encountering this behaviour and it is being normalized to them. This isn't what I want for our future generations of young gamers, nor would I want us to have to stop the teens from gaming to safeguard them from others' toxicity, since that doesn't fix the problem. If all we do is hide the youth from the problem, rather than try to find a solution to the problem, it just enables the bad people. Encountering these types of toxic people on the regular can affect and negatively impact an adult's mental health, so I cannot begin to imagine what it could do to children and teenagers who have already likely experienced enough abuse at school.
I think the better alternative would be to try to combat the toxicity, whilst also trying to encourage and promote positive behaviour. Since, after all, putting a band-aid on a broken bone will not fix anything. If no one does anything, no change will ever come about.
Nomad's Reviews: If you could change one aspect of online gaming, what would it be?
HayzTee: I would like people to be more considerate of others and hold back their tongues when they are emotional or angry.
It would be easy to say "For developers to put their foot down and tackle toxicity", but we all know that most games have a report feature already, and this does not seem to be enough.
I think in general, we all need to try to learn to be kinder when we are around other people, no matter what environment it is or what's at stake.
That said, if developers could implement more ways to encourage positive behaviour, whether it is a way of rewarding people who do not get reported, or adding harsher penalties for bad behaviour in games, I think that could help over time encourage more sportsmanship like behaviour.
Nomad's Reviews: Can you offer any advice for prospective online players about how to avoid these issues, or how they should deal with them should they encounter them?
HayzTee: If you encounter people who are being nasty during in-game chats, my advice is to mute them if possible and not get too tied up in interacting with them. I often try to end matches with "good going, well played!" to leave it on a good note. Though generally, I advise you to not interact much with them if you can help it as it is often wasted breath when people are already tense and angry. Sometimes - when spoken to - people can realise that they were projecting their anger surrounding external things onto you, and apologise, but it isn't a one-line fits-all solution. If in doubt, try to steer away from engaging with them. Though sometimes I will express to them that "It's okay to be having a bad day and to be angry, but it's never okay to be cruel. I hope the rest of your day is better for you." But again, it isn't one-line fits-all, and in some situations, this can lead to more abuse than before, usually if they are in a group with other angry people. Other times people realise that they were projecting onto you, and apologise, then stay quieter when angry for the rest of the match. In all honesty, it's hard to predict which response you will get. If they say anything that can be reported, I advise you to report them via the in-game report systems. These do help, even if they do not always result in a punishment. Just think of it as lots of bad points next to someone's name in class. The teacher will watch them more and eventually they will get a big punishment when the bad things persist. To avoid it? I advise finding others who are good influences and positive people to be around, then trying to game with them when possible. Besides that, look into reviews on games to see which games people have complained about having a nasty and toxic player-base, and those which they haven’t. This can help you avoid some games where it might be more difficult to escape from and is far more prevalent.
See if the game has an "avoid" feature for specific players. For example, Overwatch has this. You can only avoid a certain amount of players per day, but if someone keeps ending up in your games, it is worth using it when matchmaking puts you with them often.
Another way to avoid it is to find the more wholesome communities surrounding the game. It is one way that I have found some of my good gaming friends, and they definitely make games more enjoyable even if others are not always so nice to be matched up with or against.
Nomad's Reviews: Do female gamers face additional challenges when playing online, and if so, what are they and what should they do if they encounter them?
HayzTee: In my opinion, they do. As a female gamer, I have often experienced more insults when I have spoken in games than my male friends. Granted there are the harmless "OMG is a girl!" comments, which, I guess being the minority where gender is concerned in gaming, is bound to happen. But, what I do mean is the insults because of being a girl, no matter how well or bad you play. For example, if you win and do well, and have spoken in VC (Voice Chat) and thus revealed you are female, people will call you a cheat and insist that someone else is playing the game whilst you speak, because "Girls cannot be good at games". If you lose or don't do well, you often get mocked for being a girl and for anything you say. Other times, you get overly sexual remarks, comments and questions from others in the lobby, which can make gaming a very uncomfortable experience, especially when they refuse to stop and worsen the behaviour when confronted. A lot of times in the past, when given a choice in-game for character creation, I have chosen males and refused to speak in Voice Chats, because that way, my gameplay is easier and disrupted less by men who wish to insult, ridicule or keep repeating sex-themed insults and remarks my way.
Recently, I have occasionally been putting my mic on in-game for games such as Overwatch to see if it is as bad as it used to be, and at times it can. I find today more than ever that female gamers are slowly increasing in numbers again, but, despite us being less uncommon or rare to come by, it doesn't seem to, as a whole, reduce the negativity other gamers show us. I hope someday female gamers can be viewed and treated the same way as male gamers are, especially by male gamers. I also hope female gamers will be treated with respect, rather than being sexualized and told they're less than the males.
Granted, not every male gamer treats us this way. Though, I do not see them treating each other the way that they treat us, even those who do treat us this way. If you wouldn't give other males random sexual remarks and advances, or see that as appropriate, then why would you think it would be okay to do the same to a female? Heck, I bet guys would be confused if female gamers randomly chucked out sexual insults and remarks to them, gobsmacked even. Yet, why is it so normal to dish it out to us? Why is this acceptable and a "Joke"?
Girls do not play games to get male attention. We play games to enjoy the games, make friends, and have a jolly good time. It would be nice if people could remember that when they encounter the "rare female gamer". It's in quotation marks because we really aren't all that rare anymore. If you encounter issues due to being a female gamer specifically, there isn't much I can recommend besides reporting the people who are being horrible, toxic or vulgar. My other advice would be to always do what you are comfortable with, and not let others put you down or make you want to stop gaming. You have just as much right to game as anyone else, you can be just as good at games as males, and you can still climb in rank even if you are female. Just because you are female, it does not mean you don't have a place in the gaming world. If anything, we need more of us! Not everyone is horrible, so if you persist you will find some great gaming friends, who see you as more than just a "gamer girl", and who really do value having you around. It can just sometimes be more difficult to find when you are on games such as COD, where a lot of the toxicity to female gamers can occur. It took a while, but now I have my own little community of gaming friends, with every gender within it, and none of us could be happier to be there. None of us women should have to deal with horrid stuff, nor should anyone else. If it wasn't for the communities I'm in I don't think I'd have made so many wonderful friends, nor would I likely be as social when gaming as I currently am. I just wish that I didn't have to search for (and sometimes create) good communities just to escape from the issues that revolve around being a female gamer and what that can bring.
Nomad's Reviews: Some people might say that talking trash has been a part of online gaming since the beginning - even the bots in Unreal Tournament bad mouth the players and each other - and that players upset by this just need to ‘man up’, ‘grow a thicker skin’ or ‘go play something else’. What would you say to people espousing such views?
HayzTee: I touched on this in response to the question regarding gaming experiences. Though, what I would say is that the intent behind it and how it occurs is what is important.
If it’s an in-game voice-line, others know it’s part of the game itself, is in a jestful manner, and is part of a character's persona. But, if it’s an insult made by another player that is a personal or directed attack, then for me, that is when the line gets drawn. I can find humour in Moira or Zarya's sassy but rude voice lines in Overwatch, as it is a part of their character, and part of that character's personality. I find it quite amusing to hear them, even if someone does time their sassy voice line so that it is dissing a teammate when I screw up. It is different from having people aim verbal attacks at you, which can often be a lot less funny or jokey than the in-game voice lines, e.g. being told you are rubbish, that you should stop playing the game and give up, telling you to kill/harm yourself, telling you that they "f**K*d" your mum, etc. Using Unreal Tournament as an example, I found their taunts hilarious as a child, and probably somewhat spammed them when I was on winning streaks as others did, but it was funny and it never felt personal. And, even back then - when we could give out taunts that would say "burn B***h!" in the text channels - you would seldom see anyone spurting out anything nasty. Usually, people would be pretty sportsmanlike even despite the rude taunt lines. Now, you often see the opposite. People deciding to target teammates throughout entire games, spurting out "I'll F your mum", "you're a c**t!", "get good", "you should stop gaming entirely", "go kill yourself", "You should have been aborted" etc. These are most definitely not taunts in good jest. These are most definitely not friendly in-game exchanges and are not meant in a humorous manner. And, even should they be supposedly for "humour", I would argue that if you found humour in telling people to kill themselves, harm themselves, that they should have been aborted or telling people to quit gaming, get good etc... then you are probably a part of the problem and could do with some self-reflection. Why should we stop playing a game, or grow a thicker skin, when no one enjoys being on the receiving end of insults? Anyone can laugh at an in-game voice line. But, I don't think many people enjoy receiving abusive messages in a game they are trying to enjoy, from teammates or the enemy team alike. It might be funny to your friends, but verbally abusing others isn't okay, or funny. And I don't think anyone enjoys being verbally abused by others.
We all have "inside jokes" with friends, heck, I and all my friends call each other "stinky" in jest. It’s become the little joke "insult" that is actually a form of endearment for us. But, to the outside world, it might look like we're trying to be horrible. There's a difference between me calling a friend in my friend group who consents to this inside joke of ours "stinky", and then going and calling random people stinky. It's not the best example, I know. Though on a similar note, friends might poke fun at each other's shortcomings in games and laugh about it. That doesn't then mean that, outside of the friend group, people will appreciate it, or find it funny to be on the receiving end of it all. Know your audience, and keep the potentially harmful or hurtful jokes and "joke insults" within your inner circle where you know where everyone's boundaries lie. It is easy to find toxic behaviour funny at times if you are not on the receiving end of it. But it is extremely hard to find it funny at all when you are receiving abuse in a place you go to, with the primary aim to have fun. If you get irritated at the "ggez" comments, people commanding you to switch your character to suit them, people calling you horrible names, telling you to "get good", and insulting you or your family members... why would it then be acceptable to do the same to others? If you wouldn't say the things you are thinking, to people you look up to and respect, it might be a good idea to not say them at all to others, just to be on the safe side. The match will soon be over, it'll be a new game with a different lobby of players. What does it matter what hero people play, or how "good" they are doing? In 10-15 minutes, you can start fresh and attempt yet again, to defeat the enemy team and come out victorious, though hopefully in a friendly manner.
I would like to thank HayzTee for her answers and honesty. I must admit, since I rarely play online anymore, I hadn’t realised abuse in online gaming had gotten this bad. It is saddening that it has reached this sorry state of affairs, but gladdening that organisations such as Two-Way are leading the charge to tackle it head-on.
And with that, we conclude this two-part interview miniseries with Two-Way. I have it on good authority that plans are afoot to grow the organisation and offer additional services in the future. Rest assured, Nomad’s Reviews will keep you up to date with developments as they happen.
So, what are your thoughts? Have your experiences mirrored those of HayzTee? Have you been on the receiving end of online abuse? Or have you been an abuser yourself and want to change your ways? If so, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.
If you would like to get in touch anomalously feel free to send me an email or direct message - absolute discretion is assured. Alternatively, reach out to Two-Way via their Discord or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Helx Universe website: https://helx.two-way.eu/
Safe In Our World: https://discord.com/invite/SAFERTOGETHER
Iain is a 40+ author and gamer from England, who started his gaming journey on the Atari 2600 36(ish) years ago. His specialities include obscure cult classics, retro games, mods and fan remakes. He hates all sports games and is allergic to online multiplayer. Since he is British, his body is about 60% tea. He can be reached via email at email@example.com
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