Harrassment Experts Say Overwatch Director's Toxicity Talk Was Ineffective

Overwatch’s game director Jeff Kaplan recently released a developer update where he discussed the game’s efforts to combat toxic behavior, but according to those who study online harassment issues, his message wasn’t very effective.

Blizzard’s hit team-based game, like many other popular gaming titles that build up large communities, has had a bit of a behavioral problem. Through sexual harassment altercations, griefing teammates, and other issues, Kaplan and the Overwatch team have been taking measures to fight off the toxic behavior.

Kaplan even called players out during his video and said that efforts to prevent their behavior was actually slowing down the game’s development, forcing them to reallocate efforts towards reporting features and punishments. While many within the Overwatch community applauded Kaplan for pushing back against the toxic behavior in an attempt to clean up the game, others didn’t see the dev diary as an effective measure.

Randi Lee Harper, the founder of the Online Abuse Prevention Initiative, told Mic that some of Kaplan’s statements didn’t amount to much, specifically when the director referred to “bad people” and “good people” in his discussions. Harper said that it’d be much more effective to define what the bad behavior was and getting rid of that would be a much better route than targeting “bad people” when most players likely aren’t going to see themselves as such.

“That’s a lesson a lot of us learned three or four years ago when we started working on this stuff,” Harper continued. “It kind of feels like Blizzard is playing catch-up with a lot of things the rest of us already know.”

Another professional in the field of online harassment, Ph.D. student online communities researcher Kat Lo, told Mic that the tools to report players shouldn’t have been an unexpected addition, but rather they should’ve been in place since the game’s release.

“It should have been obvious to Blizzard that they should have put way more resources towards this,” Lo told Mic. “I think it sets a really bad tone for their community that this is happening after the fact and that it wasn’t a core value as they started. I can appreciate that companies have limited resources and that they’re going to focus on the things that they know improve the gameplay experience, mechanics-wise, but I think that’s an outdated way of viewing games.”

Kaplan isn’t the first gaming professional to take on in-game toxicity, but his active status within the Overwatch community certainly allows for him to make more impactful stands against negative behavior. But for now, the director encourages the game’s players to work on improving their behavior so that they can do their job to continue improving the game.

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