Though someone will inevitably try, it’s hard to argue the fact that maintaining an online presence in the gaming community comes with a bit of responsibility. Like any communal gathering, we gamers are held to a modified version of Rousseau’s Social Contract, and for the most part, the population gladly complies. Joining a server simply to be told your mother was a woman of ill repute is not how one wishes to start a match, and luckily the grand majority agrees and acts accordingly. However, as I’ve stated previously, within any population sample lies the few outliers who just want to watch the world burn (Michael Cain, you glorious bastard). These contract offenders, known as “trolls” to anyone online since the early 2000s, have made their presence felt within the gaming world, and while some companies are striking back and taking action, lines must be drawn between team players and psychotic sadists, moderators and dictators, and what should be done versus what’s being done.
Before looking at the community as a whole, let’s first try and break down the “toxic player” and its motives. Why do trolls troll, what do they get from causing other people anguish? If you’re sitting there thinking this has already been answered by the age old study of antisocial personality, then you’re completely right. Science has (as it always will, given enough time) shown time and time-again that the qualities found in individuals who consistently troll directly relate to measures of sociopathy. In the most recent study to make waves among psychologists (we’re pretty much over Freud by this point), researchers from the University of Manitoba, Canada found that self-identified trolls displayed significantly higher levels of sadism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism (with sadism leading the pack) than any other type of online presence observed. Sadism, the act of experiencing pleasure (including sexual pleasure) at the expense of someone else’s pain, was their number one personality trait. Charles Manson would be proud, and that’s some scary shit.
The presence of trolls in the gaming community is far from news. Anyone who has played online for a modicum of time has experienced trolling, and the situation completely varies from something as light as being called a noob, to being downright accused of buggering your own pets. Game developers and companies see this, and history demonstrates that measures have been taken. Reprimanding bad players has traditionally come in the form of kicking them from servers, demoting them, or laying down a ban, either for an extended period of time or permanently. Though these measures work post hoc, or after the incident occurs, how much does it actually deter future would-be-trolls? With more and more attention from research, media, and a growing community, more pressure is put on game companies to combat these types of people, but at what point will these new and dire actions be deemed dictatorial?
Just a few days ago, Riot Games announced via Twitter that brand new measures were being taken in an effort to reduce the amount of toxic players found lurking within the servers of the ever-popular MOBA, League of Legends (LoL). Now, for those of you who have yet to experience LoL, take nine minutes to set up an account, download the game, and enter yourself into a match. I’m not saying this to boost Riot’s numbers (I couldn’t give less of a crap), but rather to let you experience for yourself the acidic vitriol present in almost every multiplayer match. Never have I been called a feminine care product so many times in such quick succession than the times I’ve played ranked matches. Thank god none of those players were omnipotent, or I, my family, and even my two guinea pigs would be long dead from the amount of death threats received.
In order to curb the amount of toxic players seen within the 27 million-strong community, Riot’s Jeffery Lin declared that effective immediately, anyone exhibiting blatant signs of trolling or malice will be issued either a 14-day ban or a permanent ban. That’s right, cracks about race, religion, and sexuality, and purposeful feeding (boosting the opposing team so that your team loses) are all grounds for a ban, which, in some cases, will last till the year 2500 (that’s how you drop the Banhammer, guys). This sounds great. Homophobia, sexism, and racism don’t have a place in gaming, why the hell should they? But it’s the latter part of Lin’s statement that sends a shiver running down my spine.
Along with banning toxic players through the use of a computerized catch-system (an automated way of picking up trolls through trigger words and such), Riot will now attack those who complain about the ban by publicly posting their ban-related chat logs on the public forum. Here’s where things get a bit iffy for me. Where Riot previously denounced naming and shaming in their forum, here they orchestrate it themselves. I’m all for free speech, and being able to account for said speech, but this screams of both pettiness and Stalinism. A massive company is now picking on the former picker-ons (I invented that, it’s mine now!), all because they protested the repercussions of their actions. It sounds like Riot’s next step would be to send them packing on a train to some Siberian work camp (bundle up, little trolls!).
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not defending toxic players, they’re still vile, little assholes. Hell, ban them for all eternity and erase their stats for all I care. I’m simply saying that Riot’s new program reads like the first step of a Soviet Union pamphlet on pacification. Trolls are horrible people, science even says so, and though actions need to be taken to combat them and their poisonous effects on the community, how far will companies go with power unchecked to do as they please and publicly shame their players, and will it stop there? I pose a problem without a solution, partially because I’m not very good at planning, but I encourage you to share your thoughts in the comments. What’s your take on the new policy, do you see it as a trend, and what would you do differently, if anything at all?
*Author’s Note: Whoever comes up with a term more creative than ‘BanAxe’ wins.*
**Author’s Note’s Note: The prize, of course, is feeling good about winning (and isn’t that the best prize of all?).**