The Fine Line: Trash Talking v. Harassment

Since home consoles debuted in 1972, video games have become the largest grossing form of entertainment in the world. The advent of the Internet revolutionized the gaming world by allowing players to connect with other players online around the world.



Multiplayer games are made to be competitive. Online services like Xbox Live and PlayStation Network allow players to voice chat with each other while they compete. Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas (MOBAs), with their increased emphasis on teamwork, have increased the need for players to communicate with each other while playing.

While the increase in online communication has its benefits, it also comes with its own unique set of problems. Virtually, every online game requires players to compete under pseudonyms, which creates an environment where harassment can be nearly unavoidable. Though, most gamers can appreciate spirited trash talking, but sometimes the line between trash talk and harassment can become blurry.

“Calling people noobs or scrubs will always be a part of gaming culture – but threatening to hunt women down and physically harm them while using gendered slurs?” said Elizabeth, a self-described gamer of nearly three decades. "It shouldn’t be a part of our community.”

While companies are taking more proactive steps to prevent harassment, movements like Gamergate rely on a network of people which makes it difficult to ban everyone who engages in the harassment. Gamergate is one of the largest online debate groups in the gaming community.

Gamergate began when game developer, Zoe Quinn, was accused by an ex-boyfriend of using personal relationships for more positive reviews for her games. This turned into what many call a campaign of harassment against Quinn.

“Gamergate boils down to two things: journalism and sexism. On one side there are people who think gaming journalism has been a joke and needs to be fixed,” Krystal, who has grown up playing games with her family. “On the other, there are those who realize how easy it is to be attacked as a girl in the gaming community and think that Gamergate does just that. Both are legitimate concern.”

Online harassment manifests in many forms, but some of the most common methods are doxing, cyber stalking, and swatting. Gamergate has given us many examples of the harassment that is experienced in the gaming community. Zoe Quinn, Brianna Wu, and Anita Sarkeesian have all experienced these targeted forms of harassment.


“Honestly, I do kind of think trash talking is important in the gaming world, but to an extent. Trash talking a little brings a lot of the competitive spirit to bear; for me, anyway. There is absolutely a difference between trash talking and harassing someone verbally, however,” said Jonathan who has played games for around 18 years.

“A comment here or there whenever you executed an awesome outplay on someone or a mastery emote thrown up whenever you win what should have been an unwinnable fight is great; but I think the line should be drawn when it starts becoming a personal verbal attack.”

“I experience harassment in some way, shape or form on a daily basis,” said Caleb who has played video games with his twin brother for a majority of his life. “Sometimes it is negative and hurtful, occasionally it is done in a sarcastic way, but it can also be funny as well. Depending on the context of the harassment and the severity of it, I believe it can be either positive or negative.”

While Caleb also believes trash talking is an essential part of the gaming experience, he believes there’s a distinction to be made between trash talking and harassment.

“When you’re playing games such as Halo, Call of Duty, and League of Legends, the game often becomes heated because they’re competitive games. One of the ways gamers deal with the stress competitive games generate is through trash talking,” Caleb said.

“Even if you’re losing, trash talking can help you to take the game less seriously. Depending on the angle that you look at it, trash talking can either be positive or negative. The important thing to remember is that it’s just a game. Trash talking can be enjoyable, as long as it’s done tastefully and taken as a joke.”