At this year’s Blizzcon, Kotaku spoke to Jeff Kaplan, game director of Overwatch, about the issues with toxic players that the game had faced through its entire run. Though Overwatch has a diverse cast of characters, sexism, racism, and negativity have, at the very least, been prevalent in the Overwatch community. Blizzard has clearly gone out of their way to ensure equality in the in-game world, so what is the disconnect with the real-world players?
Kaplan should be believed when he says that handling toxic players is a priority for the Overwatch team. Still, it’s hard to let go of a year of ineffective action. Assholes exist on every corner of the internet, but, when they go unchecked, it poisons the community. The measures put in place, will likely be effective, but with a game so focused on community and equality, it is difficult to understand why it wasn’t a priority in the first place.
Overwatch‘s problems with toxicity go far beyond the reaches of the game. Toxicity and gatekeeping in gaming is a large-scale issue. With everything from Gamergate to dickwolves, the gaming community as a whole has not always been welcoming. This isn’t to say that the trolls make an impenetrable barrier around games, but rather, that new comers and veteran players alike have to wonder if wading through the assholes is worth it.
Toxicity in the game community is extremely well known. Even outside of the gaming community, it has been covered by major publications and academics. There is no excuse for having an inadequate reporting system at launch in a game as popular as Overwatch. Inadequate systems mean that the players are not a priority.
Of course, Jeff Kaplan cannot unilaterally change the crappier parts of the gaming community. Though, taking a hard stance on toxicity is a good start to enacting change. Kaplan and his team have made a brilliant game with a record amount of gender diversity among its players. Game developers can take a lot of tips from Overwatch when developing future games. Still, in addition to its successes, the failures of the game merit further examination. Toxicity is the biggest bug in Overwatch‘s system. Game developers have a responsibility to stop toxicity before it overtakes the community.