Experienced Points: There’s Nothing Good About Toxic Players

By Shamus
on Jul 1, 2014
Filed under:
Column

This week my column is one of many that could be summarized with just the title, followed by the word “duh”. But sometimes the obvious isn’t as obvious as it should be.

Also, I love the header image the Escapist made for this one. It’s the main character from Orcs Must Die, and if you know the game it makes the perfect accompaniment to the article.

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  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

    “So yeah, having drunk drivers is an unavoidable cost of living in a free society.”

    No,because you see,the solution is simple:Just ban alcohol for everyone born after 2000.People will love it.

    • syal says:

      “Smokers who start smoking at age 15 are three times as likely to die of smoking-related cancer as someone who starts in their mid-20’s.”

      Well, thank god they’re finally passing a law making it illegal for 15-year-olds to buy cigarettes. That will surely stop the problem entirely.

  2. An Orc says:

    LOL and DOTA seem to be doing just fine with their shitty communities. The only good business sense in this situation would be not making your game a competitor to LOL and DOTA.

    • shiroax says:

      The guys that make LOL seem to disagree. They were making an anti-troll efford a while back. Dunno how far it went, but back then they said they liked where it’s going.

      • Trix2000 says:

        Technically it’s still going, if you consider the Tribunal. I suspect their research efforts haven’t flagged either, considering they had a team specifically tackling this stuff.

        I suspect a lot of what makes MOBA communities seem so bad has more to do with perception – all it takes is 1/10 toxic players and EVERY game could seem bad. Not to mention the potential waterfall effect as bad attitudes make for more bad attitudes.

        But like Shamus is saying, we shouldn’t give up on it.

        • BeardedDork says:

          The only MOBA I’ve really put any time into has been Gotham City Impostors, I suck at it, I’m a casual n00b. That’s why I don’t play these games in general. my experience is that one player in about 24 is awful, when there are 10-12 players per game you run into that horrible guy pretty frequently. I just try to mute them and remember that most of the community isn’t like that.

          • Muspel says:

            Well, minor nitpick here… Gotham City Impostors isn’t a MOBA.

            • BeardedDork says:

              You are correct there is nothing Massive about it, if I paused to think about it for a second.

              • Muspel says:

                …That’s not what the M in MOBA stands for. You seem to have the term “MMO” confused with “MOBA”. (Gotham City Impostors isn’t really an MMO, either, but that’s a different discussion.)

                MOBA is a genre that refers to games that have a similar structure to games like DotA and League of Legends. For the record, it stands for “Multiplayer Online Battle Arena”, which, like “role-playing game”, refers to a much narrower spectrum of games than the name would indicate.

                • Adam Phant says:

                  MOBA is an entirely redundant term, if you think about it.

                  Multiplayer: okay, multiple people are playing the game, got it.

                  Online: well, multiplayer and online go hand-in-hand on PC. Might as well say it’s a mouse-and-keyboard game, too.

                  Battle: multiplayer implies battle, unless the game is all about hugs.

                  Arena: I thought we were going to be having our hugfest in a big, fluffy cloud! Of course there’s an arena. You can’t battle outside of an arena, because the area you’re fighting in becomes an arena.

                  Honestly, “PvP” says more about a game than “MOBA” does, even though both acronyms boil down to “you’re going to kill other players.”

                  I think the less-used “Action RTS” (or ARTS) is a much better name for the genre. It describes the game perfectly: ‘action’ indicates that there’s a lot of action. ‘real-time strategy’ tells you that you have to think about your strategy as you go, and it also implies (for people who are familiar with RTS games) that it has a top-down/isometric perspective. ‘Action RTS’ tells a new player more about what the game is and how it plays without having to look it up. Contrast that to ‘MOBA’ which only tells a player what a game is like if they already know what MOBA means.

                  • Daemian Lucifer says:

                    “Online: well, multiplayer and online go hand-in-hand on PC. Might as well say it’s a mouse-and-keyboard game, too.”

                    Not true.Lan still exist,and you can play on just one machine,even on the pc(sequential turns,split screen,etc).

                    “Battle: multiplayer implies battle, unless the game is all about hugs.”

                    No,it doesnt.Need for speed is not about battle,for example.Neither is any of the other sports games.

                    “Arena: I thought we were going to be having our hugfest in a big, fluffy cloud! Of course there’s an arena. You can’t battle outside of an arena, because the area you’re fighting in becomes an arena.”

                    Any co-op game that has a campaign is battled outside of an arena.Dark souls multiplayer is played outside of an arena,for example.

                    • Ringwraith says:

                      I still call for them to be called LPGs: Lane Pushing Game.

                    • Adam Phant says:

                      “Not true.Lan still exist,and you can play on just one machine,even on the pc(sequential turns,split screen,etc).”

                      True, but these features are becoming less and less common. Unless LAN or local play is explicitly listed in the product description, you can expect your multiplayer matches to be hosted solely online.

                      “No,it doesnt.Need for speed is not about battle,for example.Neither is any of the other sports games.”

                      Need for Speed, if it’s still a game about racing cars against other drivers, is absolutely about battling. Have you never heard race commentators say “the battle for first/second/whatever position”? Battle isn’t always bloody conflict.

                      “Any co-op game . . .”

                      Any time I’ve seen someone talk about playing with others on the same team, it’s always referred to as co-op. Multiplayer is used when talking about competitive game modes.

                      “Any co-op game that has a campaign is battled outside of an arena. Dark souls multiplayer is played outside of an arena,for example.”

                      Campaign levels are typically designed so you can’t fight in two places at once. You can’t be in a courtyard and a warehouse at the same time. You can’t fight the enemies in the warehouse at the same time as the courtyard battle is going on. You usually can’t drag enemies from the courtyard into the warehouse. These encounter spaces might not be big and round like a gladiator pit, but they contain individual battles all the same. They are arenas.

        • venatus says:

          I think there’s a bit more to it not a lot more, but I think the fact MOBA games are both incredibly competitive and rely on teamwork kind of make them more vulnerable to those attitudes spreading. in most other competitive games (like starcraft) you can spend a lot of time fighting the CPU and then move on to one on one. granted I had a very short run with league of legends but I felt it was pretty much a trial by fire situation. and when you have a competitive gamer who’s close to moving up a tier but is teamed up with some one who’s just barely got out of those early training stages well then your more likely to dip into those toxic behaviors, and like shamus says in the article, toxic behavior tends to spread.

          • If so, this is a result of shitty design on the part of the game devs. If you create a system that is going to willy-nilly lump experienced monster players in with newbies then the vets are going to HATE the newbies. One of the best ways to keep people from abusing each other is to give them some *control* over who they have contact with.

            A lot of game developers treat the social mechanics of their multiplayer games like an afterthought, but even something as simple as forcing the newbs and vets all into the same big pool can cause a lot of ill-will that never needed to exist.

            • Shamus says:

              I thought the same thing, although I have no idea how the system actually works. This might be the case of foolish newbies choosing games far above their skill level, in which case player frustration is perfectly understandable. But I don’t know. The anecdotes I hear make it sound like this is not the case.

              Another thought:

              If you limit the interaction between vets and noobs, then bans might carry more weight. If I act like a jackass and end up banned, then when I create my new account I’ll be stuck at the bottom of the ladder and I’ll have to play for a while before I can get back to playing people at my own level. That wouldn’t help with people at the bottom, but it would give vets a reason to mind their manners.

              • Muspel says:

                On the other hand, there are players that WANT to play with people far below their level so that they can win easily, and that creates an undesirable experience for the newcomers.

                This is more of an issue for free-to-play games, of course, since people don’t have to pay for the game again if they get banned, but it probably happens some even in buy-to-play games.

              • Ciennas says:

                I remember following Halo 2’s dev blogs- they were mostly filled with the devs lamenting the fact that they made the player rank visible at all to the player, and the public at large.

                Because there, there were all sorts of silly schemes to inflate or mess with your rank, even though its only point was to match like skilled players together.

                They wanted everyone to have fun and be appropriately challenged- instead they had to spend a lot of time resetting people for being jerks or foolishly diving in over their heads.

                Surprisingly, the Halo community is still a lot of fun to play with- you very rarely encounter the jerk who’ll teabag your corpse, for example. He’s memorable because he’s so rare and amazingly douchey.

                Of course, now the problem is amateur hackers and lag-abusers, but the rank problem seems to have vanished, by virtueof making it much harder to access.

              • venatus says:

                the thing is, with a really competitive environment it doesn’t even have to be as bad as complete newb and veteran. going back to star-craft (mostly cause I’m more familiar with that match up). if all ladder matches were co-op matches. imagine a match in the silver league, and on one team you have a guy who can generally hold his own in the silver league but he typically plays pretty casually, and he’s there for fun. his team mate ends up being an incredibly competitive person who’s approaching a jump to the gold league, if it turns out to be a difficult match, competitive player may get frustrated with his partner.

                now when your dealing with teams of 3-5 on most matches the chances of both personalities being teamed up together does go up. and it only takes a few to spread.

                of course this is mostly just what I’ve heard. but from my experience in league of legends i didn’t even get out of the rank free training matches before my lack of a “competitive spirit” made me feel UN-welcome (I mostly just wanted to play with some friends and I was trying to learn a few basics before I hoped on with them)

              • Ivellius says:

                League of Legends handles this fairly well, however–they have hidden matchmaking ratings that determine with whom you’ll be matched based on your expected level of skill. Even better, it’s not exactly tied to levels–while players will level their “Summoner” (essentially their account) up to level 30, those that win a lot of games at low levels (generally smurfs) will find themselves matched up with other people who are incredibly successful (also generally smurfs).

                Their Ranked game system also rewards people who are Ranked below their normal MMR by advancing you through divisions more quickly. Last season, many people getting promoted from Silver to Gold found their point advancement “clamped”–they had to win more games to progress into Gold than through the various Silver divisions. However, if the system thought you were better than Silver you wouldn’t experience any clamping at all. It meant the difference in taking, say, 7 or 8 games versus 25 or so to get out of the division.

                This was meant to be a really broad overview to clarify misconceptions. There’s plenty more detail I could mention if people cared.

                • Yeah, but that’s the thing–ranking systems are controlled by the game, not by the players. If you’re stuck with someone by a random system–no matter HOW well-designed and selective it is–you’re going to wind up periodically jammed together with people you never, ever, EVER want to play with. Ever. There has to be a degree of player control over it. Random matchmaking leads to strangers abusing each other.

            • Bloodsquirrel says:

              Hilariously enough, I remember back when I briefly played HoN (Another dota clone), they had a game browser instead of matchmaking. The browser was full of games advertised as “noobs only”… which were still filled with players complaining about their teammates lack of skill and ragequitting. Almost as if they were joining those games with the hope of stomping unskilled players only to be enraged when there were unskilled players on their team too.

            • Felblood says:

              I think you might be underestimating the difficulty of the problem.

              LoL allows player to que prearranged teams of players who are different levels. This is absolutely essential to the success of their business model, becasue people draft friends to play, so they can have reliable teammates who communicate and speak the same language. A max level player needs to be able to que with his newly recruited friends. (In this way, the notoriously toxic PUG scene does feed into creating more players; they are just insular and self-righteous.)

              Back when I was playing the game regularly, I was by far the weakest member of my regular team. I was pretty good, I had been playing regularly since the closed beta, but I simply didn’t measure up to my little brothers, who were ungodly murder machines, compared to me. The actual arcane machinery was hidden, in those days before ranked ladders were standard, but I’m pretty sure the system responded by filling in our empty PUG slots with players of middling skill. (We usually only had 3-4 people available at once.)

              These players HATED me. It was obvious, even to those only slightly better than me, that I was the weakest link, so even if they were doing as bad or worse, these players would typically lay the blame for any bad turn at my feet. It wasn’t abnormal for me to be blamed for a reckless attempt on a tower failing, even when I was being effective on the other side of the map.

              Even worse, I became the anchor that dragged my brothers down. I cost them a lot of matches, and it occasionally became difficult for them to find worthy opponents, because of all the extra losses I heaped on them. The sense of responsibility for their enjoyment of the game is why I quit entirely, once work commitments started to cut out even 30% of my gaming time.

              • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

                I don’t get to play with my brothers much -and when I do, I’m usually the best of the bunch because neither of them play many modern games (they have children, and rule at Lego games). Having team mates like that would drive me crazy. “Guys, I am here to play with friends and family -winning is an important, but secondary consideration.” My brothers really enjoy the games, but worry that they’re “bringing down my average,” and I have to keep reassuring them that I’m not really concerned with number of wins. Having team-mates gripe about losing would completely wreck the experience.

                I feel your pain, and have a much better feeling for why toxic players are such a problem.

            • Khizan says:

              LoL has put a lot of work into solving this problem, but it’s a really hard problem becaause it’s hard to set up a system to judge player skill.

              A few examples:

              1) Newbie #1 has experience in DoTA2 and he thinks he’s not that good but he’s above average. He starts a LoL account. He gets the “How good at you are MOBAs?” prompt at the start and chooses “beginner”. Now he’ll be paired with the real newbies to start with.

              2) Newbie #2 chooses beginner because he has no experience. He does really well in his first couple of games, though, because his opponents are really bad. LoL looks at his performance, overestimates his skill because he did so well, and pairs him with more advanced players.

              3) Newbie #3 is really bad at DoTA2 but won’t admit it. He makes a LoL account and claims he’s an expert, so he gets thrown into the deep end with the veteran players.

              4) Veteran #1 wants to pick on new players to be a dick, so he starts a new account, pretends to be a beginner, and thrashes real newbies for kicks.

              It’s really really hard to get this kind of thing right, and that LoL gets it as right as they do is really pretty impressive.

          • Halceon says:

            I don’t think Competitive and Team-based is a sufficient description.
            It’s a competitive team game where there’s a really large emphasis on individual ability. If you make a mistake while alone in the jungle, your teammates usually can’t come and cover for you.
            Contrast this with, say, Guns of Icarus, which is also a team game where success or failure depends very much on how well everyone does. However, if your gunner’s not pulling his weight, an engineer can step in in 5 seconds and offer support.

            I think a large part of this difference is also the ability to communicate. For a genre that depends so heavily on individual strategic decisions, the ability to coordinate those decisions is severely stunted.

        • The Rocketeer says:

          MOBA’s combine all the worst aspects of RTS fans, fighting game fans, and FPS fans into a Megazord of entirely deplorable people. I condone having one MOBA that encourages and rewards this behavior so everyone like this gets drawn to that one, and finds only the company they deserve.

          Meanwhile, everyone else that likes the genre can just, you know, play without being told they’re a pease of shit shud kill urself like literly putgun in nut mouth.

      • Jonathan says:

        I played LOL up until a few days before my son was born (so, up until about 4 months ago). Once you have a baby, 50 minutes of uninterrupted gaming doesn’t happen…

        The reporting (and honoring) functions for LOL seemed to work reasonably well. There would occasionally be jerks, but you never saw the same ones twice. Riot did ban at least one pro/semi-pro player for toxicity. I liked what I saw of their system.

  3. Daemian Lucifer says:

    “The usual excuse is, “Hey, they’re just trolls. Just ignore them and they’ll go away.” Except, that’s not true.”

    Actually,it is.The thing is,you need to give people the tools to effectively ignore the troll.If your game(or a forum,or whatever internet place)simply pits everyone against each other,then the troll will have multiple ways of annoying everyone by griefing,flooding the chat,yelling in their mike,etc.But,if you give easy one click ignore buttons that will not only mute their mike,but prevent the troll to ever be in a game with you,they will quite soon end up being alone in a wasteland,unable to harm anyone.Yes,its not easy to implement,but it will improve the experience of your players.

    I cant believe Im about to do this,but……facebook did this well with their block function.Of course,facebook is still a shitty service with multiple other ways to abuse it,but their blocking function is really well implemented.

    • syal says:

      Seems like that would funnel the trolls directly into the newest players.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        For quite a brief time.Heck,you can even put a mock troll into the tutorial to tell everyone how easy the block function is to use.

        Another work around is to,and I once more cant believe Im saying this,apply the spam function from youtube,where if someone is marked as spam (blocked) too many times,they become invisible (unable to interact with) everyone (other than maybe their friends).

        Like Ive said,its not easy to implement,but it can be done.And it should be done,because not only are you not outright banning legitimate customers from playing the game theyve bought,but you are teaching them to play nice or play alone.

        • Arven says:

          I strongly disagree with the spam thingie. Such power should only be given to GM. If that is accessible to general players, then the trolls will abuse it, by grouping up with other trolls and marking legit player spam.

          Blocking is a nice feature, but it cannot be done in a pvp game because you shouldn’t be able to avoid a more skillful player. Co-op games should definitely have that feature though.

        • Shamus says:

          Yeah, I think the Aggregate Asshole Detection is a decent system. If you’re always unpleasant, then you’ll default to being auto-muted for most people, and they will have to un-mute you if they want to hear you.

          It’s not perfect and a large group of organized people can still use it to cause trouble, but it’s much better than simply letting them run rampant.

          • It’s usually better to let actual humans instead of some kind of mechanical system control things. And I don’t mean “sysadmins”. I mean the players themselves. It’s lunacy to me that there isn’t a straightforward way to say “I don’t want to play with this person” and make it stick.

            You could also do a ratings system that has no human component whatsoever–instead of “how do you rate this person” it shows actual activity logs. How often you queue up. How often you get accepted into a group. How often you get dismissed. No evaluations, just facts.

            • C0Mmander says:

              It’s not much better to use humans rather than an automatic system at least in an online environment that handle a lot of people or money. All it need is someone with this power who doesn’t like someone else for bad reasons and the system is broken. In other context I guess it’s ok since the banned person can just find an other group of people to interact with at the cost of a relatively minor inconvenience. In the end I believe that while it is the responsibility of the developers to give us the tool to do so, it is the responsibility of the person to decide if wants to keep interacting with the toxic players.

              • nerdpride says:

                Oftentimes I’ll just quit playing an online multiplayer game. Or if I suspect I won’t like people, I won’t start. Saves time and money too.

                We’re talking about a lot of development for something that could be as basic as, “I don’t want to deal with random nonsense people on the internet”. If you want player behavior to fit some expected standard, we could just work on amazing AI instead. I suspect computers could play better anyway.

                The only time I ever played DotA was against computer-controlled enemies. I thought it was great fun and felt no stress about how badly I was doing. Didn’t really feel an urge to continue though…

                If people were all really nice, I wonder if the same drive to play and get better would be there? When people talk down to you, it makes you feel an urge to make yourself better. It sounds a bit psychologically messed up, but I think DotA is only as popular as it is because people feel an urge to demonstrate that they’re smarter, more skilled at gaming than the terrible community.

                • C0Mmander says:

                  Nah. Having played a few competitive game if not in tournaments, I can tell you that you don’t need the negative comments to feel the social pressure or interest to improve and learn more about the game.

                • Nelly says:

                  It’s different for different people – for some, the condescension / anger towards them stimulates them, for others support brings the best results. It’s often changeable dependant on circumstances as well. It’s why man-management is a difficult skill, as there is no outward sign of which way will provide the best results from an individual, and why there is a common statement on the best football (soccer) managers that ‘they know when to put an arm round a player, and when to rile them’ – even for the hyper competitive professional sportsman, it won’t always, or even usually, be shouting that gets them to play their best.

                  How does this read across to gaming? Because there will be some people that are encouraged to do their best because some random person on the other end of a game is rude to them about their playing ability, their play style or what ever. There’ll be others that will react badly – maybe turning off the game forever, or at least for the day. I would expect the number of people who are motivated by abuse (that was bad and you’re a bad person as distinct from that was bad) would be smaller, especially in something that is being done for fun. But that maybe because I am not motivated by abuse…

          • Hitch says:

            I don’t play these games to know how the system actually works. But an interesting system that I’ve heard about involves post-match karma voting. You vote for your team mates and opponents who provided a pleasant experience go get karma and bonus rewards and exclude the toxic players. If a player is consistently not being rewarded, they don’t get banned. They just get shuffled into the jackass league to get matched primarily, or only, with other players like themselves. Theoretically providing the kind of play experience that everyone is looking for.

            • kanodin says:

              Valve is starting to implement that system actually. After a match in Dota 2 you’ll often be asked to rate one of your teammates on how cooperative they are, how friendly, and how much you would want to play with them again.

        • evileeyore says:

          You don’t want a “spam function” you want Tachy Goes To Coventry function implemented where if someone is ignored enough or flagged often enough as an abuser the Admins can flip the Coventry switch and they will be globally ignored.

        • Indy says:

          I like that idea of putting a troll in the tutorial. That’s a feature that devs should really consider.

          • Adeon says:

            You could have a lot of fun writing funny fake troll speech for him as well.

            “Your skills as a player are inferior to my own you should be ashamed about that.”

    • Muspel says:

      The problem with this solution is that it doesn’t scale very well as the population of a game increases.

      League of Legends, for example, has over twenty seven million daily players. As far as I know, the game doesn’t normally do cross-region matchmaking (for latency reasons, mainly), so let’s be super-conservative and say that there are five million players in the US, although I suspect that the actual ratio is higher.

      This means that a toxic player would need to end up the ignore lists of MILLIONS of people before seeing any kind of significant impact like you’re talking about. And any given game of League of Legends will involve, at most, 9 other players, so he’d need to play hundreds of thousands of of games to get to that point. At around 30 minutes per game, that would take over a decade of playing the game nonstop, with no breaks for things like eating or sleeping. And that’s only if every single person in every one of those games put him on ignore immediately.

      That also assumes that there’s no player churn. In practice, I would bet that LoL has old players leaving and new players coming in all the time, meaning that it would take even longer, and with a large enough influx of new players, it would probably never happen.

      Now, granted, most games have much smaller playerbases than League of Legends, but even with only a few hundred thousand players, you’re still looking at a community that is MUCH too large to self-police itself in that way.

      Ignore lists are great for letting people ignore toxic players, but they really don’t do jack squat for getting rid of those people in anything but the smallest communities.

    • Grudgeal says:

      I remember a news story about an online game that detected cheaters and forced them into match-making against other branded cheaters, so honest players would never play against cheaters and vice versa. I wonder if a similar solution could be implemented for toxic players, provided it required more than one strike and had a moderation process.

      Obviously you’d have to make the actual threshold crossing happen in secret. Once the account accumulated enough ‘toxic’ marks he or she would be confined to the Toxic Zone, where only trolls play.

  4. shiroax says:

    I wouldn’t call him toxic. Blades, bludgeons, fire, ice, lightning… Not a single toxic attack on him :) Or are you saying we should make forum trolls run through hallways lined with arrow launchers? I’d be all for that actually.

  5. lucky7 says:

    I have played the game numerous times, and I have not a clue as to why it’s funny. I guess because he murders orcs?

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      The article explains it in the beginning:

      “There’s probably something good about the toxic players showing up and sticking with your game,” said Jerome K. Jones, designer of Orcs Must Die: Unchained. “The good thing is probably that it’s a good game. It’s holding their interest, it’s keeping them around. It’s making them passionate enough to give a damn.”

  6. Gravebound says:

    I recently had a bout of indirect griefing happen to me. The game was Dragon’s Dogma. Fun game. One of the mechanics is that you create a secondary, computer-controlled character (called Pawns) to fight alongside you, level up, etc. You can download others’ characters, and they yours. And when you’re done using them you send them away and you can rate them in various aspects, 1-5 stars, and give a gift. (That is, unless they suicide themselves off cliffs into deep water/abyss, which they are prone to do).

    So here I am, plugging away at my game, resting up and get a message about ‘so-and-so’ used my Pawn…and gave all 1-stars and a rock for a present…
    That completely killed my mood to play. I couldn’t get over how dick-ish it was. To a complete stranger! And I couldn’t even retaliate, because I didn’t write down the player’s name and it never shows up after that initial message. People suck.

    (You can play the whole thing offline, but the computer created Pawns are never as good as human-made ones)

    • Paul Spooner says:

      Is there a way to disable the “other people can download my character” function? Because, if not, that seems like a design flaw.
      The concept is interesting however! I like the idea of cross-instance concept pollination.

      • Gravebound says:

        Nope. No disable options. Once you connect to the server your Pawn is uploaded at the most recent level.

        Which also means, if you lose one you really liked and try to re-download it, the other player may have leveled way past you and made it unfeasible [the higher the Pawn level from you, the greater the cost to use]. Happened to me; found a really powerful Pawn, eventually lost him in the water, went to re-download, found out the guy had gone up twenty levels in the mean time…0_0 (I had gone up two…I play slow)

        It really is a neat system…with quite a few flaws in it.

  7. Faguss says:

    >”We call it “toxic” because toxins have a tendency to spread”

    I disagree. “Toxic” means “harmful”. See dictionary. I think you meant “infectious”.

    • Ciennas says:

      Toxic also has that whole connotation of a killing blight that salts the earth it’s applied to, which very much fits in with the problem presented by toxic players as outlined- too many render a whole game unplayable, not because of the game itself, but because these toxic players have destroyed it so badly that no one willingly travels there anymore.

      If the very air you breathe is a poisonous fume, you’ll very likely react like a person who’s being poisoned- that is to say, at least more likely to be grouchy and fly off the handle.

      Infectious sounds more like you’re describing a zombie plague or an actual computer virus problem, within the context of online gaming.

      I feel like there must be a better word to describe this, somewhere between the two words presented. Got anything else?

      • Paul Spooner says:

        Toxins are usually generated by malignant organisms… which have a tendency to spread. So, even though the toxins themselves don’t multiply, they are often intrinsically linked to sources which do. Toxins also spread in the sense that dust spreads, through contact and environmental action. The more active an environment, the quicker toxins will be passively distributed.

        Overall, I’d say “toxic” is a good enough word for the task at hand.

        • Dunno. Pound for pound, and kill for kill, I’d have to say most toxins are generated by pollution. Which is generated largely by industrial processes. Which are generated by humans. Who have a tendency to spread, and who would probably be considered “malignant organisms” by all the other life on the planet . . . OK, never mind.

      • Grudgeal says:

        Technically speaking ‘infectious’ has neutral connotations, as it also means ‘readily spreads’. ‘Infectious laughter’ is a valid term, after all, as is an ‘infectious ear-worm’ (by which I mean a song, not a parasite).

        ‘Contaminating’ might work as it evokes both imagery of befouling something and being spread around into the environment, but it doesn’t roll very well off the tongue.

      • Ciennas says:

        I had forgotten that organisms can generate toxic material- I really thought it was all inorganic and the result of chemistry transforms in the earth itself.

        Neat.

        And ‘contamination’ is a really groovy word, but yeah… Doesn’t really roll of the tongue well. Maybe something from nuclear physics would better describe trolls?

        ‘Decay’ would probably work in there pretty well.

  8. Coldforger says:

    That was a really disturbing article.
    It completely dismisses the “trolls” as somehow being less than worthy of being treated like humans. Shamus actually used the terms “defective personality” (let’s not go into the acrobatics my stomach does on hearing that one) and “freaks”.
    I know a lot of perfectly decent folk (actually, I would say at a glance that it’s the majority of the people I know) who think meanness is simply a question of someone being a shitty subhuman and that’s really, really fucked up.

    Yes, these folks are right fucking assholes online. Some of them offline too. (consider the similar people you meet and see and hear of in everyday life off the internet included, anonymity is not relevant to my argument) But even if you do manage to convince yourself that they are “villanious” that does not justify dismissing them as something “unworthy”. By those parameters literally anyone and anything can be dismissed as being a parasite, some blight on society, something to be excised and destroyed through, for instance, excluding and marking them as anathema. That’s… a lot of bad things right there. Some really well-known history and I will not go so far as the draw the parallels. You can do that yourself.

    By all means, ban uppity and unbearable fuckers. It’s your job as community manager to keep the community in line and enjoyable. But do NOT invent a rhetoric of seeing your duty as something sanctified. When you get to the point that you “revel in it” (wow is that the article I quoted?), then your progress-minded worldview has turned into something festering and self-absorbed.
    Don’t actually vilify whoever you find antagonistic. Meanness like that just ain’t good for the… well, you know.

    I am absolutely sure that Shamus wrote this article with the best of intentions.
    Nothing is more dangerous, and nothing has more capacity for the most sinister kind of cruelty than honest-to-god good intentions.

    This whole silly thing I just wrote isn’t really aimed at Shamus either. I see it everywhere and it concerns me very very much, and not just because I see the notion of progress as both disagreeable and hostile to all alternative ideologies.

    Eh. Maybe I’m wrong. But I really can’t convince myself of that.

    • Muspel says:

      Except that in this case, people are being dismissed as being unworthy of participating in these activities on the basis that they are exhibiting behavior that makes them unworthy of participating in these activities.

      This isn’t an argument of “oh, your ethnic heritage means that you can’t use this drinking fountain”. It’s “these methods of social interaction are intolerable to the point that the majority of people don’t want to deal with them”.

      It’s the same as saying “okay, you like to weave all over the road when you drive and crash into other cars for fun, so we’re going to take away your right to drive”.

    • Avatar says:

      Sorry, I don’t buy this line of reasoning.

      If we were talking about an inherent quality of the individual, you could maybe, sorta paint them as a victim of circumstances and not responsible for their condition. But that’s not how this situation works. You do have an actual, affirmative duty to treat those who you encounter with a modicum of respect and consideration, especially those who you don’t know. This is even, or perhaps especially, if you are inherently a disagreeable and angry bastard who enjoys yelling at people.

      Nobody has to be a jerk online. You’re not compelled to spew invective into the microphone or type slurs into the chat. You can vent as much as you like in your private space, chew the carpet and beat your fists against the wall in frustration if that is what fulfills you, but that doesn’t affect your duty to be considerate to others. Surely minor lapses can be, and are, forgiven – but we’re not talking about people who accidentally drop an f-bomb into the mike here. The people who are doing this know what they are doing.

      They may imagine they are doing nothing wrong. They may point to others like themselves and imagine that they are, themselves, a community rather than a cesspool. They are mistaken, and polite society does not need to tolerate nor condone their actions.

      We’re not talking about marching people off to re-education camp. We’re talking about video games. There’s nothing wrong with saying “if you would like to be allowed to play with other people, maintain the standards by which we expect that you should treat other people.”

      • Nettle says:

        It is also perhaps worth noting that whilst some people do suffer from various flavours of mental problems that do lead to aggressive language and behaviour, it is still possible to be aware of the issue and make attempts at behaving cordially.

        To take a personal example, when I am what I euphemistically term “grumpy”, I take pains to avoid talking to even my housemates. I can notice myself needlessly escalating conflict in casual conversations and becoming confrontational, so I take a step back, apologise and calm down. It’s not always easy, but it’s not the job of everyone else to put up with my outbursts.

        It seems equally possible to mute your own microphone when you know you have a problem. It’s a matter of having a bit of self awareness.

    • Eldiran says:

      Except “defective personality” was only one of the listed reasons for toxic behavior, the rest being things that can happen to perfectly decent people.

      In principle I agree with your point, that assuming someone mean is evil is a bad idea. However I think you’re going way too far in your interpretation of Shamus’ post.

      Also it is worth noting that some people actually DO have defective personalities. 1% of people are psychopaths. (~4% are sociopaths.) So his statement isn’t false. (To agree with your point here as well, psychopathy does not necessarily equal evil. But it’s still problematic and ‘defective’.)

    • Paul Spooner says:

      So, here’s the best I can do to help. It’s based on a lot of speculation, so apologies in advance if the following is far wide of the mark.

      I suspect your unease stems from some very personal experiences you are carrying with you. Yourself or someone you love was hurt and ostracized by a group from which acceptance was expected. The pain of this social rejection is linked in your mind to the attitudes you see portrayed in Shamus’ article.
      In order to shield yourself from this trauma, you have convinced yourself that the problem is not in the person you love, but lies solely in everyone else’s attitudes and expectations. And, while this is partially true, this protective shell bears the spores of genuine insanity.
      The solution is not to attack everyone else’s attitudes, but instead to find a basis for self worth outside the expectations of fallible humans. Acquiring this solid basis for personal value will allow you to accept that some people may not like you, and that this is perfectly alright.

      How do I know all this? Because I’ve been there myself. I have found this basis for value in Jesus Christ. But whatever your conclusion, I urge you to turn your criticism away from those who are defending themselves from perceived threats. Even if you are right, you will make no progress and no allies by following in this vein.

    • On the “good intentions” thing, I beg to differ. Selfishness and greed, for instance, are more dangerous and have more capacity for the most sinister kind of cruelty, than good intentions.

  9. Spammy says:

    Brand loyalty is still going to get me to try Unchained when it’s for the public. I do like my Orcs Must Die, even though I must admit with guilt that I got stuck on a level of OMD2’s campaign and have not beaten it yet.

    I think part of it is some plain old curiosity. Orcs Must Die is not about jungling or diving or managing your cooldowns. You put traps up and the Orcs die on them. The more strategic element might get me to stay. My interest in Sins of a Dark Age basically ended when I read an interview that said they took out the RTS commander role from the game.

    Oh, right. Toxic players bad, grr how could a developer be so dumb as to say something positive about toxic players.

  10. Phrozenflame500 says:

    I’m fairly sure the Orcs Must Die dev really did mostly just miscommunicate; he really was talking about otherwise good people who occasionally take things a bit too serious rather then actual serial troublemakers.

    I do think it’s important not to brand certain people as inherently toxic though. People’s actions are influenced by their environment as much as their own personalities, some people can act like complete dicks on, say, 4chan and then act like a normal human being while in another community. It’s as important to encourage good behaviour as much discourage bad behaviour, that way the community can somewhat self-regulate itself.

  11. Humanoid says:

    At first glance I thought that headline image was meant to represent Shamus (since I’m not familiar with the source material). Someone should ‘shop a version of that picture with a better likeness of Shamus so then it could be used for all future articles.

  12. Kamica says:

    This article reminded me of a sad case, where the developers are putting a lot of effort into their game, but the community is incredibly abrasive and horrid, as such, you can just see the confidence of the developers decrease in the blog posts. I’m talking about the game Rust, a post-apocalyptic survival game made by the GMod developers (Where they probably got a significant part of their community from).

    I find it really sad when these toxic people bash honest, hard working developers for no reason other than “You’re not bringing interesting features out every week”…

  13. Doomcat says:

    I believe that MOBA’s were brought up a few times already, but I would like to say the sort of “automatic punishment” systems don’t really work out on actually punishing the toxic and/or trolling players. The specific game I’m thinking of is DotA:

    Last year I got really into DotA for a bit, I enjoyed the competitive play of the game, and had a couple of (online) friends who were egging me on to play, the issue was when I entered public games I’d encounter people who were abusive. One such player was one who was telling me how bad I was, how I was causing the team to lose etc etc.

    I reported him, muted him, and just continued on with my life. Didn’t respond, came back to the game a few hours later to find myself in the punishment queue, which is the games way of delegating trolls, I.E players who are toxic should just play with eachother.

    That was the last DotA game I played. What probably happened was after the game (or even during) said toxic player asked the entire game to report me, and some of them did.

    Automatic punishment only works if the people in the system aren’t actively exploiting it. DotA was a game I enjoyed right up until that point, because of that event it was ruined for me.

  14. MrGuy says:

    “YouTube is much too large to police, so it falls into anarchy… YouTube isn’t some strange world inhabited only by trolls and morons. It’s just the natural conclusion of a system that does nothing to weed out troublemakers.”

    I’m interested in this comment in light of your recent spat with Google (who of course owns YouTube these days), where you were on the wrong end of the only feasible kind of policing of a place as big as the internet – automated policing. You can’t have a human read every comment, but you certainly could have a script do so.

    Would the world be a better place if we had automated policing of YouTube comments, even if every now and then it would flag/ban people for legitimate comments (for example, a person mentioning Hitler while commenting on a WWII documentary clip)? Or is the cure worse than the disease?

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      No,it wouldnt.The way it is now is fine.The maker of the video is the one policing comments on it,but users also get a limited policing powers.Its a fine system.

      The problem with youtube comments comes from youtube being free,so you can create multiple accounts and abuse the system,the number of negative votes(spam flags)doesnt translate from one comment to the next(so if you spam multiple videos,only the flagged comments will be removed),and content creators very rarely police their comments appropriately,choosing either complete freedom or complete lockdown.

  15. Moridin says:

    “The good thing is probably that it’s a good game. It’s holding their interest, it’s keeping them around. It’s making them passionate enough to give a damn.”

    To me, that doesn’t sound like someone defending the behaviour of “toxic players” or saying that they support the community. It’s merely stating that such people exist, and the fact that they’re so interested in your game means that the game must be good.

    • syal says:

      I thought that too, until I read the Polygon article. There’s a quote at the bottom from the same guy:

      “They’re not going to go away,” Jones concluded of toxic players. “And honestly, I don’t think you want them to.

      “You need those people there. They’re driving the game. They’re giving it longevity. They’re giving it passion. And when they find something about your game that they love, they defend it to the death. Those are the same people that can go to bat for you.”

      • Zak McKracken says:

        I was going to suggest the same, Jones probably confusing “this is a good thing” with “this is the consequence of something good”. But that quote pretty much invalidates that.
        I guess he has’nt gotten around to realizing that in general fanatics always pervert the thing that got them into it in the first place (in real life as much as in games). Having passionate fans is actually a good thing, but having fans so obsessed that they spoil it for others … not helping.

        But most of toxic players won’t accept that fact since they’re just loving that game so much so how could they be bad for it? I suspect Jones may have some tendency in that direction himself.

        • syal says:

          It’s possible Jones was misinterpeting the questions; we can’t see the wording Polygon used in asking. His solution to dealing with offensive players is “play more defensively and stay behind your traps”, after all.

  16. StashAugustine says:

    I think you might mean ‘raging anti-Semite’, rampaging implies Fischer is a Godzilla going after New York (but only certain neighborhoods.)

  17. StashAugustine says:

    Odd timing on this:
    http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2014/07/02/league-of-legends-public-chat-rooms-closed/
    RPS reports Riot is closing League’s public chat.

  18. poiumty says:

    “The usual excuse is, “Hey, they’re just trolls. Just ignore them and they’ll go away.” Except, that’s not true.”

    Yes it is, for the original definition of troll. Trolls are people who don’t really mean what they say and are looking for a response out of you. Showing them you don’t care will make them lose interest. Nothing hard to understand about that.

    The problem is that people have started calling every abusive player a troll, robbing the word of most of its original meaning. It irks me so much that people who don’t really care about these things have found their catch-all term for whatever people they don’t like online. That guy called you an asshole? MUST BE A TROLL! Grrr. I think part of it has to do with people’s unwillingness to recognize having any faults.

    “Contrary to popular opinion, unrelenting rage isn’t a natural part of a competitive game. Lots of people enjoy games online without spewing invective at their fellow players.”

    In a very competitive game (such as most online games that are also e-sports), getting angry or frustrated over losing is incredibly common and natural. The difference is who you get angry at – and team-based games where your contribution matters so much less than teamwork easily create the idea that someone else is to blame. That is, I believe, where most of the toxicity comes from.

    • syal says:

      “I think part of it has to do with people’s unwillingness to recognize having any faults.”

      I think it has to do more with stupid people not learning what words mean before they use them. That’s why ‘literally’ means ‘figuratively’ now, and why ‘awful’, ‘terrible’, ‘horrible’ and ‘horrendous’ all mean ‘mildly unpleasant’.

      With regard to ‘true’ trolls: Sometimes they’ll go away. Sometimes they’ll subsist on the knowledge that even though no one is responding, people are still reading their posts and feeling worse for having done so.

      • poiumty says:

        Eh, I was trying to be reasonable. Could very well be just some terribilistic teenagers who like to overemphasize things, of course.

        The deal with trolls is they’re not new to real life. People pull other people’s legs all the time, and it’s the reaction that brings in the fun (hell, I do this with my friends). But if you say something completely ridiculous trying to incite people into giving you attention and nobody even acknowledges what you’re saying, it’s you who starts feeling like an idiot.

  19. straymute says:

    I can see Jerome’s point. If you look at the history of the NFL, NBA, racing or basically any organized competition many of the best events wouldn’t have happened if not for toxic personalities. If we just got rid of them entirely people like Jordan, Kobe, or LT never would’ve played. Of course there is a point where the bad outweighs the good, but I think he is right that there is still a good aspect here.

  20. Zak McKracken says:

    There’s a forum I know where troll posts are not deleted but simply moved to the “troll field” where they can have fun with each other. Works well and pisses a lot fewer people off.

    “Trolls”, of course, meaning the original Troll: Someone who doesn’t actually mean what they write and are derailing a discussion for fun. And sometimes (as some posters around here will probably agree) that’s completely ok.

    Anyway — I think it might very well help if players could just choose to not play with some particular other player again, and after some time a troll field would form organically, and people who take the game more serious than is healthy will find themselves among their peers. Either it becomes too much for them and they decide to behave, or maybe they like it, and then … well they should be among people who can deal with it.

  21. illyrus says:

    It is one of the reasons I like open PvP games over enforced co-op with strangers.

    In open PvP if someone is spewing hate I can just kill them and take their stuff. I even get to feel that I’m on the moral high ground camping them. In enforced co-op while I might be able to mute them I can’t kill them or even choose not to play with them in many cases. Though the ability to issue a majority vote kick is nice in the games that have it.

    I tend to divide toxic people in gaming into 2 categories
    A. Toxic people who are actually good at the game
    B. Toxic people who are not good at the game

    I’ve seen way more of B than A in the games I play.

  22. kingmob says:

    I think there are too many assholes in this world to casually dismiss it as caused by ‘defective personalities’. At a certain point you have to accept that this is a fundamental part of many humans.

    This matters because it changes the perspective to managing behaviour as opposed to filtering out the bad apples. And this is I think what the original developer meant when he was speaking. A lot of people will only be angry if they care, so the anger is sort of a metric that your audience is engaged.

    The differences between bad behaviour and their causes are also gigantic. A troll behaves like a troll for entirely different reasons than that a rager is a rager, you can’t just handle them all in the same way and they aren’t all simply ‘bad people’.

    Nothing about this screams ‘duh’ to me, managing communities of millions is a huge challenge and simple dismissal is obviously not the solution.

    What I think is missing, is exactly the metric of in what way a person is exactly misbehaving. My personal experience is with Dota and the system there reinforces false positives. People will often report others for being bad for instance. That should be your first challenge right there, such noise will mess up everything.

    When you report they have 3 categories, but they usually don’t match the problem. 90% of the annoying behaviour me and my friends encounter is simply bad sportsmanship. Complaining (in a non-constructive way), calling people names, being a bad winner/loser (EZ, report , etc.), that sort of thing. All of this is reported under ‘communication abuse’, which will also cover spamming, pinging, cursing etc. etc. But those are completely different problems with completely different ways to handle them. And I am convinced bad sportsmanship is the seed that causes a toxic community to grow, while it is such a minor thing that many people will take part in. And not just that, virtually everyone I know I’ve seen indulging in bad sportsmanship at least once, we are not all so nice as we’d like to think.

  23. Wide And Nerdy says:

    All of this, both the trolls and the enforcement systems with their potential abuses, is why I stick to single player. There’s just nothing to be gained from playing with others online. The immersion is lost and the trolls come with it. All downsides.

    As your article notes, YouTube has gotten better. I think this is partly because people generally use their real names since its tied to Google Plus now (unless they specifically requested to have their old names grandfathered in). I often find that I’m having discussions with people who are at least thoughtful or sincere if not always intelligent or mature.

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