Ninja's comments show how games continue to be inaccesible, and it sucks

Ninja Redbull
Ninja Redbull (Image credit: Ninja)

I used to play a lot of Apex Legends, especially when it first came out, but I had to stop for two reasons. For one, several strangers I was playing with either thought I was a child or hated that I was a woman. This is typical playing games online so that didn't cause me to quit outright. The other is the competitiveness that it brought out in me and the ungodly amount of pressure I put on myself.

Apex Legends, like many online games, has daily and weekly challenges that force players to mix up their typical gameplay. Some are easy — play three games, revive a player — but some are much more difficult. The times where I had to win three games, for example, or get a certain amount of headshots filled me with dread. I had to improve at the game so drastically just to complete a challenge. If I was having a bad day and wasn't getting kills, I wasn't just having a rough go of it or some bad luck. It felt like I was doing something wrong. So I discarded the game; it wasn't in my best interest to keep playing a game that made me feel awful for not living up to certain arbitrary standards.

What these games wanted you to know was that if you wanted to play on an easier difficulty, you were weak.

As a woman, my skills as a game player are often called into question, whether it's how much I know or how well I play. I've lost count of the number of times men tried to quiz me on my knowledge or flat-out ignored me in conversations about games because my male partner was also there. There are even more instances of strangers in online games who decided to berate me when I wasn't doing well.

It doesn't help that a lot of games push this narrative forward of their own. It's less frequent these days, but remember back when a Gearbox lead designer referred to a Mechromancer skill tree as "girlfriend mode?" Wolfenstein 3D's easiest difficulty was called "Can I play, Daddy?" and, unfortunately, that image of B.J. Blazkowicz in a bonnet and pacifier still persists into the new games. Even to this day, games from the likes of From Software continue to create conversations around how much difficulty matters, which leads to mentalities around who gets to play those games.

What these titles wanted you to know was that if you wanted to play on an easier difficulty, you were weak. Stop being a baby and play on the harder difficulty! If you were a woman, it was even worse. You didn't play games, which is why you needed this super easy skill tree.

I've come a long way from the person I once was, who was scared to note how I just wasn't good at games or was having trouble. Nowadays I can laugh about it and feel alright moving down the difficulty or looking up the answer to a problem online. Sometimes I feel the need to challenge myself and other times I just want to experience the story without worrying about combat (looking at you, Witcher 3).

Then comes Ninja.

In case you've been living under a blissful rock, Tyler "Ninja" Blevins is an extremely famous and successful Twitch, now Mixer, Fortnite streamer. He's a millionaire and has millions of fans and followers that watch him build and shoot for hours on end. He doesn't need to hear what I have to say and probably doesn't care.

However, when he comes on the internet with statements like this, it sets a horrible precedent.

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He tweeted Tuesday night, "The phrase 'it's just a game' is such a weak mindset. You are ok with what happened, losing, imperfection of a craft. When you stop getting angry after losing, you've lost twice. There's always something to learn, and always room for improvement, never settle."

I might be in the minority here considering the endless snark that's populated my Twitter feed since he tweeted this, but there's a lot in this statement that makes sense. Ninja's comments are in line with his goals as not only an influencer but also as a competitive Fortnite player. Like any athlete, he wants to get better at his chosen craft. If he plays to improve, then he's doing a service to not only his audience but to himself. Some people play competitive games to get better.

It's the first part that's the problem. Also, the rest of it, which you can see in this video, where he doubles down on his comments and calls those "weak" people "stupid" to boot.

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People who don't want to play games competitively aren't "weak." Those who want to play a game for fun aren't "weak." To talk so concretely about games as a whole when so many games aren't competitive and people don't want to play that way is disheartening at best, but dangerous at worst. Ninja is such a huge name and his words have power, so to demean a huge chunk of the gaming audience is not only a bad look, but it pushes forward some horrible inaccuracies.

Ninja, game designers who preach difficulty as a sign of quality and then make you feel horrible for playing on easy, players who test your knowledge and skill as a sign of your legitimacy, all contribute to a toxic culture around games. The "git gud" mentality and the hardcore vs. casual infighting are on full display here. This needs to stop.

I wish we didn't have to talk about Ninja like this. He's in his 20s — he's going to say some stupid stuff. His words are not the be all end all of how we perceive and play games. He's also somebody that never falls into my orbit until he does something dumb, which says a lot about how much influence he has over people who don't follow him or cover game streaming professionally (or if you're in charge of TIME Magazine's top 100 most influential people list).

However, I know I'm not the only person who felt that games were inaccessible to me because of any of the reasons I've listed. Our work Slack is filled with people who were either befuddled or hurt by Ninja's comments. People came out on Twitter to talk about how they play games for fun as a counterbalance to Ninja's toxic viewpoint (and those are more important than anything Ninja complains about).

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Also, a friend told me once that he had to report somebody in Apex Legends because this other player said that if he didn't win, he'd go and perform a mass shooting.

So maybe there's more to Ninja's comments than we think.

Carli contributed gaming content across Windows Central, Android Central, and iMore. Her last name also will remind you of a dinosaur. F

25 Comments
  • Calling him out using words like stupid and dumb..... probably not the best way to address his statement. Additionally, you pointed to his age as being a factor; which on the surface, feels as if you are either giving him a pass, or saying that being young means you lack wisdom. Context matters as well. I don’t imagine he’s speaking to people just wanting to play for fun. There are levels to everything. Competitive play for fun vs competitive play professionally. These types of personal arguments tend to fall flat for me personally.
  • Ninja is on a long, slow slide into irrelevance. Who cares what he thinks? You conflate several issues... Toxicity from other players, developers and such is a problem. Hopefully it'll improve with time, unfortunately i don't think there is a quick fix, it sucks but that's society for you. On the issue of not liking competitive games though i think the resolution is simple; don't play them. The only person to blame for you playing games you don't enjoy is you.
  • Or there isn't more to his comments than what you make up in your head. It's very similar to any other typical sports (basketball, football, baseball, track, cheerleading, etc) . Players see the game as more than just a game. they see it as life, as a metaphor to life as a representation of something larger than themselves. Other see those sports as fun way to throw the ball around, run, or jump. Both menatilties are correct.
  • I think context is everything here. From what I gather a lot of Ninja's career has been legitimizing and normalizing esports. A man in his 50s playing some basketball or tennis at the gym as part of his exercise routine is in a completely different category than someone competing in a tournament or professional league, and those categories are separate because of the way we as a society look at fitness and athletics. Like you said, he's a 20-something kid with a camera on him all the time, this probably wasn't the best word choice to convey his message. But I think the focus of this is to promote respect for professional esports players, not to create an elitist mentality in a non-professional/hobby setting for video games.
  • I had a similar reaction to his comment. I think maybe one issue (and this is one that I feel persists in all corners of gaming) is that gaming is a super wide industry, but most people (especially pros and celebrities) only see their corner. I love single player RPGs, but I play them in Baby A$$ Easy Mode whenever possible, because I want to actually play in the limited time I have as a working adult, but that's me. In a purely competitive environment, I suppose his comments make sense. The problem is that even Fortnite is not only one thing. There's an assumption that the way he plays is the way the game is meant to be played, and all other ways are inferior. Me and my kids have bought the last five Battle Passes, and had a great time leveling them up together. Epic seems to know this, and has gone a long way to reach out and make changes for the kinds of players we are, but we know we aren't the only kinds. I think the only way we fix the negative image of gaming is to be inclusive, and that means diversity. Maybe Ninja needs a Game Pass sub. He might realize BR's aren't the only thing around.
  • He's a 20 something year old kid. I play adult league hockey and I remember when I was in my 20's. If we didn't win I got mad, couldn't understand why my teammates didn't want to get better. Fast forward, I'm almost 40, have a child, a career, a home, lovely wife. I still play adult hockey but now I understand things a little differently. Do I want to win, absolutely. Do I care if we lose, absolute not. It's about the people, the locker room, the game, the banter, making new friends and just having fun. We've had a new batch of 20 somethings enter our league and they take it too seriously just like I did when I was their age. They are not right or wrong in how they view the game. I am not right or wrong in how I view it. We are just at two different spots in our lives. I think he needs to be given a little bit of slack here.
  • Seriously? We get a whole article of angst about this? If Venus Williams made this post about tennis, everyone would agree with her. If Lebron made this tweet about basketball, there would be no controversy! Ninja is a pro gamer talking about pro gaming. Stop trying to make his commenta about your insecurities and hang ups. No one really cares what difficulty you play gsmes on....no really. Ask your friends, ask the guy on the bus/train/plane next to you. They DONT CARE.
    You go to the gym and shoot some hoops with friends..its a FUN game. Labron goes to WORK to shoot hoops. You play ALTA on the weekends, its semi serious but ultimately has zero impact on how you earn a living. Venus plays at Wimbelton...her performance costs her actual $$. The diff is you are NEVER going to play hoops with Labron, or have a match against Venus, but you very well could end up in a match with Ninja. Is that why you cant seperate the 2? Remember when Android Central was about android, and not about the mental ************ of people who dwell on how they will be judged if others knew they played video games on easy difficulty?
  • This. As I was reading this I was just like, really?
  • This hasn't been a legitimate Android site since... well, there is a reason I had to sign up to make this comment.
  • Maybe she wants to write easy articles rather than tackle relevant subjects that require thinking. That's okay too, and if you disagree it's probably because you're part of a culture that diminishes the accomplishments of women.
  • chau·vin·is·tic: feeling or displaying aggressive or exaggerated patriotism.
    mi·sog·y·nis·tic: strongly prejudiced against women.
    sex·ist: characterized by or showing prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex. @JesseIndeed Don't let anyone describe you inaccurately.
  • Streaming has no formal qualification, other than your view count. It is a popularity contest with a different set of metrics than the outfit you wore to school. It ranges from those attempting to profit on their skills as a player to those simply attempting to profit on their looks or personality. I do not consider being a streamer to be any sort of reflection of education or intelligence. Someone whose resume reads "I play games and people watch me" is not qualified to judge you as a person and should not be given a second thought when they attempt it. Some games are strategically designed to break you down in an effort to make the market feel like a necessity. They are designed to make the strong seem stronger so that you seek advantage in your wallet. They are designed to favor the popular names so others will push harder to reach the same level. Games are often just far enough out of reach that you need a little push to succeed. Many are not meant for casual players, but those are also not a valid measurement of anything beyond your desire to progress and willingness to invest. A good streamer knows that you want to seem just far enough out of reach that others need to experience content through you, but not so far out of reach that others dismiss you. Attempting to alienate your audience by calling their strength or intelligence into question says volumes about you as a person, but very little about others. It says you lack enough confidence to succeed without first attempting to degrade those that may not value your accomplishments. I am not going to say I disagree with the underlying attempt to motivate people to try harder, but there are far better ways to do it than attacking the people that pay your bills. Being notorious may get you a few commercial appearances, but what happens when nobody wants to see you and your entire career is about being seen?
  • Good article, thanks. I think age does have something to do with it. We are taught to be competitive is everything, and I feel that we forget the experience with others is fun too. As I got older, and my skill diminished because of lake of game time, I was okay with just playing with friends. It is still hard to lose though when K/D is weighed so heavily in FPS games.
  • It took me until i got to the comments to see that it was Android Central... This is irrelevant!
    But yes we play games for fun, pros don't.
  • I had no idea what Ninja said but thought it had something to do with making games accessible for those with special needs based on the article title. Boy was I wrong.
  • Hes a pro of course he's going to say something along these lines...just like a pro basketball player, pro football...ETC And please spare me this crap... "For one, several strangers I was playing with either thought I was a child or hated that I was a woman. This is typical playing games online" Going to call BS on this... Play overwatch, WoW, Call of duty..and to many FPS and I hardly see this...hell i get more flak when they find out i am gay which is once in a blue moon...hardly ever hear anyone in voice chat...***** that someone is a female maybe you looking to getting offended
  • Android Central dot com?
  • A pale dude with blue hair? Who cares what he thinks...
  • Crap article. Completely biased to the opposing side of Ninja's statement and the author had the nerve to add her own emotional comments. This is supposed to be a news article not a personal rant. I'm sorry, but we don't care about you, we care about the elaborated information of the event. I was very dissatisfied while reading this argument, especially when you implied that due to his age "he's going to say some stupid stuff." Definitely NOT something that you shouldn't add to an online news article that was transformed into a rant.
  • I could very well be wrong here, but I feel like a lot of people kind of misunderstood the ultimate point of the article. I don't think it was meant to be an article against Ninja, just more about the environment surrounding games these days and how his comment contributes to those behaviors. I used to play Call of Duty religiously and I got real good at it. After a while I began to realize how it was affecting me when I played. I would be extremely competitive and when I lost, or didn't do as well as I thought I should, it would affect my mood well after I turned the game off. I got tired being that way so I stopped playing. After a few years of never touching the game, I decided to try it out not too long ago. I was shocked at how much the game has changed in just a few years. Sure, I know I suck at it now after not playing for so long, but seeing how everyone else played the game, it was so extremely competitive. I think the article was simply trying to point out how people are becoming so obsessed with being the best, that they are forgetting that they can also just play the game to have fun and enjoy it. I have never once watched one second of Ninja or his streams, but he is a huge influence on todays gamers, especially younger gamers. So when he makes comments like that and all the 10-15 year old gamers that follow him see it, it does tend to promote the "play to win, not to have fun" mentality. That in turn will only make games like Fortnite, Call of Duty, GTA online, etc. that much more difficult to have fun playing. I love GTA online, but I hate playing with other people. I can only play if I can trick my network connection and get a solo map. Then me and only my friends can play peacefully doing missions and earning money without interference. Nothing more annoying than getting blown up by a flying motorcycle while trying to sell my meth. Can't I just sell my Meth in peace? I just feel like the article was trying to point out that we are heading towards the accessibility of games becoming much much worse for casual, every day gamers due to the growing extreme competitiveness in games these days. But, I could be completely wrong and could have totally misread this whole article... that's possible also.
  • No you're correct. Thank you for actually reading it!
  • I thought it was great, and I agree with you completely. It's almost like I have found a new love for playing games since I started shying away from highly competitive games. I can actually enjoy them and relax when I play them. Talking to people becomes more about the conversation instead of yelling and insulting and threatening. Amazing how much less stress you feel when you remove stressful things. Who knew?
  • Why don't you try to learn from your readers feedback rather than imply that those who disagree with you didn't read your article? You're publishing an article not a diary entry. If you want to make a point about casual gaming and only expect comments about that, then don't throw in unrelated stuff like being "hated" in online games because you're a woman. Otherwise accept that people will react to that part, especially if they think you're making stuff up. And before crying wolf about sexism in gaming, did you consider that if people stop talking to you and instead talk to your friend, it's not because of your gender but rather because your friend is easier to talk to, as a person? From the level of drama in your article it seems quite likely that people will retreat if that's how you behave in real life. Also it doesn't help that your rant about competitive game streamers is published on androidcentral. People come here because they are interested in Android, not in Fortnite or in your self-perceived gender victimization.
  • I used to play online games back when you needed a modem and phone line to do it, so people being idiots usually only occurred in the game lobby since there was no voice chat and people who tried to type stupid things while playing usually paid the price for it (eg got shot in the back while trash talking). Back then, there was definitely comments that today would be considered sexual harassment made by a lot of gamers, It wasn't right then and it's still not right today. Ninja's comments are probably a little reckless but I don't think ill willed. It would be the equivalent of a muscular trainer at the gym going up to someone and saying, "You are weak because you can only bench half the weight I can." The goal may be to motivate someone to do better but it may not be possible to get them to the same level (genetics, time commitment, etc). Ninja plays like 8 hours per day, every day. I did something like that with Half Life (yes, the original one) for two days and virtually quit playing FPS for a few years because of motion sickness. Not everyone can do what Ninja does, hence why he is compensated well for it, and not everybody can be held up to that level.
  • Saying "run along back to your treadmill, you scrawny *****" is not the same as "this equipment is a little too advanced for you." The problem this article is citing is the same one you are trying to explain away. Kids are learning to communicate from people who don't know how to express themselves properly.