Up For Debate – Gaming etiquette and the unwritten rules of playing online


There have been efforts to police how we play online, but for the most part we’re left to do whatever’s possible within the ruleset of a game. Teabagging isn’t in Rainbow Six Siege by design but crouching is a gameplay feature which some have simply bent to their will.

We see this sort of attitude everywhere though, from the relatively innocent concept of camping through to spawn killing. If there’s a way to get one-up on the system, as people we’re generally inclined to find it and use it. But, as a means to counter-act this, we’ve built these systems of etiquette. Just as with all etiquette in reality, it’s designed to grease the wheels of people socialising and playing together.

To stick to Siege for a moment, a player who goes lone wolf, who doesn’t help to build a cohesive squad of Operators, and ignores any requests for help is going to be a detriment to both their team and to the health of the match. Throw in some poor gaming etiquette and toxicity probably follows this person around like a bad smell.

I’m in danger of diverting course from poor etiquette to toxicity here, although the two are inextricably entwined. There’s that distinction between bad etiquette and ‘bm’ing (bad manners). It’s not good etiquette to not BM, that’s just called not being a bellend. It’s bad etiquette to camp, but it’s not necessarily bad manners.

This process is trying to keep everyone getting along has seen games evolve over the years. Etiquette systems have flourished in unique directions for each genre or, in some cases, given way to a default of toxicity. MMOs obviously have some monstrously complex social systems at play, although because of this depth they also tend to be some of the most welcoming and understanding. But elsewhere we’ve also built up layers of etiquette, such as a simple ‘gl hf’ (good luck, have fun) before a match or a gracious ‘gg’ at the end. On a per-game basis we also see individual rulesets sprout up. In a lot of games it would be considered poor form to quit halfway through, while in Starcraft 2 it’s considered bad manners to continue playing after it’s become obvious you’ll lose.

I’m not entirely sure if it isn’t my rose-tinted spectacles coming into play but, as an example, first-person shooters used to be a lot more social and a whole lot less about trolling your unwitting opponent. Being rude to someone for no reason says a whole lot about someone’s character. That bellend I talked about earlier? That’s them. 

A lot of it probably comes down to the rise of matchmaking, to be honest. I used to hang out in a handful of regular CS 1.6 servers and you’d see a bunch of familiar faces, day in, day out. This kind of necessitated you didn’t treat each other like shit. With all this faceless matchmaking and 15 other players you’ll never see again, there’s little accountability and less of a community. It used to be easy for people to agree on custom rulesets and just generally mess around. For instance, we’d sometimes have a quick knives-only match to break up the flow. 

We had a tipping point somewhere though, probably around the time we graduated from a simple ‘gg’ to ‘gg ez’. In that moment we slipped from basic manners to a default of being a wind-up merchant. In this sense, a ton of gaming etiquette has slipped away, particularly when looking at MOBAs or shooters.

Games used to be more friendly, there’s no doubt about it. They used to be full of helpful people who’d be willing to lend a hand. New players could learn the ropes from the pros, being a noob wasn’t a mark of shame but an admittance that help would be much appreciated.

A kneejerk reaction to this topic could boil down to ‘if it’s the game, then I don’t see a problem with doing it’. This doesn’t really hold up to much scrutiny though, and is a failing on the part of developers if they haven’t designed their game in such a way that the likes of griefing is either impossible or extremely discouraged.

But this is quite a granular take, there are bigger forces at work here. In serious racing games, for example, there’s some clear etiquette regarding what is and isn’t acceptable. Generally, overly-aggressive driving is frowned upon. You know, t-boning someone on the first corner. I love it, but the serious racers seem to hate it. The problem is, most racing games don’t really do much to deter my playing style at all, aside from ghosting someone who goes to the extreme of racing backward around the track.

For their part, Gran Turismo developer Polyphony Digital has tried educating its players with a series of racing etiquette videos. You have to watch a couple of 3-minute videos on racing etiquette in order to be granted a sportsmanship certificate and access the online lobbies. Your sportsmanship rating then goes up or down depending on how you behave in races, matchmaking based on your rule-breaking. It’s a weirdly heavy-handed way to try and fix a problem with simulation racers and kind of sucks the joy out, but it’s efficient enough that we’re surprised other games don’t try similar methods.

As far as gaming etiquette goes though, behaving on the race track is actually quite high brow. It pales next to quitters, insult hurlers, elitism, spamming, and just generally being a good sport. Developers try to put in systems to combat all of these problems but it’s an uphill battle against a mudslide of toxicity that does the rounds these days. 

So I’ll put a cap on my meandering thoughts for now, but what do you think of gaming etiquette? Do you try to get on with your teammates or are you quick to criticise? What are favourite bits of gaming etiquette which you often fall back on? Let us know below!

Our Favorite Comments


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“The only unwritten rule in online gaming is this: Typing ez at the end of the match when you’re on the bottom of the scoreboard on your team”