For many players, friendly (or unfriendly) trash talk is as much a part of multiplayer games as, well, the games themselves. Truly clever quipping, however, ain't easy, so one Steam user decided to crowdsource an automated trash talk generator. This being the Internet, things of course went horribly wrong. At least, at first.
Davis Ford's Shittalk Generator allows users to submit and upvote insults, the best of which make it into a script that you can use in competitive games like Counter-Strike, DOTA 2, and Team Fortress 2 with the push of a single button. Here are some of my favourites:
"Team Fortress 2 is also Free-To-Uninstall"
"rofl my monitor is off and i'm playing via morse code and a complex system of ech0location"
"if i wanted to kill myself id jump from your ego to your IQ"
So basically, you press a key, get a randomised serving of the finest artisinal shit talk, and watch as your fallen foe burns alive — a mere crisp atop your sizzling victory stove.
The Shittalk Generator's only been around since Saturday, but it's already hit a few stumbling blocks — some small, some the size of, well, a few popular gaming subreddits, if we're gonna be specific about it. I asked Ford about some of the more mean-spirited (and frankly, not very creative) insults I've seen, and he explained that it's definitely been a learning process. Turns out, if you give entire online communities free rein over your cool new thing, they quickly lose their shit.
"The night I launched," Ford said, "I didn't have any filters on submissions. I naively hoped that the community would police itself. Unfortunately, it seems that when a person on the internet is allowed to type in a box, the first thing they type is 'n*****.' So a filter for that was quickly put in place. People also tried submitting raw HTML, database commands, emails, Mumble servers, and a couple people entered doxxing information."
Sorting the good from the bad proved difficult — impossible for only one person to handle. Ford, who runs a large network of websites for his day job, knew he needed more than just language filters. He had to get crafty about it.
"I had 990 insults submitted very quickly," he told me, "and most of them were utter trash. I also made the mistake of initially allowing people to vote on recent/top insults. This led to people refreshing the page, re-voting, and submitting thousands of votes. I quickly re-worked the voting system so you are only presented with random insults, which prevents — or at least deters — vote-brigading."
Ford also ensured that the upvote/downvote system is fairly merciless. If an insult ever falls below a net vote total of -4, it's automatically deleted from the database. That said, Ford acknowledges that the system isn't perfect, and there's still some nasty shit festering in there. He hopes, however, that slurs and things of the like won't become popular enough to make it into the in-game script that players can use to randomly spew piping hot burns at their opponents. On the upside, I do not see any slurs in the most popular section at the moment. I do see some rape jokes, though, and generally speaking it's not super cool to run around bragging about how great you are at sexually violating people.
Good shit talk walks a fine line, though. It's drunk on braggadocios bravado, and it's meant to add a degree of insult to injury, but ideally it's still, you know, fun for everybody. Sometimes it's another way to compete with people, a verbal game on top of the virtual one. Other times, it's just a way to make people laugh. Ford explained:
"Shittalking ends when it gets personal," he said. "That tends to happen in tight-knit competitive communities; people call each other fat, ugly, whatever. That's no fun. I'd rather have you describe my butthole as a gaping cavern that squirrels nest in, you know? Something light-hearted."
I think that's something we can all agree on.
But it's hard to get everybody on the same level. It's hard to know where people you've just met and started playing with draw the line. It's a multi-headed beast of a dilemma. If nothing else, the Shittalk Generator serves as an interesting distillation of the different ways people view and use shit talk in video games. Some like to keep it pretty lighthearted, others like to torch each other on the basis of skill alone, and others make it personal or go for the "edgiest" thing they can think of. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
I think shit talking can be super fun (especially among friends who have a good rapport), but it can also cause harm or discourage people from playing a game they might otherwise fall in love with. Maybe the Shittalk Generator will help people find common ground, or maybe it will just be a funny toy that people play around with for a bit and then get bored of.