Pickens teen “Ace” Rift, who experienced real-life bullying in school, has launched Ace Rift apparel to help stop toxic behavior in online gaming and raise awareness about how to stop and recognize bullying in schools. Visit his website at www.acerift.com where you’ll find shirts, hoodies and hats that help promote his mission.
Rewind to a time where playing video games with friends meant you had to be in the same physical space they were in, likely sitting on the couch next to one another. A little healthy trash-talk was part of the fun.
But with video games and their shift to online platforms players rarely play face-to-face these days. Just as we see on social media, where people feel emboldened to be cruel and say things they wouldn’t say in person, there is a population of online gamers that spoil the fun for everyone with a bad attitude and corrosive presence. They cuss, throw games, name call and slur, and engage in a variety of other types of behavior that has earned them the unenviable name “toxic.”
“Ace” Rift, a 15-year-old Pickens resident who experienced his fair share of bullying in school, wants to make a difference in the online community by reducing the amount of toxic behavior and make gaming fun again. He also wants to raise awareness about real-life bullying and provide information about bullying and suicide prevention. After a particularly unpleasant experience with a toxic gamer, the seed for Ace Rift apparel was planted and the company is now open for business. Ace Rift’s mission is to promote an anti-bullying attitude in gaming communities and make them safe places players can go to have a good time.
Invisible wounds; finding strength
Anyone who has been bullied knows damage rarely comes in the form of bruises or scratches. Harassment leads to mental wounds that can last a lifetime. Ace attended public school from kindergarten through 7th grade, the year he said he was threatened almost every day. He is now homeschooled.
The summer of 6th grade, Ace took martial arts to learn self-defense, discipline, and self-respect – and he said it went a long way helping him deal with threats. Still, 7th grade was a tough year. The summer after 6th grade a video of him sparring was widely circulated in the student body at his Fulton County school.
“Then I was threatened to fight,” he said. “It was mostly one person, which I knew he wouldn’t do anything so I would tell him to do it, hit me and get it over with, which I don’t recommend, or I would just ignore it. In school, they say they have zero tolerance [for bullying, but people aren’t punished for being rude,” or threatening.
Ace said in his experience, teachers don’t take threats seriously until there are visible wounds. Things came to a head twice for him when things got physical and he had bruises on his body - That was the only time administrators and teachers got involved.
Routing out toxic gamers
Ace has taken his passion for routing out bullies in real life into the gaming world, which is where Ace Rift comes into the picture, but he maintains a sympathetic tone.
“It’s not that these toxic people are bad people,” Ace said, “I think it’s probably that they’re having a bad day” – but comments can get personal, feelings are hurt, and matches are ruined when a teammate decides to throw a game.
Ace said while toxic behavior happens in most online gaming communities, it is more prevalent in certain games. Many gaming companies have implemented anti-toxicity measures, including the makers of Rainbow Six Siege, a game Ace likes to play. He said when the game was released in 2015 it had around 3 million players and a high presence of toxicity. Now, with over 45 million users the game has a significantly lower pool of toxic gamers. Ubisoft reduced toxic behavior by doing things like suspending players for unwanted behavior.
There are a variety of other ways the behavior is mitigated, including options that allow players to vote and agree to kick another player out of the game if they’re harassing or throwing matches.
Through Ace Rift, Ace wants to make his clothing line and logo synonymous with safe, bully-free gaming communities. He invites these communities to take a pledge to stop bullying, read information about bullying at www.stopbullying.gov, and when they do they become a “Riftling” and can display the Ace Rift seal on their website.
Ace Rift also sells hats, t-shirts and hoodies that will promote the message by word-of-mouth. Learn more about AceRift Apparel at www.acerift.com.