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Don’t Feed the Trolls: 4 Ways to Survive the Toxic Console Wars

In October 2016, video game developer Respawn Entertainment was gearing up to release its upcoming shooter Titanfall 2. To generate excitement with fans—particularly among PlayStation fans who hadn’t played the first Titanfall (an Xbox exclusive)—a Respawn producer tweeted a picture of a PlayStation 4 copy of the game. One fan, outraged by the perceived betrayal, tweeted back that Respawn was ”crapping on Xbox One fans.” It was the latest shot in the so-called “Console Wars,” a toxic form of brand loyalty that has plagued gaming for decades.

Brand loyalty is a widespread phenomenon across Western consumer culture. People debate about which soda to drink, which model of car to drive, and which phone to purchase. Gaming is no exception, as console manufacturers and game makers compete for customers. It’s nearly a time-honored tradition in gaming, one that has had a profound—and too often negative—effect on gaming culture.

The first major rivalry in gaming took place between SEGA and Nintendo in the early 1990s. Nintendo was riding high on the astronomical sales of their first console, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), and competitor SEGA needed to find a way to break Nintendo’s stranglehold on the market. SEGA decided that the best way to take on an opponent that big and well-known was to do so directly, with brash confidence and smack talk. Their new console, the SEGA Genesis, and its mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog, were fast and edgy, while rival Mario was slow and boring. The battle lines were drawn, and thus began the first console war.

Decades have passed since then, and many companies in the gaming industry have come and gone. Game companies aren’t as direct as they used to be in criticizing the competition—most of the time, anyway—but they don’t need to be: every day, gamers engage in discussions on social media and message boards, often serving as evangelists for their favorite games or hardware manufacturer. The spirit of rivalry and competition amongst gamers is as alive today is it was twenty years ago.

To some extent, this attitude amongst gamers is understandable, even inevitable. Game consoles and gaming PCs are expensive: consoles cost a few hundred dollars each, and PCs with equivalent specs are usually more. Many people can only afford to buy one. Additionally, gamers want to be able to play with their friends, and in most cases you need to use the same platform as your friends in order to play together (gamers on Xbox can’t currently play with those on PlayStation, for example). On top of all that, each platform has its own exclusive games and features to attract gamers and distinguish itself from its competitors. It’s only natural, then, that people would encourage others to purchase the system that they themselves prefer.

Unfortunately, discussion sometimes changes from healthy debate or good-natured ribbing into toxicity and name-calling. People wrap their identities around gaming and their gaming preferences, berating those who play on other platforms and spilling countless bottles of digital ink attacking the character of the people who work for rival companies. Legitimate criticisms of products or business practices are buried beneath inflammatory headlines like “10 Reasons the Xbox One Still Sucks” and “5 Reasons Why Nintendo Can Go Straight To Hell” (the language in this article is exactly as colorful as it sounds). And of course, online trolls who find their amusement in the anger of others are all too quick to push people’s buttons with provocative statements.

So, the questions lie before us: how do we break through the tribalism that often brings out the worst in people, especially in anonymous online communities? And how do we make a positive impact on gaming culture? Here are a few key takeaways:

Be thankful for what you have

If you have enough money to enjoy video games, you are wealthier than than the majority of people in the world. Every day, by God’s grace, many millions of gamers have the opportunity to benefit from the creativity and hard work of game developers, and to share these experiences with people all over the planet.

Celebrate with others and build them up

Don’t only be thankful for the gaming experiences that you, specifically, get to enjoy—give thanks for all the wide variety of games that are created and played by people across the globe. If a game is coming out on a console that you don’t have, and gamers who do have that console are excited for it, be excited with them. Don’t tear down others or try to gain pleasure by making them feel worse—the world doesn’t revolve around whether you get to play every game that catches your eye.

Our words are powerful and can do great harm if we aren’t careful.

Be careful and deliberate about your use of social media

On social media people are often enticed to give quick, off-the-cuff reactions to the things going on around them. While that strategy yields plenty of clicks, it often isn’t good for creating healthy, constructive dialogue. Rather than spewing the first thought that pops into your head to Twitter or Facebook, take the time to think through what you want to say and how it will impact others. Our words are powerful and can do great harm if we aren’t careful. The Bible compares the tongue to a spark of fire, capable of setting an entire forest ablaze (James 3:5-6). And remember the limitations of the method you are using to communicate. Text-based communications don’t allow the writer to express something like sarcasm very easily, and plenty of confusion and toxicity stems from careless use of words online.

Don’t let online toxicity get under your skin

In our current day and age, we find it very easy to become defensive when someone expresses an opinion we don’t agree with. Assume the best about others; be patient, bearing with them out of love (Ephesians 4:2). When you see a toxic post online, either follow it up with something positive and constructive, or simply ignore it and move on. Don’t feed the trolls.

Fostering a thankful heart and a gracious, outward-focused attitude goes a long way toward improving gaming culture. Don’t retreat inward and think only about yourself; instead, be the one to lift others up and make them feel like the star. If we all do that for one another, no one will feel left out, and we can all enjoy gaming together. Everyone benefits from great games, regardless of which platform they appear on, so let’s make it a point to celebrate them, as well as the people who worked so hard to make them in the first place.

Michael Mendis is a freelance writer who loves to discuss gaming, Christian faith, and how the two interact. In addition to his main hobby of playing video games, he also enjoys watching movies, anime, and baseball.

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