Toxicity in online video games has been out of control for a long time — and curbing it has seemed like a hopeless enterprise. But Ubisoft’s rampage against racist trolls in the past week in Rainbow Six: Siege has given me hope that game developers are finally demonstrating the courage to change things.
I’ve been playing Siege since it came out for the PC in 2015. It has become an outstanding game in its class: a polished experience filled with tense moments and kinetic spectacle. But like so many other online games, it has also been filled with disgusting trolls who make outrageous comments in chat and over voice communications. The ability to mute them individually is nice, but it means you’re always one step behind them. There’s no escape from seeing people spout vile, prejudicial trash when you’re just trying to enjoy a video game.
‘Siege’ is great, but it’s also filled with trolls
Right now, Ubisoft is automatically banning players who use specific words in public chat channels. The punishment seems to be swift, and the twist is that the bans are broadcast to everyone who’s online at any given time — so people who didn’t even witness the bad behavior get notified of each and every ban. That broadcast feature was mostly used to notify everyone who is online that someone had been banned for cheating. But Ubisoft is also broadcasting when people get banned for “toxic behavior,” and as enforcement has substantially increased in the past week, a steady stream of trolls are being purged publicly from the community.
This week, I saw two players get banned instantly who were in one of my matches after using the n-word, just moments after typing it. In the middle of the match, they were gone. And shortly afterward, more than a hundred thousand people playing the game got a notification that they’d been banned. It’s one of the most amazing and unprecedented things I’ve seen, and I’ve been playing games like this for two decades.
Online games that allow people to communicate openly with others have created spaces filled with nastiness and abuse. Women are routinely harassed just for daring to show up, and edgelords and genuine racists incessantly lob slurs at strangers. Hostile players have even used gaming platforms to broadcast sexual abuse and make threats to children. Online gaming spaces are so deeply and pervasively out of control that the ESRB, the video gaming rating authority, simply refuses to rate online experiences. Doing so would mean every game ships with a warning that says “people will shout the n-word at you constantly.”
Trolls and their apologists say: it’s the internet. What did you expect? And it’s easy to surrender to that thinking — even for people who genuinely want something better. I’m guilty of losing hope; even when there are pathways to purging toxic players, like the ability to report others for bad behavior, pressing the button often seems like a placebo with no feedback loop. You never actually know if the action you took resulted in anything being done about it.
Developers have been negligent in curbing abuse
Video game developers have been so negligent on harassment and abuse that it has seemed like an impossible problem to solve. Yes, there have been real efforts to curb abuse, but they are outliers. And I would argue that Ubisoft’s recent effort doesn’t go nearly far enough.
In March, Ubisoft outlined its system for enforcing abusive speech rules, which includes racial and homophobic slurs and hate speech. Players are banned for two, seven, or 15 days “depending on severity,” with the most severe punishment being a permanent ban. But as PC Gamer reported, the automated bans that have been enabled in the past week seem to only remove players from the game for roughly half an hour on the first offense, and two hours on the second or third offense. I’m glad these bans are now being made automatically, but giving someone such a brief time out for spamming racial slurs in chat — and allowing them to continue doing it with a slap on the wrist — seems awfully generous. It also demonstrates just how low the bar is right now for doing anything to deal with this problem.
But at least Ubisoft isn’t apologizing for it. While other companies are caving under the slightest pressure from disingenuous trolls, Ubisoft is telling them to kick sand.
There’s still unlimited potential for improvement, and, ideally, companies like Ubisoft will go further and work faster to deal with irredeemably toxic players. I’ve been coming to Rainbow Six: Siege for the exciting action. Now I’m staying to see the worst people in gaming get the bans they deserve.