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Adam Orth, and the battle against toxicity online

Adam Orth, and the battle against toxicity online

November 6, 2013 | By Christian Nutt, Kris Graft

Earlier this year, Adam Orth was chased down by an internet hate mob. At GDC Next, he gathered up the courage to finally talk about it in public.

Here's the backstory: In the middle of an internet debate about Xbox One's online connection requirements (involving policies which Microsoft has since reversed), Orth infamously tweeted: "Sorry, I don't get the drama around having an 'always on' console. Every device is 'always on.' That's the world we live in. #dealwithit."

The "feeding frenzy," as Orth called it today, is well documented on forums, in comments, and on social media. But what a lot of people don't know is the rest of Orth's story. The "feeding frenzy" that surrounded his comments changed his life profoundly.

As noted on Twitter, Orth definitely believes that he "expressed incredibly poor judgement", saying up front at the start of his speech: "How I conducted myself was wrong".

He had to move his family, update his financial information, and more. "At the time this happened I had an incredible job offer in L.A." It was a big step for his career -- but "in a cruel twist of the knife, in 24 hours the offer was rescinded," Orth says.

Instead, something else happened: "I became a meme," Orth observed. His last name is a definition on Urban Dictionary, and his Twitter icon and words became the basis for a popular image macro.

"Not many people can say that." It's an exclusive club, he joked, "with incredibly shitty perks." People saw him as an icon, and were incredibly vicious. Online toxicity, says Orth, is "an epidemic, and it's getting worse." The internet is "fucking terrifying," he said -- not because of fear of physical harm, but because this kind of behavior has become an acceptable way to react to something.

"When something this bad happens to you, you have only two choices, Orth says: "Curl up into the fetal position," or "learn from your mistakes and move forward. "For me, the next thing was the biggest thing of them all. I survived."

Now, Orth speaks out against online toxicity -- not just that which is directed at him, but in general, as the game industry is awash in it. "This goes on, and on, and on," he says.

"I wanted to strike out at these animals and humiliate them," Orth admits, but instead, "I funneled this experience into creativity. I grew closer to your friends and family, and I matured as a person. I made sweeping positive life changes."

"Life is too short to worry about random anonymous internet negativity," he argues, and observes that when it comes to those who spew it, "this is a reflection on their life -- and only hurts if you let it."

But he does admit that "we can't put that genie back in the bottle... it's a war we can't win. Should we surrender entirely and let the inmates run the asylum?" Of course not. "Thankfully, content creators are taking proactive steps to preserve and protect their work," says Orth.

He pointed to several approaches that are working in games right now:

League of Legends. "Riot is doing progressive and well-documented work with League of Legends," Orth notes, "by approaching the problem like a suite of features... radically changing the player, gameplay, and community experience in positive ways."

Journey. "Looking at the problem from another perspective," says Orth, is thatgamecompany's Journey. It's an example of toxicity being "actively discouraged by the core gameplay experience." It's "100 percent free of toxicity, competition, and griefing," Orth says, by "focusing on the game mechanics of together."

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Valve has a "100 percent community driven system called Overwatch," he notes, which gives players the chance to report negative behavior in matches. Community managers review videos of reported behavior, "labeling a player as a suspect and removing all other names from text chat," which allows them to focus on "any suspect gameplay actions." According to Orth, 90 percent of reported cases do involve negative behavior.

"Online toxicity is never going to go away," Orth notes. But you can combat it. "Speak up when you become the target; don't be afraid to tell your story. Information is power in these situations."

"This event changed me positively and profoundly forever," says Orth. "If this happens to you embrace it -- no matter how painful it is. Use it to transform your life, your design, your code, your pixels, our industry."

"Never forget that it is meaningless noise... Keep building, keep creating."

[NOTE: Gamasutra will be making the full video of this GDC Next talk available in the near future, so that everyone can see Orth's full comments.]

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