Trolling and Sh*t Talking

Malicious internet behavior has been a thing for as long as I’ve been alive — approximately 21 years. It’s been in every social media, political talk, and video game I have ever seen or been on. It’s not shocking to see that, lately, it’s becoming controversial. People attribute the push back of trash talking to the fact that we, as a society, are becoming much more “sensitive”. And it may be so. However, things are becoming much too harsh to turn the other cheek.

We see in video games that it’s a trend to rage at your teammates for not executing moves properly and harassing non-male identifying people and/or people of color. We identify these internet harassers as “trolls”. One of the readings we had for Introduction to Digital Studies by Patt Morrison, “Privilege makes them do it — what a study of Internet trolls reveals” highlighted the idea that they attack and target others who display feminine behavior, anything regarded as “soft or emotional or sentimental.” Though Morrison’s work suggests that it’s mostly feminine behaviors that trolls target, people of color tend to be targeted just as much — even worse for those who may fall into both categories. Despite that, we see here in these examples how feminine behavior and people of color are harassed online:

The use of “cuckservative” to target “weak and effeminate” conservatives in political trolling memes (GQ)

Trolls in social media harassing a woman and her child (The Sun)


Black people targeted in video games. Specifically, the use of the word “nigger”. (YouTube Video)

It has been quite well known that feminine behaviors are constantly harassed The controversy surrounding the use of the word “nigger” in video games have become much more talked about since live-streaming has become popular.  Lisa Nakamura’s work, “It’s a Nigger in Here! Kill the Nigger!” Nakamura’s work emphasizes the way video games have become a new medium for race and gender stereotypical slurs on the basis of a person’s voice or virtual gender identifying characteristics. Players are known to “trash talk” by using profanity and obscure language at enemies and teammates for the sake of hurting their feelings despite their insults having no relation to the gameplay. They do this because they lose or are in the process of losing and feel the need to blame someone or something. Some may even do it for the sake of “lulz” (Morrison, 2015). Nakamura mentions an interesting website that includes women recounting an experience of being targeted by players — a majority being males — on their malicious behavior:

A few stood out to me:

A picture received by anonymous user after a game of Mass Effect 3. Retrieved December 9, 2017 from
An anonymous user posts his first message after getting online. Retrieved December 9, 2017 from
Another anonymous user receiving a provocative message from xHEAVENS CALLx. Retrieved December 9, 2017 from

These messages target players who may have publicly identified their gender or may have just spoken through a microphone and have been assumed to be women. Users talk about how they do little to nothing and still receive harassment like these constantly. As a personal girl gamer, it becomes obvious that these things occur daily. The more you publicly announce your gender, the more likely you are to receive messages similar to the ones above.

“Grill Gamer” starter pack meme.

Many, like I, have been afraid to express emotions freely because emotions become invalid due to the fact that you identify as a woman. It seems as though video games are much too masculine for women to be involved in and thus, memes like these hurt women attempting to enjoy a regular video game.

Take note that these pictures are not just one-time occurrences but, rather, they are used as representative images of how the gaming community has perceived women and people of color. With the amount of time that children have been spending playing games or using media in some form or another, they become a “communicative platform” that requires our attention and analysis to better understand how racial and sociopolitical aspects are influencing or is influenced by video games.

Sh*t Talking in Sports (and eSports)

Trash Talking in (e)Sports has roots in the non-virtual sports behavior. The console/network is just another medium for eSports players to voice their taunts. In the film, The Break-Up,  we see a clip in which an older man playing video games harasses, trash talks, and taunts a younger kid on the console’s network. When watching this clip, take note on the placement of the woman, Brooke (Jennifer Aniston).

Not only do we see aggressive behavior in real life (e)Sports, we also see this behavior depicted in films. Gary (Vince Vaughn) plays a football video game and he is berating and trash-talking a little kid (12 year old) despite his age. He sees no fault in this and continues to taunt and harass him. Mike (Geoff Stults) joins him and is highly interested to the point of delaying his date with the beautiful Brooke. This disregard of Brooke and the placement of Brooke is very well represented of how women are seen in the (e)Sports community. Sidelined and with no role in this “masculine” community where aggressive behavior is highly involved. However, the talk about women in the sports or gaming community is a topic too large to go into detail and so we will focus on this aggressive behavior in (e)Sports.

This behavior has become praised and highly regarded for (e)Sports players and fans alike as they take pride in their team and game play that they trash talk and taunt enemies. We see it in these famous videos:

They popularize these sports by advertising the trash-talk and even holding interviews/conferences to allow these professional sports players to taunt each other. But… why?

Herbert D. Simons in his paper, “Race and Penalized Sports Behaviors,” investigates these trash talking and taunting behaviors that he claims are being criticized. Simons sees a racial perspective towards the trash talking and taunting behaviors, but from observation, it seems as though the racial component has less connection to this as he claims. He underlines that verbal aggressiveness is an “oral tradition and expressive behavior” of the African American culture. Simons sees a large divide between whites and African American athletes; whites tend to avoid this aggressive behavior due to its poor sportsmanship while African American athletes tend to see this behavior as fun and enjoyable and partly, an act to include the crowd/audience. However, I believe that the racial divide does not completely apply. We see all races alike trash talking in their (e)Sports; you can even see it in the videos displayed above. Simons does seem to have a point in how African American athletes perceive their behavior as part of the mental game in sports; though, this perception is applied in every e(Sport). Not only does it provide enjoyment to their game by boosting egos and expressing their pride, it also breaks their opponent’s focus and mental strength. It seems as though trash talking increases a player’s confidence and optimism which leads to better performance which Joseph Milord would completely agree on. His article, “Players Who Talk Trash Are More Confident, Determined and Successful,” suggests that athletes’ competitiveness increase when they express their confidence. The mental battle in sports tend to be the easiest factor to manipulate in athletes and players which becomes an easy target for opponents. When a person’s mental game gets broken, a team sports game becomes a one-on-one endeavor and soon, the team crumbles underneath. However, those who have a strong mental game and is able to unnerve their opponent are more likely to also push their teammates to perform better as well.

So why? Those who have confidence bring their teammates along and perform better overall. But, do we normalize this behavior as part of the (e)Sport? Are these malicious words validated or do we punish it?

Bullying to Cyberbullying

I must make a statement before I continue this brief analysis of the history of trash-talking. Cyberbullying’s definition has been underlined as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices” (Hinduja & Patchin, 2009). It is my assumption that trash-talking and taunting fall under cyberbullying. We tend to narrow cyberbullying to such a term that encompasses a specific situation in which a person is harassed online by people they know. We see this form quite a lot as it attracts media attention due to rates of suicide. Even a film, Cyberbullying (2015) explicitly shows this situation:

We must dig deep to the roots of cyberbullying. How did it start? Why?

Though trash-talking seems to never be put under the same category as “cyberbullying,” the connection exists. Cyberbullying originated from bullying which has been long instilled in American culture – maybe even in all cultures in the world and Richard Donegan could not agree less. Donegan’s paper, “Bullying and Cyberbullying: History, Statistics, Law, Prevention and Analysis,” finds that bullying is intertwined with the American culture. This competitive social hierarchy and capitalistic economy in America screams to young children, “BE SUCCESSFUL!” As young as grade school, we encourage them to be “the best,” but we don’t realize that “the best” is subjective and indicates that someone is below you. We also encourage them that success means superiority and power and Donegan suggests that bullying is defined as abuse in any form to “gain a sense of superiority and power.”

Our culture encourages superiority and power; we hand out scores, we hand out ranks, and we hand out applause. We’re a culture of comparison and we seek to survive. Donegan points out a dark, honest truth: being the best gets driven into you since young and people tend to turn to corrupt tactics to get ahead. So, people turn to bullying. First its’ child-like, people harass others for answers on tests. Then they feel this superiority after having received what they wanted through corrupt tactics and begin to walk on the path of bullying. It begins with taunting words and, soon, escalates to pushes and shoves. They bring in communities and the target begins to get shunned and things take a turn for the worst when the victim resorts to criminal acts or to suicide.

So how is cyberbullying any different than that? What has evolved?

As we switch to an age of technology, other aspects of our lives shift and transform with it. Bullying is one of these aspects. The benefits that technology offers can be taken advantaged and used for corrupt tactics. The omnipresence of the internet allows for bullies to take advantage of this. It brings along audiences and crowds that would most likely not have been there if it were a non-virtual bullying situation. They use the anonymity of technology and the internet to target people without feeling guilty – it’s a distancing effect of technology that allows for people to do crueler things. Crueler things tend to lead victims towards suicide ideation. Hinduja and Patchin’s study suggest that those who have experience with any forms of bullying are associated with an increase in suicidal ideation. There way two-fold increase in children admitting to suicide attempts if they were bullied.

What can we do about cyberbullying?

That’s a tough question to answer. How do we delineate between internet trolls and intentional, real-life bullies? Are they any different? How do we regulate in games where people seem to think the malicious behavior is “funny” or “enjoyable” or “part of the game”? A lot of people tend to answer with nonchalant responses that point towards the “ignore them” direction which, sometimes, works. Other times… it doesn’t. With the internet becoming much more integrated in our every day lives, we see that the influence grows increasingly larger. I, for one, cannot give easy answers to such a growing topic. It is much too large and too complicated — too personalized — that the right answer for a situation might be wrong for another.

With that in mind… Please know that the whole world could see your post.


References and Citations

Hotlinks are provided for every citation, but here is a reference page!

Richard Donegan. “Bullying and Cyberbullying: History, Statistics, Law, Prevention and Analysis.” Strategic Communication Elon University. Accessed 10 Dec. 2017.

Herbert D. Simons. Race and Penalized Sports Behaviors. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, vol. 38, no. 1, 2003, pp. 5-22. Accessed 9 Dec. 2017.

Fat, Ugly or Slutty. Accessed 9 Dec. 2017.

Grill-Gamer-the-Ultimate-Starter-Pack_fb_6571233.Jpg (300×300). Accessed 9 Dec. 2017.

Hinduja, Sameer, and Justin W. Patchin. “Bullying, Cyberbullying, and Suicide.” Archives of Suicide Research, vol. 14, no. 3, July 2010, pp. 206–21. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/13811118.2010.494133.

Milord, Joseph. “Players Who Talk Trash Are More Confident, Determined And Successful.” Elite Daily, Accessed 9 Dec. 2017.

Nakamura-Encyclopedia-of-Media-Studies-Media-Futures.Pdf. Accessed 9 Dec. 2017.

Privilege Makes Them Do It — What a Study of Internet Trolls Reveals – LA Times. Accessed 9 Dec. 2017.

“Rebekah Vardy Reduced to Tears by Trolls Threatening to RAPE Her Two-Year-Old.” The Sun, 26 Aug. 2017,

Schwartz, Dana. “Why Angry White Men Love Calling People ‘Cucks.’” GQ, 1 Aug. 2016,

Viction. TWITCH STREAMERS USING THE “N” WORD. YouTube, Accessed 9 Dec. 2017.