In Defense of Game-Based Trash Talking

bill 04-13-15-1

This is an editorial piece. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of, and should not be attributed to, Niche Gamer as an organization.

Gaming is, and has always been, a very social hobby, regardless of what some folks may say. Though the stereotype of the acne-riddled teen playing alone in a dark room is still propagated by those who wish the hobby ill, it couldn’t be any further from the truth. After all, there’s a reason why even the earliest video game consoles had multiple controller ports and why multiplayer is (even when it shouldn’t be) crammed into otherwise singleplayer-centric titles. The simple fact is that gamers love to enjoy their pastime with others, and this desire has only grown stronger as the hobby has become more mainstream.

Of course, when gamers get together, they often get rowdy. Ask anyone who has played a competitive shooter online and they’ll be happy to regale you with stories of verbal low blows and threats of bodily harm. While that isn’t unique to just gamers (Go find a gearhead forum and see the wars that are waged between Chevy and Ford fans if you don’t believe me), it has stuck stronger onto them due to the stereotype seeming to reinforce the idea that those in the hobby are antisocial miscreants. It feeds into the damning labels that anti-gamers want to saddle hobbyists with, and for that reason it has become a frequently cited “problem” when people write hit pieces about gaming.

Recently, the conversation about trashtalk and its acceptability were brought into the spotlight after an incident at the “Kumite in Tennessee” fighting game tournament. During this competition, a player by the name of “Shinblade” won a hard fought match and celebrated as many of us do when amongst friends and filled with excess adrenaline. Shinblade rose from his seat and enjoyed the moment by letting loose with a few taunts and some celebratory gestures…nothing out of the normal or against the rules. Unfortunately, someone in attendance didn’t approve of his exuberance.

NaughtyZeut, another player at the same tournament, ran up to Shinblade and laid her hands on him. Though reports on the incident were all over the place, those in attendance claim that she didn’t appreciate his celebration and that is what led to her assaulting him.

What made this worse was that a couple male attendees, who some say were friends of NaughtyZeut, started screaming out for Shinblade to be disqualified from the tournament and seemed to try to twist the situation in such a way that their female friend would be seen as the victim and the victorious Shinblade as a loud-mouth aggressor who broke the rules.

Fortunately, things didn’t work out the way she and her friends wanted, and Shinblade was allowed to stay while NaughtyZeut was escorted out of the building.

Later, NaughtyZeut claimed that she was spurred into violence after Shinblade’s loud trashtalk had “triggered” her and caused her to lose control.

According to folks to frequent the event, such “pop-offs” are quite common and the jubilation expressed by those who emerge from a match victorious are what makes these events so exciting in the first place. As a matter of fact, on one thread it was stated that his opponent during the match deliberately hyped the crowd up by placing minor, pre-planned money bets on the match. Their goal was to get the crowd into the match, if not the whole tournament, and energize the room.

Well, they obviously accomplished that.

Trashtalk like that which Shinblade was “guilty” of engaging in has long been the norm for gamers. Who among us hasn’t played a game of Mario Kart with friends and used some salty language when they hit us with a blue shell? I know I have, and I know I’ve also trash talked in arcades with random strangers. It’s not just expected, it’s part of the game. It’s one of the key parts of gaming’s culture.

And that’s where the problems arise. Culture. The dirty word that those who want to label gaming as the evil, destructive, unfriendly hobby they wish it was often use to disparage it. No matter how many times you point at examples of similar behavior among other equally large hobbies, you always get people who use this an excuse to pigeonhole gaming as a macho, testosterone fueled pissing match that excludes those without the proper gender-specific plumbing.

Though I know hundreds of women who I’ve gamed with who had mouths just as dirty as my own (a monumental feat, to be sure), I decided to find a hardcore female gamer and ask her how she felt about game related trash-talking and if it’s the problem some consider it to be. That gamer, who goes by Meeki on Twitter, is a hardcore gamer that plays in the greatest trash-talking venue of them all: Call of Duty’s online mode. In the short conversation I had with her, she admitted that she has experienced heavy trash-talking, but that she considers it to be “more bantering” than anything else, and that they “don’t single out women.”

Of course, this is just one person. Not everyone is strong enough to handle trash talking and may want a more civilized and laid back gaming experience. I can understand that and sympathize with it. There’s nothing wrong with being unable to deal with the constant litany of curse words and taunts that you sometimes get during the heat of a multiplayer match, and anyone who says any different is more than likely trying to stir up controversy.

That being said, people have to understand that like any competition, gaming brings out a lot of emotions. Just like any “real” sport, gaming can get incredibly intense and is therefore not meant for the faint of heart. Just imagine what would happen if a player new to the NBA got dunked on by Lebron James and took offense to him pounding his chest and yelling down at him as he got back up? Sure, some of the more intense celebratory displays get penalties from the referees, but for the most part, that sort of thing is considered normal. People will celebrate, sometimes raucously, and that’s part of the competitive nature of sports.

And yes, gaming is a sport.

Asking gamers to quietly sit in their chair and stay silent during a Smash Brothers match makes about as much sense as telling the receiver in a football game not to jump up and down and scream when he scores a game-winning touchdown. It goes against human nature. You can demand it be changed to better accommodate your sensitivities or to meet some standard of civility that you believe should be met, but it’s a laughably impossible task. Both men and women will cave in to that adrenaline rush and “pop off” from time to time. So long as they don’t physically assault anyone (Shinblade did not, yet his aggressor did), there is absolutely nothing inappropriate about it.

A lot of the confusion surrounding gaming trash talk is due to people taking the insults literally. When someone hears me call my friend a “Fat ass bitch”, I’m not actually accusing him of being a large female dog. It’s just a biting phrase meant to both get him to lose focus on our match and to alleviate the stress and anxiousness that exist as byproducts of my own intense focus. Those who aren’t versed in gaming vernacular might be inclined to think I hate my friend, but both of us are well aware that this is not the case.

The same goes for homophobic utterances as well. It’s quite common in a game amongst friends for a few sexually charged curses to get flung between headsets. This doesn’t mean the person using such language is a homophobic monster. It means that, like Eminem once said when he was criticized for using them in his music, it’s merely a blanket insult used to poke fun at someone.

If you ask me, many of the homophobic or racist words that are frequently used online in such taunts have been used so often that their original meaning has long since been lost. I know “people of color” on my Xbox friend’s list who call each other that word so often that I don’t even bat an eyelash anymore when I hear it.

Yet as innocuous as many of these words truly are, people want to control their use. They want to abolish it and forcefully alter the demeanor of the community. Especially online, where the playful ribbing of couch co-op gives way to the more abrasive attitude allowed by the distance fiber optic cables provide.

Sure, server administrators can ban an abusive user, but to be considered as such you have to do something truly horrific and borderline terroristic. Simply calling someone a bitch, whore, jerk, fag, or asshole isn’t worthy of a dismissal. If you don’t approve of that behavior there are plenty of family-friendly guilds you can join that will give you game partners who hold the same values.

It all comes down to the “It’s easier to change yourself than to change others” argument. Which is to say that it’s far better to simply control your own environment than to ask that everyone except you alter their own to placate you. In other words, “If you don’t like what you see, change the channel.”

Coming from this, in this hobby, there are a lot of “channels” to choose from. If you want peace and civility, you can find it. If you refuse to join private gaming guilds devoted to being safe spaces, or you attend fighting game tournaments that are known for boisterous outbursts amongst their contestants, then you are the one at fault. Not them.


Carl is both a JRPG fan and a CRPG'er who especially loves European PC games. Even with more than three decades of gaming under his belt, he feels the best of the hobby is yet to come.

  1. Domhnall
    April 13, 2015 at 6:49 pm

    I think Mario Kart, largely due to the blue shell, is probably second only to Monopoly in the number of friendships it has ended.

  2. sanic
    April 13, 2015 at 6:50 pm

    If I can’t smoke and swear I’m fucked as ricky would say.

  3. Donwel
    April 13, 2015 at 7:05 pm

    Nothing wrong with a bit of trash talk, I’ve taken and given my fair share of shit talk online but It’s always been given and taken in good humour.
    As far as I see it, it’s just a part of competition and it can be a good way to release a bit of pressure that you feel when feeling the heat in a close match.
    Personally I think if people can’t take it then they should probably avoid those kind of situations.

  4. Donwel
    April 13, 2015 at 7:07 pm

    I don’t play Mario Kart with friends any more.
    Partly because you look like a twat when you try to strangle someone with a wireless controller.

  5. YukiTron
    April 13, 2015 at 7:08 pm

    “If you don’t like it, change the channel” is the best thing I’ve ever read, and it’s something everyone needs to learn (especially the tumblr crowd). The immature crowd is selfish and wish for the world to adapt to their standards, when reality is vice versa. You’re itching for a fight if you walk in on some raucous teenagers and tell them to tone it down.

    Trash talk applies to life in general, not just gaming. It’s in our culture to be “mean” to those who are close to us, because we feel comfortable as friends to do so. With that said though, dodging bad press is unavoidable, especially when it comes to the FGC. The FGC isn’t (super) professional to begin with, so I resent sites like Kotaku that focus on all the fights and arguments, and ignore the heart warming stuff like the man who proposed to his girlfriend at Evo one year.

    We’re still a family, and just like any other family, there are bound to be some bad eggs in the bunch. As humans, we have faith in others to be on their best behavior. Otherwise, fighting game tournaments will have metal detectors and giant signs around the venue dictating what they should and should not do. And let’s pray that never freakin happens.

    good write-up Carl. You bastard

  6. LenLovecraft
    April 13, 2015 at 7:23 pm

    Shitclocks tickin Rick.
    No more swearing for you on XBL

  7. Michael J Hawk
    Michael J Hawk
    April 13, 2015 at 8:41 pm

    I love the FGC, lots of fun characters all around. if you wanna join us we only have 1 requirement: you need to like fighting games.

  8. Dewey Defeats Truman
    Dewey Defeats Truman
    April 13, 2015 at 9:16 pm

    I think some people just live to be offended and when they see banter, all they’re doing is looking for something to take out of context and treat as an excuse to start a moral crusade.

    I don’t wanna pull out a slippery slope but if you want to go this route we may as well just turn online games into elementary school soccer matches where everyone wins and nobody learns that a victory has to be earned. I mean, getting defeated because I wasn’t as good as the other guy is really upsetting, and I might feel bad as a result. We can’t have that.

  9. Dewey Defeats Truman
    Dewey Defeats Truman
    April 13, 2015 at 9:18 pm

    I’d argue Mario Party surpasses it but it’s definitely high up there.

  10. Kain Yusanagi
    Kain Yusanagi
    April 13, 2015 at 9:49 pm

    Great article, but I gotta ask: Why do you look like a smug John Goodman? :^) (but seriously, you do. ._.)

  11. Thanatos2k
    April 13, 2015 at 10:08 pm

    As a 7+ year veteran of Dota, trash talk doesn’t even phase me anymore. If you’re effected by it, you have some personal security and self esteem problems.

    But remember, the person doing the trash talk is only making themselves look asinine if they overdo it. Everyone knows when they cross the line.

  12. Thanatos2k
    April 13, 2015 at 10:10 pm

    It’s also hilarious how the SJWs tried their nonsense in real life and got shut down, as would happen anytime logical intelligent people are in the same room.

    “He triggered me so I attacked him” ain’t going to fly in a court of law!

  13. DeusEx
    April 13, 2015 at 10:16 pm

    Can’t handle the banter? The door is right there. Through it you can play The Sims and Bejeweled in safe and secure solitude.

  14. E M P
    E M P
    April 13, 2015 at 11:10 pm

    Not to mention trash talk is an actual tactic to get into your opponents head, used often even in the professional level. There is no better way to make a team throw than to infuriate them.

  15. Erthwjim
    April 13, 2015 at 11:45 pm

    Just like any “real” sport, gaming can get incredibly intense and is therefore not meant for the faint of heart.

    This and I’d say sports fanatics get even more out of hand and in each others face, and they’re only watching the game not participating in it. And sports fans confrontations can actually lead to physical violence. In video gaming, physical confrontations are much less likely to occur if at all. But the shit-talking, it’s the competitive nature of it all, you boost yourself up while putting your opponent down, you’re trying to throw your opponent off their guard, to rile them up and make them lose their concentration. If someone takes it seriously, that’s their fault. When gaming, my friends constantly use the word fag, but it’s not meant as an insult to homosexuals, even some of my gay friends I game with will use this same term when shit-talking. Sure there can be some things that are over the top, but for the most part, in the video gaming world, it’s not going to escalate into something that’s more than just words.

  16. H. Guderian
    H. Guderian
    April 13, 2015 at 11:48 pm

    Why is it that people who get “Triggered” by things that happen in public constantly throwing themselves into public spaces and having breakdowns, and on top of that they then spin around and tell everyone else that they are wrong. If you are capable of being triggered by trashtalk at an event, large crowds, or the coming in of the tide, perhaps stay away from those things.

  17. Anonymous
    April 14, 2015 at 1:16 am

    Taking away little freedoms, moments of joy and forms of expression from a community that has grown over years only because a few outsiders arbitrarily choose that they should go away is a real shame.

    Part of its essence is lost and truthfully, what makes it fun.

    There’s a huge difference between physical attacks or verbal stuff, as long as threats are so out there and ridiculous that they are obviously not realistic and as long as nothing gets physical then it’s all just for show, part of the flashy side of the community.
    I see the gaming trash talk no different from the attitude in professional wrestling entertainment.
    It’s a bit hype, a bit about having fun, and mostly for show and bravado.

    And in some forms, it’s even a very important psychological tactic.
    Why do people think there are taunts in games?
    Why do you think some players will find a moment mid match to throw a taunt in the game? It can have an effect, it’s a skill, knowing how and when to taunt, and knowing how to not let the taunt get to you.
    I wouldn’t expect most of the people complaining about all this attitude to understand any of those things because as usual, it’s an outsider vocal minority that doesn’t really belong to the community.

  18. Anonymous
    April 14, 2015 at 1:20 am

    Sore losers make excuses.

  19. Mr0303
    April 14, 2015 at 3:48 am

    The described situation shows more problems with feminism than with the FGC. It broke a generation of women to the point where one would physically attack a man, because he said something she doesn’t like (or is “triggered” by).

    As many others said – trash talking is done to put your opponent out of balance and it is nothing new. Since ancient times two armies would shout at each other before the battle in order to demoralize the enemy.

  20. Random Dude
    Random Dude
    April 14, 2015 at 7:14 am

    Hell, having them trash-talking in Dota (heck, and MOBA in general) is actually a good sign, they’ve lost their marble. Rile them up more and get them to fight with their team for ez game.

  21. Wand
    April 14, 2015 at 7:22 am

    I played CoD:MW when Xbox Live had all those problems in Xmas 2007. I can cope with trash-talk.

  22. iamarchaeus
    April 14, 2015 at 11:10 am

    a competitive hobby has an element of trash talking?

    why are people bitching about this?

  23. Keinart
    April 14, 2015 at 1:03 pm

    People should learn that words are neither good or bad, it depends of how they are used. An insult can be pretty friendly when used with friends or like in this case when celebrating something, and the most polite of speeches can be a heavy trash-talk against someone when used cleverly.

    Stop caring so much about who or what says someone, and try to look more into the context and the direction those words make. Then maybe this people would stop getting triggered for everything.

  24. erohakase
    April 14, 2015 at 8:25 pm

    You’re not supposed to leave any witnesses silly!

  25. Miguel Angel Opazo Arancibia
    Miguel Angel Opazo Arancibia
    April 15, 2015 at 1:10 am

    Isn’t like what we do in regular sports ? Who cares if people swears while playing or watching soccer for instance ? Those people are nothing but a bunch of retards. I can’t believe we are even discussing if there is an ounce of meaning on the behaviour of those filthy whinners.

  26. Mysterious Friend X
    Mysterious Friend X
    May 16, 2015 at 3:13 am

    When the usual suspects offer stereotypes of manchild gamers, they aren’t actually wrong; they’re just talking about fighting game players without realizing it, and to a lesser extent other e-sports players. The fighting game community is, by far, the most immature. embarrasing and useless sector of “gaming culture.” It truly is just manchildren screaming obscenities at each other. The worst thing is that this isn’t just tolerated but actively defended and rationalized, like in this article. Sportsmanship, manners and respect are not just alien but repulsive concepts to the fighting game community, something that must be shunned. And they are so very proud of this.

    “Who among us hasn’t played a game of Mario Kart with friends and used some salty language when they hit us with a blue shell?”

    “Time, place, occasion” is another thing the fighting game community doesn’t understand. Do you talk to your superior as if you would to a close friend in an informal setting? Have any of you ever even held jobs? The only job I can see Shinblade holding down is robbing convinience stores.

    “It’s one of the key parts of gaming’s culture.”

    And yet at the same time you loudly protest when gamers are attacked as angry, pathetic manchildren.

    “No matter how many times you point at examples of similar behavior among other equally large hobbies, you always get people who use this an excuse to pigeonhole gaming as a macho, testosterone fueled pissing match that excludes those without the proper gender-specific plumbing.”

    And like clockwork, here is the usual “but they’re doing it too” defense.

    There is no reason why competition has to involve chimpouts and screaming. Go look up judo olympics on YouTube for example and see how restrained and formal it is once the match is over. Note how they fix their uniforms before bowing and concluding the match, how they shake hands (or something equivalent), and how they bow once again when they leave the mat. These are people engaged in full contact martial arts at the world level, training day after day, year after year, doing something exponentially more demanding and intense than playing video games. And yet you’re sitting there talking about the inevitability and necessity of “trash talking” and chimpouts, as if people just can’t help it because that’s what competition is all about.

    If you want gamers to be treated with respect, start acting like people who deserve to be treated with respect.

  27. el Fabio
    el Fabio
    October 31, 2017 at 4:26 pm

    That shit doesn’t fly in the FGC, if anything it’ll get you an gigantic ass-whooping