Toxicity has been around for at least at long as humans have. (I can just imagine some caveman telling a fellow hunter “Hey man, could you stop throwing the fight here? You aren’t hitting anything with that stupid slingshot, and that sabertooth tiger is wrecking us.”) When the stakes are high in a team competition, there are bound to be people who openly question whether their teammates are doing what they should do to win. Toss in the relative anonymity and sour attitudes of the Internet, and online team games are ripe breeding grounds for toxic behavior.
Because of these concerns, Nintendo made an explicit choice to not include voice chat when it made its initial foray into the shooter genre with Splatoon. While the game still had a few “attack vectors” for toxic players to abuse (squid taunting, booyah spamming, going after other players on Miiverse), the lack of direct verbal communication kept the game from suffering from the massive toxicity issues that plagued its peers.
For Splatoon 2, however, Nintendo decided to include voice chat as part of its effort to establish the game as a serious e-sport. While this allows teammates to better coordinate their movements in battle, it also leaves players vulnerable to toxic teammates. Given that similar games like Overwatch seem to be going through especially turbulent/toxic periods right now, how concerned should Nintendo be about a similar cloud hovering over Splatoon 2?
I think it’s good news/bad news time…
- Nintendo has obviously put a lot of thought into their voice chat deployment, and they’ve tried to limit contact between random players. Game producer Hisashi Nogami provided the following quote to My Nintendo News:
“The reason we included voice chat is because we wanted users who already know each other to enjoy the game more deeply using a communication tool that’s linked to the game…Voice chat can only be used when playing with someone you know, such as in private matchmaking; voice chat with someone you don’t know in random matchmaking won’t happen.” (emphasis added)
People are less likely to take potshots at players they know than at anonymous squids that they don’t, so these restrictions are good news.
- However, the bar to becoming friends with someone via a Nintendo system is pretty low in my experience. I’ve gotten quite a few random friend requests from players who I’ve only known for a few Turf Wars or Mario Kart races, and I tend to accept them without doing a whole lot of vetting. I’ve also sent out a lot of friend requests to Splatfest teammates who I’ve never met, and they’re rarely rejected. (In fairness, I should note that I’ve met a lot of cool people via these random friend requests, so it’s not a completely broken system, just a risky one.) In other words, it’s not too hard to become friends with people you’ve never met and don’t know, and when it comes to toxicity concerns, that’s bad news.
- Because voice chat is done through a separate smart-device app rather than the Switch itself, there’s an extra cost burden placed on players who want to participate in it:
- You need a smart device (phone, tablet, etc.) that can run Nintendo’s app.
- You need a suitable headset if you want to hear both your teammates and the in-game audio.
In other words, not just any random squid can jump into voice chat—you have to make a dedicated effort/investment to receive that privilege. It’s not much of a barrier, but it’s good news from a toxicity standpoint (if you’re going to say mean things to someone, you’ll have to pay extra to do it).
- For players that don’t want to pay for the privilege of voice chat, however, there are freely-available tools like Skype or Discord that can allow players to communicate outside the scope of Nintendo’s walled garden. While this option requires some coordination ahead of time between players, it’s not hard to imagine people giving out their Skype user names as freely as they accept Miiverse friends. This is technically bad news, but these tools have also been available for players to use for the original Splatoon, and they don’t seem to have wrecked the community yet.
Overall, while I do think that the risk of exposure to toxic behavior is higher thanks to the inclusion of voice chat, the restrictions that Nintendo have put in place (both implicitly and explicitly) mitigate this danger somewhat. We’ll inevitably hear reports about the new voice chat feature being abused, but I don’t we’ll reach the widespread toxicity that games like Overwatch are experiencing right now. The key for players is basically to choose their friends wisely, and be considerate of others when they chat with them.
There’s no way to completely eliminate toxic behavior, but if we all aim to be more understanding and less confrontational towards our fellow squids, we can minimize its impact and make the game more fun for everyone.