How do you deal with a toxic part of a community you love?


#1

This is a general question, but one I’ve been wrestling with for quite a while. I, like probably a lot of people, started following Waypoint since it started because two of the founders, Austin and Patrick, were Giant Bomb alumni. I loved their opinions and viewpoints and wanted to see more of their content. But even when they were on Giant Bomb, there was a population of people that didn’t appreciate or care for their points of view (which are unashamedly and vocally left of center and it’s great).

I don’t want to disparage the site or start a “they vs. us” type of debate, but there’s a certain population over on Giant Bomb that’s pretty garbage. They don’t care for any politics outside of videogames, hate confronting it when it inevitably rears its head in videogames (like with Palmer Lucky and that one cyberpunk game with the GG-apologist that disappeared from everybody’s minds), and actively hate on members of the crew. I noticed it little by little over the years, from people calling Austin or Patrick SJWs (like, big fucking woop dude), the usual “this is the state of gaming journalism folks”, and the worst example being “Ryan Davis would be ashamed.” I saw these kinds of posts infrequently and felt disgusted but tried to ignore it. It seemed like a small population.

Seeing Abby Russel’s #MeToo twitter post, and Danika’s as well, got me so fucking mad that my community, and premium members at that, had such awful people in it. Those finally tipped the fucking scale on my mad-meter that I don’t know if I even want to participate on Giant Bomb anymore. Giant Bomb already has a problem with being or at the very least projecting an aura of neutrality and centrism - that politics don’t matter or shouldn’t be included in the conversation because some people might be uncomfortable. I saw at least one person get mad at the site for their front page twitter feed because Ben tweeted something political, even though the feed is buried under tons of content you have to scroll down to see. And if you ever followed the GB crew on twitter, they make almost no effort to hide their political opinions anyways, it’s only ever it being on the site that’s apparently a problem.

So, what do you do in this situation? The Giant Bomb stuff is only a part of the problem, since I also have a friend crew that I’ve seen troubling signs in as well. I’m just so upset that I don’t know where to channel this anger.


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#2

I’m also struggling with the atmosphere over at Giant Bomb. To think that there are people who feel the same admiration for the work the GB crew does but who can say and think such horrible things is really troubling. One of the best strategies for maintaining a decent community is to make the nastier elements feel like they are unwelcome and the odd ones out. They will either actually leave or fall in line. I think this often works on the main site video comment threads, but the YouTube comments are the most hellish trash and any time there is a live chat, things often get pretty rough as well. (I don’t venture into the forums so I don’t know what it gets like in there)

Sometimes it feels like the current staff of Giant Bomb themselves don’t help much by staying so neutral in content, but I can avoid seeing most of this stuff and I still want to support them. I don’t really ever comment or talk to other members on the site, just the ones I know outside of it. I want to offer my support to you as well if it’s just to simply say “I feel you.”

I’m often engaging with the hip-hop community, a large portion of which is misogynistic and/or pretty hateful to LGBT+ folks. It’s getting a lot better all the time, but within fans of the music, there are some political issues that can be easily agreed upon and some that can’t. I loudly support the artists who either tackle this hate or are part of the groups it’s aimed at… but hip-hop is hard and sometimes I feel like I can only wait for the vocal haters to be outnumbered.

As for the friend group, this can be harder and easier. Harder because they’re people you know and have invested in, easier because you can potentially actually talk to them and have a chance to make them aware of their troubling behavior. Just recently, I have had an issue learning that one of the friends kind of orbiting around my circle is a repeat abuser and having to figure out how to disseminate that knowledge without causing harm to anyone.

And some people just won’t care, you know, and you might have to cut them off if it feels like you’re getting to the point where their views on things are hurting your relationship and they’re not listening to your perspective.

Someone with more experience with this might be able to better weigh in… but yeah, I would just say not to contribute more anger if you can help it and try to be the positive/teaching vocal opposition to these views as much as you can handle doing so. For example, the #MeToo movement will be all for naught if those who witness how many people have been affected by sexual harassment/abuse simply make posts about how shocked they are and stay silent, not changing anything in their social circles.


#3

It’s very unfortunate, but I feel like the current situation is 100% a result of the way Jeff chooses to run the site. (or perhaps CBSi has some say in the matter?) They had a good opportunity to orient their community in a positive direction when the initial frenzy of GG first flared up, but instead there was merely a tepid official response condoning harassment. They’ve since become a bit more forward about such issues, but the damage was done and their course was set. In the time since, a general complacency with the attitudes of their community has continued, and while I can recognize that their mods work hard to keep the official comments and live chat from being terrible it all feels “too little, too late”.

As a response I’ve personally scaled back my consumption of GB content dramatically. I’m only watching one or two videos a week, down from nearly everything they produced, both audio and video. As far as your friends go, I would suggest you avoid the example set by GB. Take a clear stance as early as possible, and make sure your friends know it. If some of them don’t want your company as a result, then that’s their loss and your gain. I’d wager that for many people these days, trending towards that sort of toxic behavior is more a result of social osmosis and lack of stronger liberal opinions closer in their lives.


#4

I’m seeing something similar happen on a PC hardware forum I’ve been involved in. There’s always been a bit of political/current affairs discussion on the site with a range of views but it was very civil and grounded in common sense. Lately though there’s been dudes cropping up posting alt right, 4chan, MRA, reddit kinda crap. There are a few older guys in this particular community who actually try and calmly engage these dudes and steer them in a better direction. I admire the effort to try and get through to these dudes but its something I couldn’t do myself. That shit makes my blood boil and the few bad eggs are turning me off the whole site. Walking away from a once awesome community seems like a bit of a cop out but I got better things to do with my time than engage with shitheads. Rather hang out with the fine folks on the Waypoint forum instead!


#5

I’m totally with you on the GB forums issue. I still enjoy the antics of the staff and watch the videos, but man is that community feeling more and more irrelevant by the day. I didn’t know it then, but it was a breath of fresh air when Austin left to form this site. It seems like everyone not shitty on GB came over here and the community has been great.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go read on GB how we should completely ignore orc enslavement because video games aren’t real. Because I hate myself apparently.


#6

I used to be part of a small videogame community a while back. It was an eclectic group of folks that ran the gamut from aggressive Evangelical Christians to loud, proud athiests. Some of the conversations could get heated, but there was always a mutual respect, and at the end of the day everyone could jump into a game together with no hard feelings.

Then a black man became the Democratic nominee for president, and a certain portion of it met this occurrence with thinly-veiled racism and increasingly deranged posts. I left the community when World Net Daily became a primary, infallible news source for a very vocal group of users (WND was basically a proto-Breitbart and a primary source of Birtherism “news”). I couldn’t spend 5 minutes on there without my blood boiling, so I removed most of them from my friends lists and quit the site. Sometimes you just have to move on.

I will say, in a quick defense of GB: I don’t spend a lot of time on the forums, but I think they at least somewhat learned their lesson from their tepid response to GG. They have been merciless to Palmer Luckey and PewDiePie. Vinny has gone pretty much full socialist. There have been times I checked the comments on an article expecting them to be a shitshow and actually found them to be very positive and supportive.

They don’t hit every hot button issue the way Waypoint does, but I also think WP’s (completely understandable) desire to tackle all this stuff leaves them very little time to talk about anything else. You certainly aren’t going to get a 45 minute discussion on emulators at Waypoint.


#7

A community has to want to be something before it can be. That comes from the moderation as well as community members but, as a whole, sometimes it’s just time to say that you can’t influence the pack and have to leave.

I think GB (especially East) is making some of the best stuff they’ve done recently. Abby’s contribution to that stuff has made a big difference (both technical skills and a new perspective for the group). But also, after having been vaguely around since Arrow Pointing Down and posting in the forums and with blogs there to get comments/feedback, the last few years it has been really tough to manage the centrism/“both sides” way the community is moderated and so what emerges. I just stopped posting/reading - the good community stuff isn’t worth dealing with the bad (and knowing that while moderators can privately comment that “ye, he’s on very thin ice” when you bring up harassment, they’ll not actually do anything about removing that element & will also go after people who push back). It made me think about what it is I actually want from an online community.

Last year I tried going back to a forum I’d been part of a decade+ ago and found it was much like how I remembered it (but I am no longer who I was around the turn of the millennium). Almost no overt moderation, the community very much defining the boundaries. As best I could work out, the regulars made sure to ostracise anyone not neurotypical within their first few posts (and were still celebrating someone they ran out as I was returning). While nominally Lefty, it had absolutely no actual anti-oppression core, which did exactly the same “both sides”/“debate is the highest form of discussion” collapse in the politics threads - no meat, only those who thrived on arguments surviving. I finally gave up on what value there was when I tried to discuss the more technical aspects and found exactly the same voices quick to find arguments there too. Posts on which I’ve got absolutely no concerns about the technical accuracy of (backed by an academic career of understanding of the topic) and so they’ve basically built a community that attacks facts as part of their system of “debate” (I “lost” that “debate” so AFAIK they all still believe GPUs don’t do floating-point calculations). Also correcting (the always assumed) male pronouns there got me nothing but some slightly creepy DMs/replies.

I think community management (and the wider topic: how we build entire societies) is infinitely hard. But also I’m less than interested in being involved in projects that do it badly. Recently I’ve been wondering, even in good communities like this one, how we deal with harm (theory around eg queer communities where PTSD means hypervigilance is common) and diversity (eg how rules that work well in general can fail people on the spectrum, enforcing isolation).


#8

There are a lot of folks who have their personal bullshit-limit set to zero already. So remember that when that zero-tolerance isn’t enforced in an online community or among your friends, a lot of folks have already noticed that they aren’t welcome, and have already left.


#9

I’m another person who’s followed GB since the Arrow Pointing Down days, watching pretty much every video, listening to pretty much every podcast. Despite that, I’ve hardly ever participated in the community. I might say something in the live chat every now and then, but that generally flies past way to fast to make any sense of, and I just don’t have the energy for sustained participation in large forums.

Until…

I encountered this whole thing twice independently, as it happens. First in the comment thread for the latest Bombcast, and again because a forum poll about it was promoted in the weekly community round up. I posted on both - I’m JamesM over there if anyone wants to critique my tepid responses (not to be confused with our own Waypoint JamesM, who is not me).

I think the thing I find most depressing is not that people disagree; it’s the apparent lack of intellectual curiosity. It’s that people condescendingly dismiss the idea that any of this matters out of hand. They sneer at the very idea, and by extension anyone who would entertain it. And that attitude is so pervasive that I find it hard to conceive of the situation improving any time soon.

What’s funny is I know someone who thinks the moderation team over there is draconian.


#10

They’re just video games. They actually don’t matter, hey have I told you how mature and important The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is yet

Not ragging on Witcher fans. I mostly like the games.


#11

After having multiple such experiences over the course of my online life… I wouldn’t say it’s quite at zero yet, if only because anxiety means I’d end up in a box, but I’m definitely much more inclined to consciously limit my community participation to a relatively shallow and uninvolved level, and be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

Unless they are extremely talented with community management or extremely charismatic, and also very 1) astronomically lucky or 2) willing to dedicate their heart’s blood to the reform of a community, a single participant without moderation power is pretty much not going to be able to turn the tide of toxicity. Blessings and strength to those who do undertake that task, but I myself am not a saint nor a martyr and I’m done wading into piranha tanks.


#12

All I’ve found is just move on and watch it implode. Toxic communities eventually will implode because there are always skeletons in the closet that eventually come out (Or in the case of Neogaf, the skeleton is hanging on the front lawn in plain sight for about five years now. Everyone just chooses to ignore it). If a community goes toxic. What can you do but just leave and try find a better one because the nature of hardcore gamers is they will never change. It’s not worth the anxiety or potential Doxxing for the wrong opinon (I had this happen to me, it didn’t help). It’s just an unwinnable battle.


#13

I strongly agree with @EdComment. You as an individual (or a group of like-minded individuals) can only do so much. If nothing else works, leaving is the best form of self-care. This extends to all form of communities on- and offline.

I’d like to share a personal story I’m still struggling with:
I’ve been playing Wheelchair-Rugby for the past ten years. Towards the end I even played a couple of games for the swiss national team. The first couple of years interacting with that community were hugely beneficial to me. I was able to overcome a lot of my social anxhiety and learned that my disability could also be a source of humor. I’m a stand up comedian now and it is safe to say, that I probably never would’ve become one, were it not for these people.

Over the last two years I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the various “-isms” in our society and realizing how those came to be and how they maintain themselves on systemic and personal levels was eye-opening and extremely validating. I started to notice more and more how many sexist, queerphobic and racist microaggressions they threw around, without a second thought. That’s when rugby slowly but surely started to feel like an obligation above all else. The community is very small in Switzerland. We have about 30 members and we struggle to accquire new ones. So I felt obligated to stay.

For a long time I didn’t want it to be true. Maybe I was just being oversensitive and needed to toughen up? That’s what they kept telling me. Turns out paralimpic sports can be just as drenched in toxic-masculinity, if not more so, than any other sport. Also these guys were my role-models for the longest time. The thought of still breaks my heart.

However, after I’ve gathered all my courage, I decided to leave. I was suprprised at how much more energy I had for the things I actually cared about. My ability to speak up and stand up for myself increased, the jokes and poems I wrote became better and it also helped me get the courage and energy to seek out more like-minded people.

In the end I’d say that all of that, was worth the heartbreak.


#14

Speaking specifically to your mention of a friendgroup having some of these behaviors – I think it’s important to keep an eye out for moments where you can reassert your own boundaries/the boundaries of closer friends who can’t speak up for themselves and make facts like “hey, politics like this literally impact my life/our lives every day” clear. Reaching out to the people who care about you on a personal level and being honest about the fact that you also care about their well-being can go a long way!

I think the idea of trash talking your friends with ironic detachment plays a pretty big part in allowing these “moral high ground of not giving a shit about anything” to fester in game-adjacent communities; the only real counterpart to that is regular attempts at genuine compassion and understanding for other people. If you make it clear what kind of person you are with a lot of smaller actions, a lot of similar people will feel more encouraged to push back in their own ways. Even if it’s only things like refusing to dogpile on a stranger in an online game just because your friends are doing it, that’s not nothing!

This can be hard, though, especially among slightly larger friendgroups that are mostly dude-dominated. There’s always going to be people who just won’t get it, or people who won’t care enough about anyway to try, like 2Mello mentioned. And for that… I’d just say that if you really can’t reach a space where being among a specific friendgroup feels safe or worthwhile 99% of the time, you might be overdue to reassess whether you want to keep subjecting yourself to that. There’s no shame in just saying “my health is more important than this” and leaving.

You, as an individual person, don’t have to solve the toxicity of any community/group singlehanded, because you’re not the one designated person who’s responsible for the health of any of those communities or groups. You’re just you, so all you can do is your best to support people who need it on an interpersonal level and keep your own spaces positive.

Hope that helps! Good luck!


#15

I’m absolutely the person with a zero tolerance policy and I will peace out or effectively ghost a community any time my no-bullshit bar is passed on some level. Cultivate people you want to talk to outside of a place immediately when you start out somewhere, and then peace out the moment it gets too hostile/offensive. When I was a younger woman, I used to try to make passionate appeals to changing the system and sometimes it’d work but most of the time it wouldn’t and I’d just end up being ostracized. I left one place I had been for years because I was called a bully for basically demanding better discussion of trans stuff years ahead of all of the members getting hip to it, and I had realized my sanity was taking a huge hit. Leaving sometimes is the only thing you can do to preserve your well-being at times.

It sucks because I also believe about using political beliefs to change spaces but it’s really hard when you have zero institutional leeway to make that happen.

She says, as a moderator now of a very nice forum.


#16

It really depends on the moderation team for me. I’ve found that the tone and actions of the mods will either attract like minded folks or allow a rot to set in.

A good example of this is the sports blog I follow for my local college football team. Sports fandoms are generally pretty shitty, so the forums tend to be cesspools of every aspect of toxic masculinity that you can think of. This site basically popped up as a refuge from other sites that either promoted or allowed all of that garbage. The writes/moderators have effectively cultivated a site where women contribute regularly and aren’t subjected to the condescending, gatekeeping garbage that women tend to encounter in wider sports circles.

Ultimately, the sites’ mantra is “be excellent to each other” and it’s enforced. Using slurs gets you called out quickly. The idiots that double down get kicked out. Those that admit fault and apologize are allowed back to redeem themselves. It’s not perfect, but it’s a veritable oasis in an otherwise extremely shitty fandom.

I guess my point is that you can’t do it alone. If there’s a toxic portion of a community that isn’t being addressed, sometimes its best to find another community that espouses your values.


#17

The official Bethesda forums were terrible while I was on there in different ways on every subforum, and I was absolutely part of the problem a lot of the time (especially early on) if not like, a major figure. For me this means like 2010-2011, my only real defense is that I was 13-14. I stayed on the Elder Scrolls Lore forum up until 2014 but I’d become much less awful in that time, though that forum would later spawn new problems in new places, but I only really caught glimpses of that stuff.

I used to post a lot on RPG.net more recently, but made the mistake of hanging out in Tangency and while it was certainly a progressive community in that bigotry of any kind was absolutely not tolerated, it was also a progressive community. Mostly I mean it was very neoliberal; this was before antifascist groups really got put in the spotlight and the positions of most of them when the subject came up (there were a fair amount of leftists there) were lock-step in line with what mainstream centrist and “centrist” news groups say today. Still, its not a bad site really, it has an active videogame forum and it’s actually where I spent most of my time since I mostly only enjoy TRPGs in theory, because I never get to play them. I’d recommend it.

I play WoW on and off, on Wyrmrest Accord, an RP-PVE server. For what I’ve encountered personally, it’s several cases of me being excited about RP and excited about a character I’m playing and excited about a guild and then meeting someone in that guild and that person saying something they don’t even know is relevant to me and then me remembering that people like me don’t just get to be unguarded and let loose and be comfortable, and that you shouldn’t get yourself excited for a job or a social group online because there’s a pretty good chance something will be said, even if it’s something you’ve shrugged off a million times, that lets you know “I can’t stay here.” I’ve dealt with it by not RPing for now and with plans to transfer my characters to Alliance where I have friends I can trust. Also, I won’t have to raid Stormwind for chairs anymore.

There’s more generalized problems with the community that usually manifest themselves in the guise of Male Human Paladin, Male Human Death Knight, Male Orc Warrior. You can probably guess what those problems are. People talk about dealing with them but I’m not sure if there’s any hope on that front because Warcraft lore attracts and encourages a lot of these people.

Speaking of, I’d honestly rather play on an RP-PVP server but literally every aspect of the WoW PVP community is terrible. The Venn Diagram of r/worldofpvp and r/thedonald is a circle.


#18

Mid 2000s Elder Scrolls forums were basically where I grew up. My first forum. Lots of fond memories. Lots of not so great ones too.


#19

Can’t really disagree with anything anyone has said about Giant Bomb here. That community is hard to be an active part of without just getting frustrated with the bullshit that some people say there, and more importantly, with the philosophy in terms of moderation. I wasn’t a huge participant in the forums to begin with but at this point I don’t even check them.

Still watch/listen to most of their stuff, and think Ben Pack and Abby Russell are great additions to the teams.


#20

GB is weird because there are pockets of the community that are rad. I hang with the FGC group on Discord and it’s a fun, decent bunch of people. But the overarching apathy is real. I wandered over here after getting in a dust-up about South Park to see if Patrick’s article on the game (which I have played and it’s bad, folks) was up yet, and ended up wandering into this thread because–well, the obvious happened.

I think, from watching a lot of their stuff, that some of the staff are trying to make up for the lousy way they handled, y’know, the rise of GamerGate-fueled white supremacism (as opposed to bog-standard white supremacism, anyway). Hearing members of the GB staff tee off about “MAGA CHUDs” off-mike is difficult to square with the temporizing that went on, but any port in a storm? But I worry–and it’s a legit worry, I like Giant Bomb and their staff–that the community has already self-selected. The decent folks there, and there are some, generally stay quiet in their forums and their comment threads unless they are comfortable with scrapping and are maybe looking for one a bit. Everybody else has already moved on. Which means there’s a pretty dire community to try to claw back with. And having watched Ian Danskin’s latest video (CW: discussion of rape and sexual assault)–he’s the guy behind Why Are You So Angry, and the new stuff is good–I’m always just a tiny bit worried about accidentally being a useful idiot for the nastier folks. (But I’m also pretty good at putting it to them.)

So I kinda think my answer is exactly that. Like, for me personally, I’ll stick around and represent a viewpoint that should be represented just because I feel like there are enough eyeballs on it to make it worth it, but if that isn’t your style you really don’t owe anything to anybody.