I’ve seen a lot of VTubers playing “Crab Game” recently, so I was interested to check it out.
Crab Game is absolutely definitely nothing to do with a popular Korean show that is available on a certain streaming service; it is, instead, a multiplayer game in which up to 40 people at a time compete to be the last one standing in a series of challenges inspired by children’s playground games.
The immediate appeal of Crab Game is obvious, particularly if you have a party of like-minded friends to play with. The games are all simple to understand and highly competitive, and there’s plenty of opportunity for some light-hearted japery at the expense of your opponents. All the violence in the game is strictly cartoony in nature, and the whole thing is simplistic enough in its presentation to work on pretty much any hardware. Plus, perhaps best of all, it’s completely free. And I don’t mean “free to play” with microtransactions — I mean it’s free.
A typical Crab Game match unfolds over a series of rounds, during each of which a number of participants will be eliminated, either through failing to complete the round’s objective or simply dying while attempting to accomplish the objective. When just a single player remains, that player is crowned the winner, and is awarded a number of million non-existent dollars that corresponds to the number of players they overcame to be king of the hill — for example, someone who wins a 40-player game will receive “40 million”.
There’s a wide selection of maps and game modes that puts a lot of commercial releases to shame. Sometimes you’ll be negotiating obstacle courses and competing against other players to reach the finish line. Sometimes you’ll be battling other players directly in order to defeat them, or ensure that they’re left holding an undesirable object when the time expires. Sometimes you’ll be playing “Red Light, Green Light” at the risk of exploding into bloody chunks if you move when you’re not supposed to. Every match is a little bit different from the last, with variation brought about through both the number of players competing and the exact lineup of challenges.
All sounds pretty fun, doesn’t it? And it absolutely is if you set up a private game to play with friends — although it’s worth noting that the game as a whole is much more interesting with larger groups. And not all of us are blessed with an army of VTubers who we can collaborate with at a moment’s notice — doubtless plenty of you reading this have as much trouble as I do getting just four people together to play anything without planning things for them several months in advance.
Which means that your average Crab Game player is probably going to have to delve into the public games if they want to play on a semi-regular basis. And that’s where the problems start.
I was immediately suspicious when I pulled up the server browser and was confronted with game names like “RACISTS ONLY” and “IF YOU ARE JEWISH DONT JOIN”, but I gave them the benefit of the doubt — as objectionable as this sort of thing is, it’s also pretty common among edgelords on the Internet who think they’re being big and clever. I avoided those servers and joined one with an inoffensive-sounding name just as a new match was beginning.
My speakers were immediately flooded with people yelling “fuck you” at one another as loud as they could prior to the game starting — loud enough that I had to turn the volume down, since the game itself became pretty much inaudible — and once the game was underway, I was greeted in short order by someone yelling “nigger” at me because I happened to make a jump they missed. Elsewhere, the relentless aggressive swearing and racism continued at a particular bottleneck on the map, particularly as one player was lurking at the end of a particularly difficult section and knocking people back off the platform so they’d have to do it all again.
Thankfully, it is possible to turn off both voice and text chat — the latter is also worth doing, since eliminated players have a habit of spamming garbage in the text chat, presumably in an attempt to distract those still playing — and attempt to enjoy the game in relative peace. But then you run into the cheaters, whose character movements defy all logic and reason, and these players inevitably position themselves in such a way that they’re doing nothing but griefing those attempting to play honestly.
Part of the nature of Crab Game is to be a highly competitive multiplayer affair, where screwing one another over is part and parcel of the whole experience. But there’s a difference between having a heated rivalry with an opponent and successfully outwitting them at the last moment, and using cheats to make the experience unenjoyable for others. And Crab Game, sadly, is prone to quite a few players who do the latter right now.
What’s worse is that there’s really very little incentive or means for the game’s creator Dani to do anything about this. The game is a huge success on Steam, with 45,900 “Very Positive” reviews at the time of writing, and it has people playing at all times of day. On top of that, every VTuber collab that uses Crab Game as its main activity draws more attention to the game, bringing even more people in.
Since Dani doesn’t run a centralised server for the game, with players instead hosting their own matches, there’s likely nothing that they can do about the community problems that plague Crab Game. And that’s a real shame, because as it stands, while Crab Game is potentially an enormously enjoyable game to play with a big group of like-minded people, its public games consistently display some of the very worst behaviour I think I’ve ever seen in online gaming. And I find that actively offputting — not only in that I don’t really want to play it myself any longer than I have done already, but I also don’t want to recommend it to people on these grounds.
It’s a pity that this sort of behaviour is seemingly so inevitable in a game like this; this is the sort of thing that causes the entire gaming community to be saddled with labels that many of us don’t deserve. Unfortunately, Crab Game appears to demonstrate that it’s just default behaviour for a not-insignificant number of people online — and we should perhaps ask ourselves collectively how it came to this.
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