Games have a long history of not playing nice, going all the way back to “Asteroids,” “Space Invaders” and every game where you shoot at everything, and stay away from whatever is shooting at you.
But once other players were able to join in, the dynamic shifted. At best, you and Player 2 could team up to double your firepower and conquer more of the galaxy. At worst, you got razzed for screwing up and missing a vital shot.
These days, the negative level of discourse has gone light-years beyond bickering with your brother. Players can now join co-op campaigns with fellow adventures from around the world, and it’s even easier to get chastised for letting the team down or get taunted from members of an opposing team. Multiplayer communities like “World of Warcraft” can also allow strangers to verbally harass you, and in some cases, damage your character.
We all understand the term ‘troll,’ but there are now ‘griefers,’ characters who actively enjoy seeking out and taking down weaker characters.
The “Trollface” meme, originally created by DeviantArt user Whynne. Image from Flickr user eurobas
A decade ago, we saw these in “The Sims,” when certain players enjoyed spreading rumors about other players in the game world, damaged their game property or hacked into the system to take their stuff.
In the original “Diablo,” advanced players with better weapons often preyed on newer players.
“World of Warcraft” has its own culture: along with active trolls, a big complaint is the level of profanity. One of the first things WOW newbies learn is to control their chat filters or stay away from the generally vulgar public chat channels. Some may say, “Too bad, n00b, it’s a tough world out there.” Maybe so, since the game world sometimes mirrors our real world in terms of bad words and violence.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Just like there’s a place for mature players who will want to deal death in “Battlefield 4,” there also needs to be a place for those who only want to have fun adventures with friends.
How do you create more pleasant gaming communities? Different ideas have been suggested.
- Allow players to be judges. In “League of Legends,” players are warned to follow the rules, or face The Tribunal, a binding judgment session directed by players.
- Remind players of rules and enforce them. Most gaming communities require an acknowledgement of understanding of the rules. Few players likely read this, but they still must accept consequences for non-compliance. Jeffrey Lin, social systems designer for “League of Legends,” said players who are disciplined sometimes say they never knew their conduct was wrong.
- Ask for help. Most game areas have either paid or volunteer moderators tasked with keeping order. They’re called Game Masters in “World of Warcraft.” Hard evidence of bullying/trolling behavior helps, like screen shots, texts or chat records.
- Ignore them. Most trolls thrive on engagement. Regardless of who is right or wrong in a dispute, taking them on often encourages them. If you don’t respond, they may seek other targets. Some games allow players to ignore or block specific players.
- Link profiles to other social media. Some suggest connecting your “real” profile to gaming platforms can reduce anonymous trolling. Playstation 4 and Xbox One will tie into Facebook and their local gaming communities.