The Headphone Actress

Who wants a piece of the champ?

Who wants a piece of the champ?

The words “toxic” and “toxicity” are often employed to describe player behavior problems in online gaming. In spite of their over-saturation within the esports lexicon, the terms themselves are apt in encapsulating how negative behavior comes in varying amounts and diffuses outward to affect other players in the same match, or even on the same team. In chemical or biological toxicology, even things that we consume every day can be toxic depending on dosage, with water being the easiest example. Figurative toxicity comes in doses as well. There’s a large gap between someone telling you to go kill yourself, and someone simply offering advice when it is neither needed nor wanted.

Gatchaman Crowds speaks of how one’s personal context directly relates to how toxic their actions can be. Hajime Ichinose stands on one side, with her bubbly personality as a panacea, and her opponent, Berg Katze, poisoning everything he touches. Put them together and one has the emotional state of the average human being, with all of the highs and lows to follow. How one acts in game is directly related to what happens to them outside of the game. Takane Enomoto of Mekaku City Actors is one such ordinary person, who also happens to be heavily invested in online gaming.

Imagine if I had a real weapon.

Imagine if I had a real weapon.

Mekaku City Actors‘ treatment of Takane’s hobby is notable because of the unique framework the series provides, along with others’ reactions to her specific talents. In a way, Takane is no better off than the science specimen that her teacher, Kenjirou Tateyama, purchased with their school festival budget, as she is shown to live her life primarily in a box inhabited by two other people: Tateyama, and one fellow classmate, Haruka Kokonose. It’s no wonder that she turns to online gaming to escape this. Additionally, in her own words to Haruka, she has no friends, which gives her ample time to practice, improve, and eventually earn the second place title in all of Japan for the gory shooting game, “Dead Bullet.” Naturally, when suggesting that making a shooting game – rather than a shooting gallery to take advantage of Tateyama’s specific talents – for their class project, Takane does so knowing that she has the ability to win against the majority, if not all, of her would-be opponents.

What follows is the stereotypical part of the story: Takane tries to hide just how skilled she is in shooting games from her real-life classmate Haruka, while adopting her online persona of “Ene” when immersed in the game itself. When her cover as the “Dead Bullet” runner up “Ene” is blown, Haruka easily accepts, and praises, her allowing Takane to fully project her confident online persona while taking down opponents in their homemade game, “Headphone Actor,” until Shintarou Kisaragi shows up and defeats her.

“It wasn’t rigged. I was totally outclassed. This little lady has some serious skills . . . Skills like yours can’t be written off with such superficial words. It was the look in your eyes while you played that told the tale. Those were the eyes of someone who has looked death in the eye many times.”

– “Dead Bullet” semifinalist to Takane Enomoto, following his defeat at her hands, Mekaku City Actors, episode 6

Returning to the figurative idea of toxicity that relates to player behavior, it’s easy to see how self-centered toxic actions are. A person causing issues for others in an online game often has a personal context behind it – a bad day at work, horrible results on their latest exam, etc. – and is simply taking it out on other people rather than addressing it themselves. Furthermore, it is a lot easier to verbally speak to the mistakes of others on your team, rather than admit to one’s own. Most importantly, it’s far easier to blame one’s teammates rather than admit that one’s opponent could simply be more skilled.

For example, if I make a serious mistake while playing League of Legends, I do not typically mention it to my teammates, reason being that I absolutely hate making mistakes, and am already beating myself up over it. I will easily jump to a deficiency in my own play before I will give credit to another player, and in some cases this is completely wrong. Instead of berating myself for doing poorly, I should be soaking in what my opponent is doing to outclass me, and attempt to adjust my own gameplay accordingly. I rarely see others doing this, including myself, friends I play with regularly, and professional online streams. All are quick to blame themselves, and teammates, which directly increases the levels of tension (and toxicity) in game, rather than admit to being outclassed by an opponent.

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Interestingly enough, Mekaku City Actors allows its characters to admit defeat not once, but several times throughout its sixth episode. Takane’s initial opponent to test her class’ new game admits that he was thoroughly outplayed by her, when his friend attending the demonstration immediately leaps to an assumption of cheating. Her opponent recognizes and acknowledges Takane’s superiority instead of blaming the game itself, or calling her “lucky,” even as she tries to write herself off as such in order to keep her internet handle a secret. Takane also admits, even in light of Shintarou’s condescending attitude, that he was far better of a player. In both cases, rather than beat themselves up over their own gameplay, or take their loss out on others, the “Dead Bullet” semifinalist and Takane respectively have the grace to give their fellow contestants credit where credit is due.

“Your play style is sloppy, and you’re weak at reading situations.”

– Shintarou Kisaragi to Takane Enomoto, Mekaku City Actors, episode 6

Lastly, the series also gives an example of behavior that could be considered toxic or not, depending on the recipient of the information. Shintarou bluntly states Takane’s in-game weaknesses to her before trouncing Takane in her own game. The attitude on display would be toxic to one who rises to Shintarou’s direct assessment of his adversary’s inferior mechanics and strategy. Takane, for one, is incensed at his accusations prior to playing him.

The other day, I queued up for a game with four friends. Our fifth teammate was a random player. For whatever reason – the role I was playing was the presumed damage-dealer, or perhaps I was simply the worst of the five of us – this person constantly asked me questions. Why did I not do this? Why did I not do that? Why was I here instead of there? Following the game, which we lost, one friend of mine labelled the random teammate’s behavior as toxic. I immediately disagreed. In fact, other than a few poor decisions that said teammate made, I was appreciative of the advice, in spite of the fact that it was not prompted, nor particularly constructive.

What I realized, from both this game and this latest episode of Mekaku City Actors, is that perceived toxicity not only depends on the dosage dished out – at least Shintarou didn’t tell her that he hoped she would die in a catastrophic accident – but how receptive the target is towards criticism in general. I appreciate how Takane admitted that she had been outplayed, and additionally, I liked the direct approach that Shintarou used when analyzing her gameplay. Yes, he turns it into a taunt. And yes, as Takane mentions to Ayano Tateyama following the match, Shintarou could have had a better attitude about it. However, the end result of Takane looking back at her own playstyle and acknowledging Shintarou as a superior player along with her predictably prickly reaction to his blunt observations, is something that any video game player can relate to.




  1. Especially for a competitive game like League of Legends, having the tolerance to parse the good advice from the bad is a great skill to have when it comes to improving yourself. Sure, sometimes they could be nicer with their delivery or at least wait until the end of the match to outline their grievances with you, but if you know you can improve and the guy has a barely-constructive idea of how to go about that, why not consider the advantages/disadvantages? Muting them would bring temporary satisfaction in the form of not playing worse due to toxicity, but if your designated mutee had some legitimate points about your playstyle… you won’t be able to play better, either.

    That, of course, doesn’t absolve the advice-giver of any wrongs irrelevant to the advice he gave you. That was the game with the Yasuo, right? He wanted me, the designated and sole tank, to initiate on a team with way too much counter-initiate power for Yasuo to live after any of his follow-up ults. And I would guess his complaints towards you being passive were more motivated by his intent to remain full ham in the match (thereby losing us the game) rather than actually seeing you improve. Does that make the lessons you learn from the game shitty because of that? No! What matters most from games like that is recognizing your own mistakes and shortcomings; using the words of your teammates, no matter how toxic they are, to inform and improve your own play. It’s okay to dissect the text when someone rants like that. Be picky about what bits of information you process in this game and you’ll be rewarded with a worthwhile experience.

    1. “Does that make the lessons you learn from the game shitty because of that? No!”

      This is so important and (if you remember back this far because at this point it was about two weeks ago) why I argued back following this game that the Yasuo was not toxic. Needlessly reckless and aggressive, yes, but toxic, no. He told me a few things that I could have been doing that have actually helped me improve, and I’m grateful for that.

      As an aside, for better or worse, I have never muted another player in my life. ^ ^;

      Thanks for this comment.

  2. I didn’t know you played League of Legends, aj! I’ve never played it myself, although I do know it’s quite popular in my part of the world (World of Warcraft is still king there. ><)

    The endcards for each Mekakucity episode are winning entries from an official fanart contest. Winners get 30000 yen(about $300) and signed merchandise, although you need a Niconico account to join.The first batch round is ending this May, but I think they'll be starting the contest again for the later episodes, so if you're interested…

    Re Mahouka: The full translated lyrics for the opening song are already out, if you are interested.

    The opening's currently #3 in Japan's music charts as of this post.

    1. I do play League of Legends. It’s a lot of fun, even though I’m quite bad at it. I’m more of a fan of League as an esport than as an actual game that I play (similar to my affinity for baseball).

      That contest sounds cool. It will be fun to see the winning entries. ^ ^ Thanks for the comment!

  3. This is one of the reason why I barely play multiplayer games nowadays. It can sometimes get pretty frustrating.. xD Although I admit it definitely has some good sides too.

  4. Oh boy, if you think LoL players are toxic, you should play some dota2 games.

    There is a greater level of emotional investment I believe due to:

    longer games

    Deaths not only lead to the enemies getting ahead, but your team falling behind (getting punished)

    Dynamic meta where literally anything goes (lol equivalent being where a team can be all damage dealers, or all tanks, etc… Simply because no one thinks of the team over what hero they want to play). Stupid team compositions that are literally un winnable can cause finger pointing as people think what could have happened if they didn’t have hero XXX on their team in redundant role.

    Voice chat, so you can get a bond with team mates, or flame them down; a lot faster than via typing.


    It’s a bit unfair to paint a community with the one brush, but dota2 truly can be emotionally draining, and almost encourages toxicity. Your post hit the nail on the head, but I feel is lacking without talk of emotional investment as a key driver in toxicity.

    I’m sure some people will always be toxic, but there must be something to cause such a huge difference in the percentage of toxic community between lol and dota2.

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