Trash talking Vs. Banter: The Psychology of Teasing in Video Games

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Recently I picked up PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale and the sad thing about it now is I get my butt kicked all the time by my young siblings. It’s not a strange enough thought in the heat of the moment, they say things like “I got you poopie face moron”, “Damn, you poopie face”, or “I’m going to blend you up a failure smoothie!”  In the most PG rated contexts, this is trash-talking; a commonly used tactic in games and other outlets where one openly insults another to depose their argument’s position; a form of trolling with the intention to evoke a similar response from the targeted person. In the example provided, my siblings are trying to evoke the same framework of trash-talking in me, but a question now arises. Why?

In Jane McGonigal’s book “Reality is Broken”, it is stated that teasing has been scientifically proven to effectively intensify positive feelings for each other. Researcher Dacher Keltner at the University of California conducted experiments where he found that teasing plays an invaluable role in helping form and maintaining positive relationships. [McGonigal] McGonigal goes on to further say that teasingly trash-talking provokes one another’s negative emotions mildly to stimulate anger, hurt, or embarrassment. But why would we want to insinuate such a negative response? Because tiny provocations demonstrate two conclusions: the person executing the trash-talking is confirming trust in that s/he is demonstrating the capacity to hurt the other person but by not taking it that far we’re showing that there is no intention to hurt. The second is that by allowing being trash-talked to, we’ve confirmed that we are willing to be in a vulnerable state. This becomes a situation where one person is empowered for a moment by putting another down. They’re given the limelight of a higher status which humans crave for. In allowing someone to trash-talk, we’re intensifying their positive feelings for us because we naturally like people when they enhance our social status.

Within the same study, Keltner found that people enjoyed being teased because it builds trusts and makes us more likable.  Competitive games in particular allow us to trash-talk to build up an emotional positive net after a good exchange of teasing. But why then are people caught repeatedly harassing other players on the basis of gender in both the game and Xbox’s online service? Gaming blogs like Kotaku and Joystiq with many other media outlets like NPR, The NYTimes, and Forbes write about discriminating factors against women who play. There are even website, and Not In The Kitchen Anymore, devoted to posting obscene comments sent and voiced to female gamers. In what was seen as the most repugnant display of sexual harassment, 25-year-old Miranda Pakozdi was subjected to unsuitable comments by her own coach “making inappropriate remarks to her and leaning in to smell her.”  The coat went further in stating that, “Sexual harassment is part of a culture. If you remove that from the fighting game community, it’s not the fighting game community.”

Writer Tyler Davis explains the perspective of this incident was that “Trash talking has always been a staple of gaming, but it stops being fun when it becomes discrimination. The anonymity of the Internet makes harassment easier, but it is no excuse to create a toxic environment.”

When we play games with people, whether they are online or offline, we exhibit this same behavior as a sport. The problem with trash-talking is simply the way it’s framed as; “Trash.” What we would say is meant to be considered as garbage that will never be taken lightly.  With banter, it is defined as a playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks meant in good-humor. In order to fully mend the understanding of the appropriate differences in the two, distinct terms must be clarified to prevent further misunderstanding. The concept that trash-talking is meant to be in good-humor never comes across as such since there are two distinct ways someone can be teased. I believe using the term banter concedes much better to the term that everyone agrees in theory helps promote positive feelings toward one another and increases the enjoyment in a game. Leaving trash-talking as exactly as it is, another way of saying “trolling”, differentiates it as something not appropriate in any situation. Banter is ok, as we can see it offers a social connection that cannot be created without it. We can then state that banter becomes trash-talking when it crosses the line of being in good-humor. Sexual, personal, or offensive comments are considered trash-talk; not appropriate or respectful to other gamers in the community. I do not believe that extricating banter will make a gaming community more fun. We need banter to create social connections that intensify our trust with one another. Creating guidelines to when it crosses the line or even a proper terminology makes it unquestionably easier to understand what limits gamers should take to create a fun and entertaining atmosphere.

So before you hop online or play a multiplayer game with friends be sure to articulate, “I’m going to banter you and then kick your poopie face.”

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Founder, Staff Writer
Narz is a journalist whom writes about League of Legends, video game psychology, gaming events in NYC, and loves being a otaku. Currently studying CBT/positive psychology in independent research to one day become a Player behavior Specialist for eSports. She also loves curry and wine. (/◕ヮ◕)/