At this point, I’m a battle royale game veteran. Your PUBGs and your Fortnites have all known my skill and wrath, and I keep sampling or going down the rabbit hole with the ever-expanding tumultuous genre in which some number of teams enter and one single one leaves. And, for the most part, I’ve acquired those hundreds of hours of experience on the PC platform. But the sudden onset of Apex Legends, the battle royale game that currently sits on top of the pile, has got me rethinking my platform of preference. The simple fact is that Apex Legends is a better experience on my ol’ PS4. In my experience, it’s also more toxic by orders of magnitude. Now I’m in a position where I don’t want to play the better version of a game because I just don’t want to deal with the playerbase.
For me, it seems obvious that the console version of Apex Legends is preferable to the PC version, and it all comes down to balance. I’ve whiled away a couple afternoons being a top-tier legend with a mouse and keyboard, and every time I have walked away wondering about why certain things in the game work the way they do. Armor is extremely powerful, and you really have to keep hitting targets for a long time to make sure that you get a down. Coming from other PC shooters, especially the Battlefield games and PUBG, that extended fight time just felt weird.
When I started playing on console, it all clicked into place. Bullet damage and armor values in Apex Legends are made for slightly longer fights with slightly worse aim, allowing for some grazing shots and some fumbling reloads that make for more engaging combat encounters through the medium of the controller. The movement, the firing distance, the lead times that you need for shot speed: all of this makes the most sense to me when I’m doing it on my trusty PlayStation.
At the same time, I am also having some of the worst play experiences of my entire life in the console version of the game. I’m no stranger to console shooters, and I’ve put lots of time into Call of Duty IIII and the last couple Battlefield games over the past few years. The public culture of online shooter games is, to be frank, chock full of some of the worst behavior you can find in videogames right now. But none of my public chat and party chat experiences in those games have matched the few dozen games of Apex Legends I’ve played in the past few weeks.
I’m no stranger to being called slurs on the internet or in videogames. I’ve grown up with these platforms, and I’ve seen them all in the various stages. I’ve heard people get angry and begin to scream racial epithets, and I’ve listened to young, clearly white, kids say the n-word constantly for entire matches of a game. Some do it out of rage, some do it for attention, and some aimlessly say horrible things because, I don’t know, I guess it makes them feel better.
What’s been so striking about my Apex Legends console trash chat experience is how calm it has been. Literally less than an hour before writing this, I had a teammate who said “well, I guess my teammates must have been black” after we solidly lost a fight (and the game). He stayed on team comms to say this, and it was cool, calm and collected. I’ve heard the same matter-of-fact bigotry said about gender and sexuality. And, to be clear, I’m not on voice chat. I’m not talking to or communicating with these people. These players are sitting in chat and, for the most part, monologuing exclusionary toxic speech to themselves, and I’m just the teammate listening. And while this happens on PC all-chat every now and again, I’m guaranteed to experience it at least one out of every five games on console.
I could mute it, of course, but then I would miss out on the other 80% of the time when a talking person is being helpful or making appropriate callouts. And ultimately, muting them doesn’t mean that they’re not doing it. I would still be sharing a platform with these people, still playing the game with them, I just wouldn’t know what they were saying. It doesn’t help that the “report player” button on PS4 simply takes me to their profile page where I still cannot, for the life of me, figure out how to report them.
The paradox that Apex Legends has presented me with is comprised of these two things: I prefer the console experience, and to play it there I have to wade through a sea of shit. And knowing that there are people who are specifically targeted by this language, and who are forcibly excluded from voice chat because of this behavior, only makes it worse. They’re fundamentally being denied the better version of the game if they want to be able to use voice communications and play in public games. While pings and non-voice chat is a great feature that’s useful for dozens of great reasons, it still feels awful to run face-first into a wall of toxic hell in a predictable portion of games. And I wish there was something that I could do about it other than playing on another platform.
Cameron Kunzelman tweets at @ckunzelman and writes about games at thiscageisworms.com. His latest game, Epanalepsis, is available on Steam.