It's a problem as old as video games: Gamers insult, harass and threaten other players—despite the risk of being booted from the game. Four flamers confess why they can't shake the habit.
Photo: Riot Games
This article originally appeared on Motherboard Germany.
BeSuperOrBeDead's patience is suddenly wearing thin. Although the 22-year-old formed a new League of Legends party just a few minutes ago, he already feels his blood begin to boil: Other players, according to him, are making mistakes, are ignoring his lead. BeSuperOrBeDead feels ignored and abruptly spills out his bottled-up frustration in the game's chat. He calls the other players "gay," "homo," and even the n-word. He doesn't pass up a single chance to put down the other players, venomously commenting on their every action. It's not uncommon for him to take note of the names of his victims so that he can write them after the game and insult them even further.
Of course he knows that he's violating the game's community guidelines, but he doesn't care. Numerous of his accounts have been banned because of his toxic behavior. But he simply starts a new account each time—he doesn't fear any serious consequences. He feels invincible.
In the gaming world, this sort of behavior is called "flaming." Whoever plays games online can expect to encounter flamers like BeSuperOrBeDead—people who spout off their unfiltered frustration in the chat over others' alleged incompetence or who simply love to use profanity at random to insult others. But by doing so, they quickly cross a line with their choice of words. Predominantly sexist and racist phrases make up the basic vocabulary of such outbursts, and are used to strongly affect or terrorize other players. This is in clear violations of the game's guidelines. Nearly every multiplayer game today draws the same lines: Insults of any kind are not allowed. Those who nevertheless become targets of these flamer attacks should immediately report the names of the perpetrators, according to the guidelines and FAQs of most games.
"If someone doesn't want to heed my advice, then they're going to hear it."
Aside from the classic "report player" button, some developers have come up with some creative protective measures. Blizzard, for example, filters the chat box in the popular shooter Overwatch for the most common swear words—such as "asshole," "faggot," or even disparaging phrases—and replaces them with sentences like "my mommy says I have to go to bed" or "I have to lie down and think about my life."
But despite various types of reporting systems, flamers always find a way to let off steam on their fellow players. But what actually spurs these people? Why do they take the risk of getting blocked from the game, just so that they can leave behind their nasty comments? Are there possibly comprehensible reasons for their behavior? To find out, we spoke with four flamers who continually slip up online and who confessed to us why in fact they're so mean to other players. We found them on Reddit, where they were exhibiting this kind of behavior or talking about it, and conducted the interviews over Skype calls.
"SilentKillDragon" hates players who don't heed his advice
Motherboard: Why don't you first tell us a little bit about yourself.
SilentKillDragon: Sure. I'm 15 years old, am from Singapore and am still a student. I love multiplayer games and spend about 14 hours a week playing Counter-Strike, Overwatch and Dota 2. But sometimes I just lose my nerve.
What is it about these games that upsets you so much?
People make me so livid when they make such obvious mistakes, but don't want to hear it when they're given tips. I know a number of these games really well, and if someone ignores my suggestions, I get pissed.
"And that's just the way things are online: You flame, I flame—it's a vicious cycle."
It doesn't take you that long then to start insulting people?
Exactly. At some point I've had enough and then I let out all my rage. But they deserve it. If they start insulting back, then I just block them. At that point I don't really care.
Have you ever been kicked from the game or punished for your behavior in some other way?
My account on Dota 2 was once blocked for two weeks, but I just played a different game during that time. But I see myself as justified: If someone doesn't want to listen to my advice, then they’re gonna hear it. That's just how things are online.
"ScopeMan" thinks his own insults are appalling
Motherboard: You describe yourself as a "tragic flamer." Can you explain to us what you mean by that exactly?
ScopeMan: My life is actually pretty great. I’m young, in my mid-twenties, have a great salary as a software developer and have an awesome girlfriend. I play multiplayers five to six hours a day, Dota 2 above all, and am actually a pretty even-tempered player over all. But three or four years ago, things started to go downhill.
What exactly happened back then?
Flamers in Dota 2 are the norm. Someone is always constantly insulting other players—mostly when they make mistakes they don't want to admit to. I usually just ignored these people. There's no point in talking to them. But then one day I'd had enough and I reacted to one of these flamers.
So you insulted them back?
I defended my other fellow players and really put the flamers in their place. They're not usually that eloquent, these flamers, so it was easy for me to make them look dumb through quick-witted responses. The other players thought that was awesome and started doing favors for me in return for my caustic remarks. To see how these flamers would blow up because they no longer knew how to respond, that was the best!
And that was your entry point into the world of the flamers?
Exactly. From that point on things started to go downhill. I began, without really having a reason, to complain in the chat and peppering anyone with words who wanted to criticize me. Other players started reporting me more and more and at some point the match-making system made me face repercussions that just made me even more upset.
In Dota 2 there's a "secret" points score that measures your behavior in games and that pairs particularly offensive players together in teams. You play on those teams then, right?
Exactly. At some point I was only playing together with flamers. It was hell. But I only really became aware of my development into a flamer when at some point I put down another player and he simply responded with "I'm sorry." Suddenly I realized what an asshole I'd become, and since then I've been trying to distance myself from this behavior. It's not easy, but I'm trying. I really do feel bad about all of that.
"BeSuperOrBeDead" is victim to his own temper
Motherboard: You've admitted to us that you see yourself as a "flamer felon." What does that mean?
BeSuperOrBeDead: Before recently forcing myself to take a break, I played League of Legends around seven hours a day. It was always my goal to one day play with the best of the best, but my temper always kept getting in the way. I can't even count anymore how many times my accounts were temporarily or permanently banned. I just can't seem to learn from my mistakes.
And that's why you recently decided to take a break?
Exactly. I'm 22 years old, and because I played so much, I was even fired from an apprenticeship. I just stopped coming to work, because League of Legends completely consumed me emotionally. I always had the feeling that I had to put my fellow players in their place for even the smallest mistakes. I know that's dumb, but I just couldn't resist the urge. My desire to ascend and be the best made me overly critical.
Do you think that all those bans made you more insightful? Or did you not care about the punishments you faced?
If I'm going to be completely honest, then I have to admit that I think it's good that other players are protected against players like me—I was a real ass. On the other hand, I wish that flamers like me, who know that their behavior is wrong, first receive more warnings. I was always taken by surprise by these bans, which made me even more frustrated. It's easy to start a new account, but that frustration lingers for quite some time.
"Lousner" becomes enraged when other players don't want to win
Motherboard: You admitted to us that you play Overwatch almost exclusively. What is it about this shooter that makes you so mad?
Lousner: The game itself is the problem! So many people find the various hero characters in Overwatch so cute and cool, that they just constantly want to play their favorite—regardless of whether that's actually a good choice. Which incredibly enrages me when they do that for ranking games where there's a lot on the line.
That actually seems completely understandable. Have you tried to make your fellow players aware of the problem?
Sure, but to no avail. They then tell me I shouldn’t take the game so seriously and that's when I flip. That's why I wouldn’t necessarily see myself as a flamer, but as a victim. But I guess that's a matter of perspective.
And has that led you to act in concrete ways? Do you report the other players?
Nah, that's completely pointless. Instead, I've made it a habit to smoke a bit of weed before each round. That relaxes me, even if I don't play as well anymore. But that doesn't really matter at that point, since no one is taking the ranking games seriously anymore.
Have you ever been insulted in return in Overwatch?
Sure, all the time, probably at least two million times. But I have thick skin, grew up with two brothers and can digest a lot that's thrown at me. And that's just the way things are online: You flame, I flame—it's a vicious circle.