Anger and Toxicity in Games

I played many games when I was young. Feeling different levels of frustration was not uncommon. One game, however, took frustration to a whole new level — DotA. Player vs. player (PVP) games by nature have a tendency to draw out frustration from players, which often manifests in the form of toxicity. Several factors play a part in this.


When I came across DotA, I was about fourteen years old. As a highly competitive teenager, I took my game sessions seriously. Winning is akin to life and death — it defines my competency and place amongst my peers. For games such as League of Legends, Dota 2 and Overwatch, many of the players fall within the teenage or young adults age group. Although games are designed for fun experiences, PVP games can get pretty serious for players of this age group.


In a game of League of Legends, it is common to invest about 30-60 minutes per session. The longer a game goes, the more the investment from the player. Believe me, losing after investing 60 minutes in the game never feels good. Being denied something that you worked hard for is just devastating. Games with lower average play sessions are less frustrating in this sense as the investment required from the player is lower.


Competency level amongst the player’s friends is perhaps the key factor that drives frustration. In a social setting where all your friends are talking about the game and playing together, performing well is correlated to your social status and popularity.

How it all explodes — Losing and toxicity

All of the above factors culminate together when we start to lose in a game. Upon losing, we begin to rationalize why and we often blame our teammates instead ourselves because it is way easier to do so. Whether or not our teammates underperformed usually isn’t the issue. It’s often the losing part that triggers this. As a result, we are inclined to say harsh words in impulse because we’re so emotionally charged — toxic words. Hopefully, understanding this will help us control our emotions better in the future and ensure that our friends are no hurt when playing together. After all, games are supposed to promote fun interactions between friends.

2 Replies to “Anger and Toxicity in Games”

  1. Personally, I don’t like the PVP mechanics. I understand is very exciting and popular. Supposedly, it should also enhance the interacions between the players and group of the players. It should be like sports (some of the games are). But in many of the MMO games, in order to earn more profit from the players, PVP system is balanced based on how much the players paid for high level equipment. Instead of becoming a real sport it becomes a stage on which people show off their fortunes.

  2. Your point about a time investment to emotional response ratio is very insightful. I think you could also use this to speak to the ways PVP game design discourages and promotes toxic behavior through design principles (intentionally or not.) Games have a hand in generating the culture around them and the kinds of people who remain players. The culture around these games can become toxic because the game allows/puts the player in the mindset of being hostile. Cooperation rewards may be scant or players maybe rewarded for looking after their self-interests instead. This puts some of the responsibility on the game to be a community manager, rather than asking players to police themselves.

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