Miscalibrated Internet Receptor Stalks

The 'Gamer Rage' rant.

I risk this turning into a pity post, but whatever, I'll try to steer this in a direction of discussion.

I'm a quiet gamer. Partially this is because I'm not exactly social to begin with, but partially because it's just easier to treat fellow players as intelligent bots. In fact, in some games I'll just mute everyone preemptively, especially if no relevant game information is being communicated. But often I'll leave it on for game communication.

What I have gotten good at is handling toxicity. And make no mistake, you can not play any multiplayer game online without dealing with it. There will be shitty people, either shitty because they're frustrated that their leisure time is not going well (because they're losing, and maybe they've had a bad day, or a bad week, and getting beaten senseless was not what they wanted to do to unwind) or nasty because they're just not very nice people. People raging at someone in chat, on VOIP? Sitting out a game in protest? Ignore it. Nine times out of ten they're not doing all that hot either, because people who are good at said competitive game have better things to do than rage in chat or over VOIP. Mostly because I'm used to it, but partially because if I know I don't, the game is over.

I've heard a lot of terms for it, though lately 'tilt' is my phrase de-jour, a term borrowed from jostling old pinball machines, causing an instant loss, a fail state. Game over. If frustration reaches a tipping point, when you start playing irritated or angry mistakes happen. In a team game, that's all it takes. One mistake begets another begets another. And I've seen it, time and time again, where a match is even, but there's one slip up—and somebody says something shitty. Suddenly two people are arguing in chat. One starts to slip up, or the other (or one gives up). Other people get involved, they slip up. 4, 5, 10, 15, doesn't matter. One shitty message in chat can start a chain reaction that turns a close match into a fucking stomp. It destroys communication, because why even try to talk to this asshole? And it screws up team-work, because I don't want to help some guy being a dick in chat, or maybe I do because I've got something to prove.

Anyway, lately I've been sort of musing on why it toxic behavior seems so endemic to multiplayer gaming, and why it's so much worse in games that are ostenibly ABOUT team-work. My working theory is this:


1). The more team-work oriented a game is, the more what's happening is out of a player's hands.

2).The more that out a game is out of a player's hand, the more frustrated he feels.

3). People are shitty and don't know how to effect change, ergo, people turn toxic.

4). This makes the game experience more negative overall and creates a feedback loop where it's accepted as normal (and thus people for license to reach 'tilt' states earlier), drives away people who have low tolerance for toxic behavior and attracts people who are energized by it, as well as straight up trolls. (And yeah, trolls are VERY MUCH a thing. I've known a few people who are straight up admitted trolls, and it always boils down to the cheap thrill of knowing they can emotionally control someone over something simple. I don't want to be melodramatic or anything but I'm convinced at least one was a full on sociopath).

FPS games, in contrast to their stereotype as the game played largely by 'dudebros' are not as toxic. A single player's performance can shove a game in another direction no matter how badly a team is doing, if it's based on kill counts, he just has to do really well. You'll still see it, but it's not as frequent.

Make a small change to the way the game is played though, and things change drastically. Counter Strike a team oriented game, and it gets terrible. People die suddenly, too suddenly to react if they're flanked or outnumbered, you begin to rely heavily on team-mates to cover areas A person who dies uselessly shorts the team badly. A person can still carry a game, but it's less likely. Counter Strike is a game notorious for a nasty community. Left 4 Dead, the Zombie Co-op game is another example, people get nasty and short-tempered really quick when mistakes are made.


RTS games are surprisingly friendly, though players are largely too distracted by the amount of micromanagement involved. There are rules. People say GG, act friendly, even goof off. But if it's a team match, it gets worse.

MMOS are where you start to see it get bad, but again, it depends. But it is where things I get interesting. I know a lot of MMO players who in a guild with people they know and friends are relaxed. Chill, even during mistakes. A big raid wipes? Eh, oh well, it was kind of funny. Players screw up a few times? Frustrating but they'll stay diplomatic. But if they join a pick up group they turn into monsters. Ever meet the guy who during the first wipe starts frothing at the mouth and screaming? Yeah, I've known that guy, and normally he's pretty chill. And PVP? Don't even get me started. A team can lose PVP before it even starts—if a team seriously outgears another no amount of clever play will earn them the victory. Not when a team has twice the health and damage of the other. And those games bring out the worst in people, every time.

And then of course, there are MOBAs.


Notice how I didn't post an example of the behavior? that's because a search for 'MOBA bad manners or 'DoTA2 BM' or something of that sort comes up with stuff I don't even feel all that comfortable posting. MOBAs are a almost a how-to-guide on how to enrage players. A highly competitive, team based game with a long duration that brutally punishes mistakes by a snowball effect. If you're not a video gamer (and for some reason you're still reading this), it's like chess. Every piece you lose is one step closer to defeat and one less tool to beat the opponent with. Every capture makes the game harder. MOBAs are similar—every death makes the game harder, every slipped position or screwed up kill pushes the team back further. In a 40 minute game it leads to direct frustration and rage. MOBAs are big right now because of events like The International, with it's 10 million dollar prize pool, and yet the statement you hear over and over again is 'It looks fun but I don't want to deal with the community.' And there's a reason for that, because the game is absolutely no fun when you're just losing straight for 40 minutes.

Okay, so let's bring some actual discussion. Currently, in the game industry, how to deal with toxic behavior is something game communities are trying to grapple with. It is in game developers best interest to maintain a civil community—they're trying to keep people in the game long term, and 'I don't want to play your game because it's players are terrible people' is not something they like to hear. But ironically, I think part of the problem is that many designers are big on these heavily team-oriented game, where one player is so reliant on his fellow players to get the job done. Left 4 Dead, Evolve, every MMO *ever* (that's kind of the point of MMOs, in fairness) and a few other games are chasing the idea of deeply team-oriented gameplay, where 'success' is driven by each player filling a role and gelling together as a team, none more so than the MOBA. MOBAs are exploding as game developers chase the dream of sales with no tail in sight, with a community devouring content with relatively low production costs (League of Legends and DOTA2 make their money entirely off cosmetics and small tweaks—new characters or runes in League's case, which is a lot less money spent then entire new maps with new triggers and a HUGE set of new graphics, etc, and has none of the problems with fracturing the community DLC has). And every single one of them: DOTA2, League, Heroes of the Storm, you name it, and currently every single one of them is struggling to deal with this problem in various ways, because they know it keeps people out of the genre.

So why am I ranting about this? Well, because tonight it got to me. Someone slung something my way, I got irritated, I responded badly and what was a match that was even got thrown. I got frustrated with myself because I let it get to me instead of just blowing it off, and ruining my feeling about the match. For everyone who just says 'Just blow it off, don't let it get to you, people are shit, enjoy the game' it's all well and good but it's impossible to do that 100% of the time. It gave me a negative experience, and it drove me out of a game I was enjoying, at least temporarily. But I stop playing games because of this shit long term—I get tired of people arguing in raids in MMOs and bitching, so I ditch MMOs. I ditch learning about MOBAs because who wants to put up with that abuse to learn the fundamentals of a game that's god-damn hard to begin with? Why even play a game when there's a 50/50 chance that a team-mate wants to be an asshole? This is a problem every game has, and that every developer WANTS to fix, but how the hell do you even start? Do you become draconian in your enforcement, handing out bans for even small slights? Do you simply reduce communication to non-existence, like Hearthstone which limits to a handful of emotes that are easy to mute? Or is there a fundamental flaw in creating a team based games, in that it requires people, and people are quite frankly awful? Should development start considering that, and how do they fix it?

To forestall one obvious answer, 'play with friends!' Honestly, part of the problem is as we get older that becomes difficult. I don't game nearly as much as I used to, and neither do my buddies. So times where we're all around are super slim. I can always make friends, but that basically boils down to sifting through a nasty community for gems, and chances are they're also keeping quiet to avoid bullshit. And yeah, when I play with buddies I always have a good time.

Unfortunately, it may be that they'll this is something inherently unfix able—I mean, people are dicks, nothing new here on the internet, but there has to be a better system.

PS. If you got this far, I do ask one thing of you, which is the same thing I try to do: Try to be a good guy. Greet, say 'good game,' communicate information and just try to be positive. I know that sounds sappy but seriously, a little humanity goes a long way. No matter how frustrated you get, do NOT take it out on other people.

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