My article “Silent Protagonist: Why I Banned Gaming Headsets in my Home” (originally published via in Spring 2015, republished here) I explained why I had refused to buy a gaming headset. In this article, I’m revisiting gaming headsets and toxic gaming and updating you with my late 2017 reality.

Graphic: Silent No More: Gaming Headsets - a follow up article on toxic gaming with headphones in the background

“…the vernacular of too many hours absorbing the negativity of other players came shining through. I won’t repeat exactly what was said, but I will say that it included violent threats…”

Toxicity hasn’t gone anywhere in the 2.5 years that have passed since I wrote my original article on the subject. To the contrary, toxicity has become so commonplace that not only do gamers forget they are doing it (much as I described in my last article), but those who become the targets of it often become completely numb to it.

Notable exceptions exist, of course. Overwatch pro ‘Dellor’ lost his position in Toronto eSports after using a racial slur over 60 times during a live streamed match this past April. Every article I’ve found has condemned him. The gaming community is still aware of the problem and still shows an ability to shun those who participate in obvious ways.

“This isn’t the first time this has happened. I have anger problems.” – Dellor

Is acknowledging the problem enough? I don’t think so. Reprehensible behavior does not become excusable or acceptable just because we know that it is reprehensible.

Dellor’s apology, which you can read in full here, also contains this illuminating tidbit: “The only thing I can say is that despite me using that word, I am not a racist. I was extremely upset, and I was trying to make the person I was angry with upset as well, and so I said the most offensive thing that came to mind.”

That’s right. Dellor knew that he was saying the most offensive thing that his mind could conjure. Not only did this not stop him from doing it, he actually included it in his explanation as to why it happened. He used it like a shield. It was as if he truly believed that his reprehensible behavior did not count against him because he knew it was bad.

If acknowledging the problem isn’t enough, what should we do?

Siren’s interest in Overwatch grew after watching hours of gameplay online. My gaming headset ban had been broken; a means to counter the sound of fireworks. Only Abe and I were allowed to use the headset at first. When competetive matches were added to Overwatch, we found the use of the headset to be vital for success. Shot calling showed great promise. Getting consistent updates from peers with different vantage points proved invaluable. Siren asked for the headset.

Siren’s request was met with instant rejection. She didn’t quit. Nothing I have ever done has been as effective as teaching my children to debate. Twitch streams were pulled up on her phone and she grinned. “Mom, I know you think I can’t handle what they say. I can. I have to hear it even if I don’t use the headset.” Toxic gaming happens whether you acknowledge it or not.

Conquered by 13 year old, I handed over the headset. In that moment, I recognized that the option to ignore it and hope it goes away isn’t valid. We must do more. We must do better. Leading by example is the best course of action.

What does leading by example look like?

In the months since handing over the headset to Siren, I’ve observed some incredible things. My daughter is now 14 and has a boyfriend. They play Overwatch together every possible day. She won’t go after a toxic player for raging at her, but if that same player goes after her boyfriend? Her ability to come up with quick, generally non-offensive, and terribly effective commentary makes me proud.

She’s found ways to avoid the need to engage toxic players. Most days, the headset is plugged into her phone. She’s talking on Discord with her friends. Meanwhile, a small earbud chirps under the headset, plugged directly into her controller. She can hear both conversations, but she can avoid the pitfalls underlined in my original article. If she needs to communicate something important to the entire team, another Discord player is ready to relay her message.

Solo queueing is still a nightmare. I probably have more success there than Siren does, though her “Which one of us is in Grand Master?” retort is golden in anything but competitive play. More often than not, I can shut down toxic players. In the event that I can’t, Blizzard has now added a report feature for Playstation 4 players. I applaud these efforts from Blizzard, but I maintain that our own behavior contains the answer to the problem. Our example needs to be strong and positive.

Combating toxic gaming

Siren is a Mercy main. Hearing people call her a one trick Mercy doesn’t eat her up because she knows she can show them she’s not. She knows better. Siren knows better than to resort to their tactics. She knows better than to commit Dellor’s mistake and unleash the ugliest part of her soul for a game. Even in Grand Master, at the end of the day, it’s a game. As the Dellors of the world unmask themselves and each other, the Sirens of the world are rising.

Being like Siren means that you stop and think about the impact of your interactions. You can start by eliminating any racist, sexist, and homophobic comments from your gaming speech. Curse words can also be culled, but that’s entirely up to you. Lastly, ask yourself what you hope to accomplish with your comments before you make them. Adapt your choices so they are as effective as possible.

Here in our home, the gaming headset ban is dead.

Our rules are now more focused on the type of example you set while wearing the headset. Headsets are allowed, toxic gaming is not.




September 12, 2017. Written by Candace Tarkeshian for Contact with any requests to publish it elsewhere.


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