Toxicity within airsoft is a common topic for those wanting to put the world to rights and it’s something I’ve tried, and failed, to write about on many occasions. But I finally think I’ve finally managed to find a way to put across how I feel, without actually turning this itself into a toxic rant.
Do I think there is a systemic issue with the attitude of many airsofters? Yes. Do I think this is isolated to only airsofters? No. It’s in our nature to seek conflict, get two people in a room and you’ll probably have a disagreement as soon as you find something important to talk about.
There’s also an overwhelming individual need for many of us to be recognised. Andy Warhol once said “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes” and with the advent of social media, it’s given a fair amount of people that little step up. This desire to put a message out into the wild can be for many reasons, some honourable and some less so. People amplify their own demons when they have a platform to do so, it’s a classic case of giving yourself rope to be hanged with.
Some of us become narcissistic, egotistical. Others choose to sell out to any brand that will further their quest. Me? I guess I’ve become a little arrogant in my opinions, maybe a bit more aloof… I don’t know… It doesn’t matter what I think really. But that’s the thing about perception, you only get to influence it, you can’t force someone to see you in a different light.
One of the main arguments I see online revolves around how “airsoft is worse than it used to be”, that somehow the community isn’t what it once was and that newcomers are more to blame than the old guard. They might have a point, but they might also be creating that perception in their head.
So what do I think? Well, it’s a complex issue and as such, my viewpoint is only based upon the parts that I’ve witnessed and are relevant to me. Inhabiting a strange and blurred world of writer/reviewer but also player, I see airsoft at its best and worst.
The issue of toxicity in airsoft (certainly online) is often attributed to well known and (whether you like it or not) influential players/content creators/influencers/groups. If I bring up names like Femme Fatale Airsoft, Kicking Mustang, Matt The Musketeer, The Heresy Group, Airsoft Rants & Bants, UKAC… All have developed their own fanbase and all have developed their own enemies, sometimes by mistake, sometimes because controversy gives them something to talk about.
Whilst there are usually a number of reasons why people polarise for or against a particular individual or group, quite often it’s a mindless mob mentality that causes people to further another persons agenda that really isn’t anything to do with them in the first place.
I’ve seen people being torn to shreds for the stupidest reasons, by people who are so far removed from the initial argument that as an outsider looking in, you have to question the intelligence of say… A speedsofter in the US questioning the site specific rules of a U.K. Filmsim/Themed game. The moral of the story? Stay in yer fuckin’ lane seppo.
When you’re making memes about someone you’ve never heard of until some twat on Instagram tells you that they’re a knob, you really need to look at your motivations for perpetuating the argument.
At that point, there isn’t much difference between you and the cowards who wait until the fight is over to put a boot into the guy in the ground. Your “mate” doesn’t need your help… Well, maybe his ego does.
Or do you think that by showing some form of misplaced loyalty that it won’t be you getting a kicking next time they’re short of material? Is it the fear that you could be next?
We’re often far too quick to pick a side, not just in matters within airsoft and also in general… Ask someone about Trump, or Brexit, or COVID-19 restrictions and measures. All too often it’ll end with an unresolvable argument, neither side really being able to see that the other has a valid point, neither side willing to listen, convinced that their own opinion is absolutely right that their opposite number is absolutely wrong.
We bring this attitude to Airsoft, whether it’s arguing about the merits of real kit vs reproduction or Tokyo Marui vs Cyma, people become very tribal in their beliefs, even defending the weakness of their own arguments to the point of boring ad hominem statements like “more money than sense” or “jUsT aS GUD”.
I’m guilty, I have my own views on many topics, but I do force myself to see the point of view of those who disagree. If I’m still opposed to their view after listening to their argument, I’ll try to win them over, but it takes a real strength to listen… Actually listen, not just wait for your turn to speak.
If you want to destroy someone’s argument and actually get them to acknowledge your point, you’ll do it better by listening and asking pertinent questions. Shouting them down won’t win them over, it’ll force them to double down and regard you as a caricature of their opponent (libtard/gammon/poor/gearwhore).
So that’s probably the most important aspect of toxicity, it’s within us all. I know airsofters who are oblivious to the toxicity, and it’s because they simply don’t get involved in the petty arguments. I also know airsofters who only talk about the toxicity, and to be fair, it’s because they choose to get involved.
There is also the question of whether social media itself is to blame.
Now let’s take off those rose tinted glasses, we’ve always had arguments in Airsoft. But with the rise of social media, these arguments have become a lot easier to get involved in. In the “good old days” you’d have to sign up to a forum on your PC, type out a post and then wait until someone was willing enough to dig through the forum, reply to your post and then wait for you to get back to your computer to read it. Arguments could sometimes last months, but often they just fizzled out.
When people wrote on a forum, they didn’t feel that they had to rush their reply, and so often their argument carried a little more weight. There was also the moderators that generally put an end to unpleasant threads rather quickly.
Social media is fast, it’s possibly too fast. Not only does it automatically refresh, but you can often see when someone is forming a reply. You see those three pulsing dots and your blood boils before you’ve read their message, often thinking about your next step… Not concerning yourself with their point of view.
Content creators themselves also have a part to play. From youtubers to bloggers, IG photographers and even Facebook group admins. The content you put out or allow to be shown on your platform will often have a consequence that could change someone’s life.
Putting up a dubious “cheater exposed” video when the evidence is only your edited hit markers and hearsay, it’s damaging. Not only to the hobby, but also to anyone involved. If they cheated, show a marshal the footage, don’t highlight that player and demonise him for your own personal gain.
Airsoft is supposedly a game of honour and whilst showing a video might call that person’s reputation into question, by using that moment for personal gain, the first thing I learn about you is that you have zero regard for anyone but yourself. And a person with no honour themselves has zero chance of convincing me about a strangers character.
So how does the online toxicity influence the actual game days? Well here’s the part where I put forward my argument for banning cameras out in game.
The media that most new airsofters see is littered with strongly edited footage that conveys the image of a player getting a 30/40 “kill streak”. The majority of successful YouTube airsoft channels started off as gamer channels and they’ve brought the same mentality across to Airsoft… not just the hit markers, not just the kill feed, not just the little “thwap” sound they add on when they’ve “hit” someone.
There’s also the unintentional consequence of “all hits count, but some more than others”, this phenomenon is never spoken of by the content creators themselves, but it exists. A virtual health bar that appears to give players more than one chance to get their own shot on target, and disregard the incoming shots.
This mentality feeds through to their viewers and subconsciously becomes part of their playing style. Maybe it’s poetic justice that these players often end up in front of that very same camera, becoming the very thing they seethed at whilst watching a YouTube video.
Do I think we’ll see an end to toxicity within Airsoft? For some people, yes. If you’re able to cut away from negative influences and be a little more constructive in what you digest, then you could probably remove most of the negative influence from your life. If you follow an account to purely see what they do next, purely because you want something to talk about and share with you’re mates… Well, you’re not helping yourself.
There’s enough to talk about in Airsoft without seeking the toxic element, look at what you can do to make Airsoft better and it might just happen.